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District of Columbia Dog Bite Laws

A dog may be man's best friend, but they also sometimes bite the hand that feeds them. Worse still, they may bite the hand of the neighbor, the postman, or a total stranger. Whether you were bitten by a dog, or own a dog that bit someone, the District of Columbia's dog bite laws will become very important following such an incident. The following article provides an overview of some important aspects of the law relating to dogs whose bite is worse than their bark.


Most D.C. dog bite lawsuits proceed under the common law legal concept of negligence as it applies to personal injury. The injured party must show that the owner of the dog failed to use reasonable care to control the animal and that their failure resulted in the injury.

Dangerous Dogs

Negligence is much easier to establish if the dog at issue has already been officially deemed a dangerous dog. A dog that has bitten someone may be found to be dangerous unless they were provoked or were otherwise justified in their aggression. These exceptions echo the defenses of trespass and contribution, while pointing out additional defenses available in D.C. dog bite lawsuits.

Statute of Limitations

The District of Columbia requires that injured parties commence a lawsuit within a particular period of time, referred to as the "statute of limitations," or the ability to sue is lost. The following chart provides additional detail regarding District of Columbia dog bite laws:

Code Sections
Negligence Defenses

Two common defenses arise in many dog bite lawsuits.


The first common defense alleges that the person was trespassing when they were bitten. Dogs are frequently confined to their owner's property and if a person is bitten while present on the owner's property without permission their ability to recover may be limited or barred altogether, depending on the circumstances.

Contributory Negligence

The second common defense alleges that the person's own negligence contributed to their being bitten. The District of Columbia is one of the few jurisdictions that use the pure contributory negligence rule. Under this rule, any negligence on the part of the injured person may be totally barred from recovery.

Dangerous Dog Defenses

A dog that bites will not be found to be dangerous if the dog injured:

  • a person who at the time of the injury was committing a willful trespass on premises lawfully occupied by the owner;
  • a person who at the time of injury was provoking, tormenting, abusing, or assaulting the dog, or who had a history of doing so;
  • a person or domestic animal injured because the dog was hurt or protecting itself or its offspring;
  • a person against whom the dog was protecting or defending a person within the immediate vicinity of the dog from attack or assault.

The owner has the burden of proof of establishing that one of the aforementioned conditions existed.

Statute of Limitations A personal injury lawsuit must be filed within three years of the incident.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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Get a Legal Case Review

Whether a dog bit you or your furry friend took a piece out of someone else, a D.C. dog bite lawsuit can require a sophisticated legal analysis. Because the dog's life may be at stake, this kind of lawsuit can be especially contentious and hard-fought. Legal assistance can help ensure that your claim is presented in the most effective manner. Consider contacting a local attorney to receive an evaluation of your case and learn how they can help.

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