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Missouri Dog Bite Laws

They’ve been our best friends for thousands of years. But even best friends can snap. And bite.

When a dog bites someone in Missouri, it doesn’t matter whether the animal had been a model canine citizen to that point. It doesn’t matter that this was the first time. The owner is strictly liable for any injuries the dog causes.

Prior to 2009, Missouri was known as a “one bite” state, meaning that an owner wasn’t considered to be at fault if their dog had never exhibited any signs of being a danger. A dog was allowed one bite before its owner could be liable for subsequent bites. But that year, the state adopted the more stringent “strict liability” standard, and Missouri dog owners have been on more precarious legal ground ever since.

Missouri Dog Bite Laws – An Overview

Statutes are oftentimes difficult to comprehend because of their use of technical legal language. The chart below, in plain English, may be helpful in providing a clearer understanding of Missouri’s dog bite laws.


Missouri Revised Statutes, Section 273.036 (civil liability) and 578.024 (penalties for keeping a dangerous dog)

Strict Liability

The owner of a dog that bites is liable for damages:

  • If the dog was not provoked
  • If the injured person was on public property or lawfully on private property
  • Regardless of the dog’s previous temperament

Comparative Negligence

If the injured person had any fault in the incident, the damages owed by the dog owner may be reduced by the percentage that is deemed to be the fault of the injured person.


A fine up to $1,000, which is apart from any civil remedies that may be sought by the injured party

Related Statute

Missouri Revised Statutes, Section 273.020:

  • The owner of a dog who kills or maims sheep or other domestic animals may be liable for the damage.
  • It is lawful for anyone to kill the dog.
  • The owner “shall forthwith” kill the dog or pay a fine of $1 per day.

Criminal Penalties

A person commits the offense of keeping a dangerous dog if the animal has previously bitten a person or domestic animal without provocation and then does it again. This is a class B misdemeanor, unless the attack:

  • Results in serious injury, making it a class A misdemeanor
  • Results in a serious injury, as did any previous attack, making it a class E felony
  • Results in the death of a person, making it a class D felony

Defenses to Dog Bite Claims

Here are some common defenses to dog bite claims:

  • The dog was provoked.
  • The dog was responding to a wrongful act by the injured person.
  • The injured party was trespassing.

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.

Missouri Dog Bite Laws: Related Resources

Have You Been Bitten or Has Your Dog Bitten Someone?

If you have been seriously injured by a dog, you should seek legal help as soon as possible. You may also need to seek legal help if you are the owner of a dog who has bitten someone. A Missouri injury attorney who specializes in animal bites can help you with your case.

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