Dogs are a preferred pet for many individuals across the country and boast an American population of around 78 million. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year, with 800,000 of those resulting in the need for medical care. Dog bites are one of the most common causes of homeowner liability claims, accounting for about one-third of all claims and resulting in an average of $37,000 

If you were bitten by a dog on a property that was rented by the dog’s owner, perhaps you are aware that you can recover expenses and impacts from your injury by filing a legal claim against the liable party. However, who can you sue for a dog bite? Is the dog owner responsible for your injuries or is the landlord who allowed the dog to live at the property responsible? The answer to these questions depends on the state you’re in, as well as a number of other factors that you can learn about from your dog bite lawyer. Read on for more information.

When the Dog Owner is Liable

Liability on the part of the dog owner is the most likely outcome to a dog bite case. After all, it is the dog owner’s responsibility to prevent individuals from being bit by either keeping the dog penned in an area where people cannot go or warning people that you have an aggressive dog on your property.  However, whether the dog owner did or did not take steps to protect visitors from being bit by the animal is not the only factor in determining liability for the bite. Where the dog bite occurred is also important.

Some states have what is known as a “one bite rule.” What this means is that the first time a dog bites someone, the dog owner is not necessarily liable because he or she did not have reason to know that the dog was aggressive. However, if the dog bites again, the dog owner is liable as he or she had reason to know, as the result of the first bite, that the dog was vicious. In spite of generally following this doctrine, there are reasons why an individual might be liable for a dog bite even if it’s the first bite and it occurred in a state that has a one bite rule, including the bite being incurred by a specific breed of dog that is known to have the propensity to bite, whether the particular dog has done so before or not.

States having a one bite rule include Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.

Other states have a strict liability rule when it comes to dog bites. This rule provides that the dog owner is always liable for injuries incurred when his or her dog bites, regardless of whether he or she had reason to know that the dog was vicious.

In some cases, the owner is not liable if their dog bites, even in states where there is strict liability. Circumstances in which a dog bite defense attorney will argue that their client is not liable include:

  • Situations in which there was a provoked dog bite as a result of taunting or teasing the dog.
  • Cases in which the dog bite occurred as the dog was protecting its owner or property.
  • Cases in which the biting dog was working for the police or military at the time the bite occurred.
  • Situations in which the owner penned the animal or placed signs warning visitors that the dog was vicious but an adult entered the enclosure where the dog was kept anyway. It should be noted that if the dog bites a small child who is unable to read the signs or understand why the dog is in an enclosure, the dog owner will almost always be liable for injuries to the child.

States having strict liability for dog bites include Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

A few states have hybrid rules that place strict liability in some circumstances, while allowing some leeway in others. Those states include Georgia, where dog owners can be held strictly liable if the dog bite occurs because they failed to manage the dog or allowed it to leave the property off of a leash; Hawaii, where the owner can be held liable if he or she is negligent or the dog is known to be vicious; and Tennessee, where the owner is strictly liable if the dog is running at large and bites someone in a public place or someone else’s private property, regardless of whether the owner had prior knowledge of the dog’s propensity to bite.

When the Landlord is Liable

While the dog owner is the one most likely to be liable for injuries caused by canine bites, there are some cases in which the landlord can face liability as well. Those cases include:

  • Situations in which the landowner knowingly allowed a dangerous dog to live with the tenant on the property.
  • Situations in which the landlord allowed a dog from a breed known to have the propensity to bite to live on the property.
  • Cases in which the tenant does not have enough insurance to pay for the damages on their own.
  • Situations in which the landlord has assumed some of the care for the dog, such as feeding it or taking it on walks.

Let Us Help You Determine Liability in Your Dog Bite Case

One of the important services that a personal injury attorney can provide for those who have suffered an injury due to a dog bite is determination of liable parties and insurance resources that can be used to compensate them. If you’ve been bitten by a dog, let us provide guidance in the recovery of damages, the time limit involved in filing a dog bite lawsuit, and answers to questions such as:

  • How much is my dog bite case worth?
  • How long does it take for a dog bite settlement?

Contact our experienced dog bite attorney today for a free case evaluation.