What Happens if a Dog Bites Someone on Your Property?
What happens if a dog bites someone on your property? It is important to consider who would be liable for paying expenses related to a dog bite lawsuit. You could be liable for a dog attack even if the injured person was a guest, trespasser, or salesperson.
Below you'll learn about the different scenarios in a dog bite lawsuit involving an incident on your private property or public property. This article also explains if your homeowner's or renter's insurance policy will cover the alleged damages. Keep in mind, this is a general overview and each state has its own, unique dog bite laws and statutes. Disclaimer: be sure to research the laws in your state or contact a local attorney to learn more.
Premises Liability: What Standard of Care Do You Owe?
The first thing to look at in a dog bite case on your property is premises liability. When a person enters your property, they have a reasonable expectation to avoid injury. A homeowner owes a certain standard of care to anyone on their property. This means the owner or occupier of the property, such as a renter, must maintain a reasonably safe environment. This safety duty extends to the people who enter the property. Keeping dangerous animals away from guests or putting up warning signs about a dangerous dog are two ways to keep your property safe.
Many states and cities have codified animal control responsibilities for the owner of a dog into leash laws. In those places, a dog owner is strictly liable for dog bite injuries if their off-leash dog attacks someone. In states with strict liability dog bite statutes, Plaintiffs do not have to prove the defendant acted in a careless (negligent) manner. They can recover damages for injuries like property damage, medical expenses, and non-economic damages. In other states with the one-bite rule, a dog owner is not liable to a dog bite victim if it was the first time their dog bit someone. This means the pet owner or their insurance company is not responsible to pay for the victim's medical treatment or serious injuries.
Invited Guests and Others
In most situations, dog owners owe a duty of reasonable care to anyone on their property for a lawful reason.
This means if the injured person shows the owner was negligent or failed to use reasonable care in controlling their dog, they can get damages. For example, an owner would be liable if they did not restrain a dog or warn of its dangerous propensities. A dangerous dog is off leash or not wearing a muzzle is likely enough proof to warrant a victory for the victim in an injury claim. "Beware of Dog" signs or saying "My dog bites" are easy ways to use reasonable care in warning the public about an animal.
Most states like Connecticut, Florida, and Tennessee have laws that prevent people who were not lawfully in a private place from recovering for dog bites. Examples include trespassing, attempting to commit a crime, or threatening an animal.
You may find it shocking to know that the law in a minority of states actually allows trespassers to recover in a personal injury lawsuit. If your animal attacks that person on your property, you are responsible for the injuries.
However, this is only true if an animal owner is unreasonable or created an attractive nuisance that results in harm to children. It depends on the state you are in and if it has a dog bite statute that protects owners from liability to trespassers. In states like Massachusetts, children under seven years old cannot trespass so the property owner is still responsible. In Colorado, a pet owner is not responsible for a trespasser's injuries if he had a sign that said "No Trespassing".
If your Chihuahua Teacup has sunk her teeth into people in the past or aggressively lunged at others, then you are on notice that she has dangerous propensities. She is dangerous under the law. In that case, if dangerous Teacup bites someone on your property, you are strictly liable.
You can avoid this if you put up a warning sign, indicating there is a dangerous dog on the property. You can also use leashes or muzzles on an aggressive dog. Your local leash laws or animal control ordinances may demand this if your dog has bitten someone in the past.
Who Pays When Fido Bites?
If you own a dog but liability concerns you, consider buying homeowners or renters insurance. Most policies have some form of coverage available in the event someone or their loved one sues you for an animal bite on your property. These insurance policies will cover settlements and provide an attorney to defend you.
Be sure to read your policy as some insurance companies exclude certain dog breeds. If your dog is not covered by your policy, consider an outside insurance company. There are certain types of pet insurance policies you may be able to get to cover those dog breeds.
Without insurance coverage, you can are personally liable to make payments if you lose a lawsuit against an injured party.
What Happens if a Dog Bites Someone on Your Property: Related Resources
- How To Prove Fault in States Without Dog Bite Laws
- How To File a Dog Bite Report
- State Statutes of Limitations
- ASPCA: Breed-Specific Legislation
- Homeowners Insurance and Dog Breed Restrictions
- Landlord Liability for Dog Bites
- Renters Insurance and Dog Bites
Get Legal Help if You've Been Bitten by a Dog on the Dog Owner's Property
Dog bites are serious. If a canine bites someone on your property, you may need to fight a dog bite claim and lawsuit. If a dog bites you on someone else's property, you may be able to recover damages from the property owner. Contact a local personal injury attorney and dog bite attorney for legal advice on your state laws.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.