A Message to Dog Rescues – “Save yourselves!”

Press Release


From the Law Offices of Kenneth M. Phillips, Beverly Hills, CA
For further information: Kenneth M. Phillips, 310-858-7460

A Message to Dog Rescues – “Save yourselves!”

Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips Tells Dog Rescue Groups How To Avoid Liability

Over 1 million web pages mention “dog rescue groups legal liability” according to Google. The reason: dog rescue groups and adoption organizations are being held legally liable for dog bites. Being a non-profit, having limited resources, and doing good works are not grounds for defense when someone gets hurt. But there are steps that such organizations can take to protect themselves, according to Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips, the author of Dog Bite Law and owner of DogBiteLaw.com. Phillips talked about several of them on April 12, 2013, at the Santa Barbara – Ventura Veterinary Medical Association’s mini-symposium for shelter and rescue groups.

One such step is to avoid taking ownership of dogs that come into the shelter. Phillips explained that owning a dog is the key ingredient for liability in states that have dog bite statutes. As he puts it, in those jurisdictions, “if you own the dog, you’re ‘it’!” In other words, the owner is liable for bite injuries simply because, generally speaking, he is the owner of the dog. So, to avoid incurring automatic liability, he counsels against taking ownership. A “bailment” relationship is preferable. When the owner of property puts it into the hands of another person but retains ownership, the arrangement is referred to as a “bailment.” Adoption and rescue groups need to make it clear that they are nothing but “bailees” and not “owners” of the dogs in their custody. 

Another protective measure is a waiver form that is signed by people who come to the shelter to hopefully adopt a new dog. He explained that even laying out a room incorrectly can lead to liability for certain accidents. As an example, he told the audience about a client’s injury at a humane society office. The young woman brought her dog there to register it. The seats for customers were in the middle of the room. New dogs, fresh off the street (so to speak), were brought in from a door on her left, and taken out through a door on her right. When one such dog was led along that path, it went after her dog, which was on her lap. In the fracas that ensued, the woman’s hand was bitten severely, causing very serious damage. Phillips said he won a sizable settlement for her, in what he referred to as “the waiting room case.” The point of the story: have clients and customers sign waivers of liability when they enter the premises.

A video of Phillips’ entire address to the symposium can be seen at the Dog Bite Law website.