Let’s talk about dogs.
According to the American Pet Products Association, there are approximately 90 million dogs in the United States. This means that there are more dogs in America than there are people in France and Australia combined. Roughly 49% of all American households have at least one dog and 43% of all non-pet owners plan to own a pet in the future.
With so many dogs in so many homes, it’s easy to forget that dogs are animals. Unfortunately, reminders can come in the form of vicious dog bites.
According to recent estimates, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by a dog 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.
Here are some other dog bite statistics:
Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, from chihuahuas (3-6 pounds) to English Mastiffs (up to 350 pounds). As a result, dog bite injuries can vary tremendously.
Here are some of the most common dog bite injuries:
All 50 states have laws in place that determine when dog owners are liable for dog bites. In most cases, states have adopted strict liability laws, one-bite laws, or simply chosen to apply negligence laws. Check out the table at the end of this article to find out where your state falls.
In states that have adopted strict liability laws, a dog owner is liable for the injuries caused by their dog so long as the injured person can prove that:
You’ll notice that the injured person doesn’t need to prove that the dog previously bit someone or that the dog had previously exhibited any violent behavior. If the dog bit the person, the owner is liable so long as the injured person wasn’t trespassing.
In states that have adopted one-bite laws, a dog owner isn’t liable for a dog bite unless the injured person can prove that the owner should have known about their dog’s violent propensities.
Let’s look at an example:
Janet has had her golden retriever Lucy for 7 years. During those 7 years, Lucy has never bitten anyone or acted violently. Nevertheless, one morning while Janet is walking the dog down the street, Lucy pulls away from Janet and bites a passing child.
In this example, Janet would not be held liable in a one-bite state because she had no knowledge of any violent propensities. However, Janet would be liable in a strict liability state.
Some states don’t have specific statutes addressing dog bites and instead apply the normal negligence laws to dog bite cases. In these states, a person injured by a dog bite needs to prove that:
To stick with the example above, Janet owes a duty to take reasonable care to avoid hurting others. It doesn’t appear that Janet did anything to breach that duty and therefore she likely wouldn’t be found negligent. However, Janet might be found negligent if she failed to leash her dog (particularly if a leash law was in place).
Dog bite cases tend to be pretty straightforward in strict liability states. The only available defenses are:
In one-bite states, however, cases can be a little less clear. This is because the focus of litigation is generally on whether the dog exhibited violent behavior before the bite and whether the owner knew or should have known about these behaviors.
Any of the following might be used to prove that a dog exhibited violent behavior before the attack:
If you suffered a serious dog bite injury, it’s probably best to file your lawsuit in a state court of general jurisdiction.
On the other hand, if your damages are low, it may be appropriate to file your lawsuit in a small claims court. Small claims courts limit or “cap” the amount of damages you can recover. The dollar limit depends on the state but is generally somewhere around $10,000. Small claims courts tend to be less formal than other courts and lawyers aren’t typically involved (in some states, lawyers are strictly prohibited).
We’ve already established that you can recover damages if you’re bitten by a dog.
But what if you don’t think that’s enough? What if you’re worried the dog will strike again?
The answer depends on the state (and even the county) in which you were bitten.
In most states, individual counties have the authority to pass ordinances addressing how they control dangerous dogs.
Let’s use Cascade County, Montana as an 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.
Dog bite statutes apply to—you guessed it—dog bites.
But what happens if a dog causes you injury without biting you, such as knocking you over or causing you to crash your car?
If a dog injures you without biting you, you’ll need to file a negligence lawsuit.
|Dog Bite Laws in All 50 States|
|State||Authority||Summary of law|
|Alabama||Ala. Code 3-6-1||Strict liability|
|Alaska||Hale v. O’Neill, Alaska Supreme Court (1971)||One-bite law|
|Arizona||ARS 11-1025||Strict liability|
|Arkansas||Strange v. Stovall, Arkansas Supreme Court (1977)||One-bite law|
|California||Cal. Code 3342||Strict liability|
|Colorado||Colo. Rev. Stat. 13-21-124||Strict liability|
|Connecticut||Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. 22-357||Strict liability|
|Delaware||Del. Code Ann. 1711||Strict liability|
|District of Columbia||D.C. Code Ann. 8-1808||Negligence|
|Florida||Fl. Stat. 767.04||Strict liability|
|Georgia||Steagald v. Eason, Georgia Supreme Court (2017)||One-bite law|
|Hawaii||Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. 663-9||Strict liability|
|Idaho||Idaho Code 25-2805||Negligence|
|Illinois||510 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/16 16||Strict liability|
|Indiana||Ind. Code 15-5-12-1||Strict liability for victims carrying out duty imposed by law; one-bite law for everyone else|
|Iowa||Iowa Code Ann. 351.28||Strict liability|
|Kansas||Mercer v. Fritts, Kansas Court of Appeals (1984)||One-bite law|
|Kentucky||Ky. Rev. Stat. 258.235||Strict liability|
|Louisiana||La. Civ. Code 2321||Dog owner is liable if they could have prevented the bite|
|Maine||Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. 3961||Strict liability for bites that occur off owner’s premises|
|Maryland||MD. Code 3-1901||One-bite law, but rebuttable presumption that dog had prior violent tendencies|
|Massachusetts||Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. 140, 155||Strict liability|
|Michigan||Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. 287.351||Strict liability|
|Minnesota||Minn. Stat. Ann. 347.22||Strict liability|
|Mississippi||Poy v. Grayson, Supreme Court of Mississippi (1973)||One-bite law|
|Missouri||Mo. Rev. Stat. 273.036||Strict liability|
|Montana||Mont. Code Ann. 27-1-715||Strict liability|
|Nebraska||Neb. Rev. Stat. 54-601||Strict liability|
|Nevada||Nev. Stat. Ann. 202.500||Negligence|
|New Hampshire||NH Rev. Stat. Ann. 466:19||Strict liability|
|New Jersey||NJ Stat. Ann. 4:19-16||Strict liability|
|New Mexico||Smith v. Village of Ruidoso, New Mexico Court of Appeals (1999)||One-bite law|
|New York||NY Agriculture & Markets Law 123(10)||Strict liability for medical damages only; one-bite law for all other damages|
|North Carolina||NC Gen. Stat. Ann. 67-4.4||Strict liability|
|North Dakota||Sendelbach v. Grad, Supreme Court of North Dakota (1976)||Negligence|
|Ohio||Ohio Rev. Code. Ann. 955.28||Strict liability|
|Oklahoma||Oka. Stat. Ann. 4-42.4||Strict liability|
|Oregon||Westberry v. Blackwell, Oregon Supreme Court 1978||One-bite law|
|Pennsylvania||Pa. Consol. Stat. 502 A||Strict liability|
|Rhode Island||R.I. Gen. Laws 4-13-16||Strict liability|
|South Carolina||SC Code Ann. 47-3-110||Strict liability|
|South Dakota||Blaha v. Stuard, South Dakota Supreme Court (2002)||One-bite law|
|Tennessee||Tenn. Code Ann. 44-8-413||Strict liability|
|Texas||VTCA Health & Safety Code 822.005||One-bite law; strict liability if a leash law was violated|
|Utah||Utah Code Ann. 18-1-1||Strict liability|
|Vermont||Martin v. Christman, Vermont Supreme Court (2014)||One-bite law|
|Virginia||Butler v. Frieden, Supreme Court of Virginia (1967)||Negligence|
|Washington||Wash. Rev. Code 16-08-040||Strict liability|
|West Virginia||W. Va. Code 19-20-13||Strict liability if unleashed|
|Wisconsin||Wis. Stat. 174.02||Strict liability|
|Wyoming||No statute||Injured person must prove negligence or knowledge of dog’s prior violent behavior|