Boy’s Death Highlights Loophole in Alabama Dog Bite Law

On April 6, 2014, John Harvard, 5, of Riverside, St. Clair County, Alabama, was killed on his own property by a pit bull that was at large. This was the 15th fatal dog attack in the USA this year. It was the 15th attack in 14 weeks, and the 10th caused by pit bulls. 

In a televised interview, the mayor of Riverside stated that the city does not have a leash law. Therefore, the owner of the pit bull did not break a law by allowing or suffering the dog to roam at large. 

This death calls attention to a unique and inexplicable loophole in the Alabama dog bite laws: they only establish liability when the victim was bitten on the dog owner’s property, or when the dog pursued the victim off the dog owner’s property. Because of this loophole, the dog bite statutes in Alabama will not support John Harvard’s family if and when they seek justice.

There are other causes of action, however, which might apply in this case. In this state, a victim or his family can sue a dog owner who knew that his dog was vicious, and the fact that a dog is a pit bull is considered to be evidence of the dog owner’s knowledge of viciousness. General negligence also is a ground for suit.

Alabama’s dog bite laws should be amended so as to eliminate the requirement that the victim was bitten on, or pursued from, the dog owner’s property. This is the only state having such a requirement in its dog bite laws.