In our American society, dogs are found almost everywhere. Our love affair with dogs is undeniable. However, when dogs are not properly trained, are abused, or are not kept under control, they can inflict serious injuries on innocent people. Every week it seems, there is news of a dog attacking and in some cases killing a person. Children and older people are the most frequent victims. Every person has the right to be safe from dangerous animals. Unfortunately, the law does not provide much protection to people in advance. Aside from leash laws, some jurisdictions have procedures to have a dog declared dangerous which then requires owners to have additional security. However, if a person is the victim of a dog attack, they may be able to hold the owner liable for the injuries and damages. But the owner may not be strictly liable. The victim may have to prove that the owner was on notice of the dog’s dangerous propensities and that the owner then did not take reasonable care to control the dog. This can be established by proof that the dog has bitten someone before. This is the basis for what has been called the “one free bite rule.“ The reasoning is that if a dog has never bitten anyone, then the owner is not on notice of any danger and then is not responsible if the dog bites someone. The “one free bite rule” is not necessarily valid depending on the jurisdiction. Some dogs exhibit prior behaviors that may be used to impute notice to the owner of a dangerous propensity. If the owner violates the leash law, then they may be liable for an injury caused by the dog. And if the dog has already been classified as dangerous, the owner may be strictly liable for whatever injuries are caused by the dog. If a property owner is liable for injuries caused by their dog, the owner’s homeowner’s or renter’s insurance may cover the owner and provide a source of recovery for the victim. Whether the owner of a dog can be held liable for the dog’s behavior requires the gathering of all facts and circumstances surrounding the dog and the attack. Police, Animal Control, and Veterinarian records may document the dog’s prior behavior. Prior owners, and neighbors of the dog’s owner may also be a good source of information. There are numerous dogs which in the past were trained or bred for fighting may be considered inherently dangerous such as Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Cane Corsos, etc. Breed specific legislation may exist in a particular jurisdiction but there has been a backlash against such legislation with detractors claiming that the breed does not make the dog dangerous. Unfortunately, the same reasons that made the particular breed attractive to dog fighters, including size, speed, agility, gameness, and the force of their bite, make the damage they inflict should they choose to attack that much worse. Dogs require proper training and care and every dog owner has a responsibility not only to the dog but to others who may be affected by the behavior of the dog. Victims of dog attacks should consult an experienced attorney to learn about their rights to compensation from the owner of the dog. The law firm of Weiner, Spivey & Miller, PLC has significant experience representing victims of dog attacks. We are currently litigating such a case on behalf of an innocent victim who was brutally attacked by a neighbor’s Pit Bull in front of her own house.
By: Eugene C. Miller, Esq.