If you live in Montana, chances are you come into contact with dogs on a regular basis. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 52% of Montana households have at least 1 dog as a pet. What’s more, dogs in Montana live 1.5 years longer than the national average.
Unfortunately, not all interactions with dogs are pleasant.
According to the most recent estimates, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year. In addition to being painful, dog bites can cause injuries and infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that roughly 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention and about 28 people per year die from dog bites.
All states have laws in place that address when a pet owner can be found liable in the event their dog bites someone. In this article, we’ll take a look at Montana’s dog bite law, as well as some other legal issues involving animal attacks in Montana.
Montana’s dog bite law can be found in Montana Code Annotated 27-1-715.
(2) A person is lawfully upon the private property of the owner within the meaning of this section when the person is on the property in the performance of any duty imposed upon the person by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States of America or when the person is on the property as an invitee or licensee of the person lawfully in possession of the property.
Under the law, if a dog bites a person without provocation, the owner of the dog is liable for any damages suffered regardless of whether or not the owner was aware of the viciousness of the dog.
To put it another way, a dog owner is liable for a dog bite even if their dog never bit anyone before and never showed any signs of aggression.
This type of liability is called “strict liability,” which is the law of the land when it comes to premises liability cases in Big Sky Country. In this way, Montana is different from many other states which only hold a dog owner liable for an attack if the dog had previously displayed violent tendencies and the owner was aware of those violent tendencies.
Let’s look at an example:
Kelly has owned her golden retriever, Buck, for 11 years. Buck loves people and has never bitten a human or displayed any signs of aggression. One morning, Kelly is walking Buck down the street when Buck breaks free of his leash and bites her neighbor Mike who is in his driveway retrieving the morning paper. As a result of the bite, Mike falls, hits his head, and has to undergo serious brain surgery. In all, the procedure costs $50,000 in medical expenses.
In this hypothetical, Kelly is liable for the damages suffered by Mike even though her dog never bit anyone before and even though Kelly didn’t do anything to encourage the attack.
Even though Montana dog owners are strictly liable for dog bites, there are 2 possible defenses that can be raised by dog owners:
In Montana, a dog owner is only liable if the injured person was bitten on public land or was bitten while on the dog owner’s private land with permission. In other words, the dog owner isn’t liable if the injured person was bitten while trespassing.
For example, let’s say Billy wants to go fishing. He knows there’s a good pond on his neighbor’s yard stocked with fish However, he doesn’t know if he’s allowed to fish in the pond so he waits for his neighbor to go to work and then visits the pond. While fishing, he startles his neighbor’s dog and is attacked.
In this example, the neighbor likely wouldn’t be held liable for the dog bite. Instead, if Billy sues the neighbor for his injuries, Billy would have to prove that the neighbor was negligent.
In Montana, a dog owner isn’t liable if the injured person provoked the dog. This begs the question: What constitutes provocation?
In 1995, the Supreme Court of Montana ruled that provocation must be determined on a case-by-case basis. The Court did, however, set some rough guidelines.
Specifically, the Court explained that merely extending your hand near a dog isn’t provocation, but thrusting your hand toward a dog or making a quick or threatening gesture might be considered provocation.
Importantly, these are the only 2 defenses permitted under Montana law. Montana doesn’t permit the defenses of comparative negligence or assumption of the risk when it comes to dog bite cases.
Montana’s dog bite statute only applies to bites. If a dog injures you without biting you, you’ll probably need to file a negligence lawsuit.
For example, suppose you’re walking down the road and a Great Dane jumps on you to say hello, causing you to fall and hit your head. Because your injuries weren’t caused by a bite, you can’t use the dog bite statute as a basis for your claim. Instead, you’ll have to file a negligence claim.
Anyone who is injured by a dog has a limited amount of time to file a lawsuit under the statute of limitations. In Montana, you must file your lawsuit within 3 years from the time of the injury, regardless of whether you’re filing your lawsuit under the dog bite statute or under the theory of negligence.
In Montana, you can recover economic and non-economic damages. You may also be able to recover punitive damages if the dog owner behaved with actual malice (for example, if the dog owner instructed their dog to attack you).
We’ve already established that an injured person can recover damages if they’re bitten by a dog. But what if the injured person doesn’t think that’s enough? Can the dog be quarantined or even put down?
The answer depends on the county.
Under Montana law, individual counties have the authority to pass ordinances addressing how they control vicious dogs.
For example, in Cascade County, if a dog has bitten people on 3 separate occasions (or if any 1 dog bite was particularly violent), the dog may be put to death by an animal control officer following a hearing to determine if the action is necessary for the safety of the citizens of the community.
Here are the 4 steps you should take if you’re bitten by a dog:
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Montana is home to over 2 million cattle and 215,000 sheep.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for dogs to attack and sometimes kill livestock. So what happens when a dog injures or kills livestock in Montana?
Under Montana law, the owner of livestock injured or killed by a dog can recover damages from the dog owner. Montana Code Annotated 81-7-402 says:
What’s more, it’s no defense that the owner had no knowledge of the dog’s whereabouts at the time or that the dog had never injured livestock before.
In other words, just like when dogs bite humans, dog owners are strictly liable when their dogs attack livestock.