Dog Bite Victims

Where the Money Comes From

If the legally liable defendant is insured

A dog bite victim in the USA usually can recover full compensation from the following types of insurance, assuming that the person or business covered by the insurance is legally liable for the accident:

  • Homeowners insurance of the dog owner, harborer or keeper.
  • Renters insurance of the dog owner, harborer or keeper.
  • Landlords insurance of the property owner.
  • Pet sitters insurance.
  • Daycare operators insurance.
  • Commercial insurance (covering stores, gas stations, etc.)
  • Umbrella insurance (providing additional money over and above one of the other types of insurance mentioned here).

The first issue when dealing with insurance is determining whether the applicable policy covers the accident. Homeowners and renters insurance policies may have one or more “loopholes” that negate coverage for a dog attack:

  • An animal exclusion that negates coverage for any accident involving an animal.
  • A breed exclusion that negates coverage for the breed of dog involved in the accident.
  • The home business exclusion which negates coverage if the accident happened in connection with a business being conducted by the dog owners (for example, where a child was bit at a home-based daycare center which did not have daycare insurance).
  • The exclusion for residents of the covered home or apartment.

If an exclusion seems to apply, the dog bite victim absolutely must retain an attorney who has substantial experience in dog attack cases because the courts generally do not favor exclusions and a well-versed lawyer might find a legal ground for getting around one.

The next issue when dealing with insurance is the amount of compensation that will be available for the dog bite victim. The amount of compensation an insurance company might have to pay can be lower than the amount of damages that the victim sustained. In the first place, it is limited by how much insurance the liable party bought. Typical limits are $25,000 to $50,000 for a mobile home, and $100,000 to $300,000 for an apartment or single family dwelling. If a defendant has an “umbrella” or “excess” policy, the limit is $1 million or more. The typical limit for a commercial establishment is $1 million. It also is limited by:

  • Defenses such as comparative negligence
  • Tort reform laws that put an arbitrary ceiling on the amount of noneconomic losses that can be recovered.
  • Apportionment laws that prevent an injured person from recovering 100% of his losses from a defedant who is less than 100% liable, such as when two defendants are liable.
  • Governmental tort laws that put an arbitrary ceiling on the amount of losses that can be recovered from a government agency or employee.

The good news is that homeowners insurance and renters insurance do not require dog owners to pay deductibles or co-payments. Dog owners who have sufficient limits therefore don’t have to pay even a penny out of their own pockets (unless punitive damages are awarded against them). This is good news in 75% of dog bite cases because in that percentage of dog attacks the dog owner is either a friend, neighbor or family member of the victim, who might not want to feel like he is hurting the dog owner by making the claim. 

There’s a video about this, called “Who’s Going to Pay Me?” by the author of Dog Bite Law, Attorney Kenneth Phillips

If the legally liable defendant is uninsured or under-insured

If the liable person or business does not have insurance or has insufficient insurance (i.e., is “under-insured”), the dog bite victim may still have ways to recover compensation:

  • An uninsured or under-insured defendant can be forced to make payments from his personal funds. This usually requires filing a lawsuit.
  • The victim can be reimbursed for economic losses (medical costs, lost income and damage to property) through criminal restitution. The defendant must be convicted of a crime related to the dog attack, and the sentence must include restitution to the victim. 
  • The insurance of the owner of the property will pay medical expenses only, even if the property owner is not liable for the accident, but only up to a certain amount, and only the medical treatment costs that are incurred within a certain period of time. Typical limits are $1,000 and one year. Coverage is provided by virtue of the “medical payments section” of the insurance policy that covers the premises, and liability is not a prerequisite for coverage. 

The victim should consult a lawyer whenever a defendant appears to be uninsured or under-insured. This can happen because:

  • The defendant did not purchase insurance or it expired.
  • There is a loophole in the defendant’s insurance policy.
  • The defendant is pretending to not be insured. 

One of the best reasons to retain an experienced dog bite lawyer is to deal with insurance problems. After handling a great many dog bite cases, an attorney will know how to find insurance where it seems like none exists. For example, Attorney Kenneth Phillips was representing a little girl who was mauled by pit bulls and had $1 million in medical costs and other damages. The dog owners were homeless people who were living in a rented, broken-down house. Phillips connected the homeless people to the manager of the premises and was able to show that the manager was aware that the pit bulls were vicious. This enabled Phillips to make a claim against the manager’s employer which was a well-insured family trust which owned a lot of property and had a lot of insurance coverage. 

If nobody is legally liable but the premises are insured

Full compensation is not possible because nobody is legally liable. However, the victim can be reimbursed for medical costs from the “medical payments section” of the insurance policy that covers the premises. The usual limit is $1,000 but some policies provide more. The treatment costs must be incurred and presented to the insurance company within a limited period of time, often as short as one year after the accident. 

Lesser used criminal laws

In addition to the crimes which are discussed in specific sections of Criminal Penalties for a Dog Bite, there are other crimes that are charged less frequently. These are used when nothing else fits the circumstances. They are useful for civil attorneys as well as prosecutors and law enforcement officials.

  • Reckless conduct. This is usually found in a state’s penal code.
  • Criminal negligence. This also can be found in a state’s penal code.
  • Nuisance. This can be established by ordinances at the city or county level, or a state’s penal code.
  • Dog at large. This can be established by ordinances at the city or county level, or a state’s penal code.
  • Injury to service animal, police dog or police horse. This is only found in a state’s penal code.
  • Injury to United States Postal Employee. This is a federal offense.

Seller liability for dog bites

The prior owner of a dog cannot normally be held responsible for harm caused after ownership is transferred, provided that he retained no further interest in the dog and did not misrepresent its temperament or warrant that it would not create the harm in the future. For an excellent discussion of various possible causes of action based on harm occuring after transfer of ownership of a dog, see Blaha v. Stuard (2002) 640 NW 2d 85 (South Dakota Supreme Court).

Rescues and animal shelters often misrepresent the temperament of dogs. Additionally, these organizations and agencies even go so far as to warrant dogs as being safe despite knowing that they are prone to attack people. An expose by Colleen Lynn of DogsBite.org provides vivid examples of what amounts to criminal fraud in the practices of a government-run animal shelter in California. See What’s Behind the Click and Bait Web Advertisements of Aggressive Shelter Dogs Available for Adoption Today? An example from that article:

Post regarding Rainbow, a vicious pitbull which was adopted-out by a government shelter.

The motives for releasing vicious dogs to unsuspecting families with children range from overzealous commitment to preventing the animals from being euthanized, to slavish devotion to maintaining the appearance of being a “no-kill” shelter. The methods used for tricking people into adopting unadoptable dogs include misuse of temperament tests (see Alexandra Semyonova, Behavior Testing Shelter Dogs — The Reality of Where We Are Now) and “dog laundering” which is the term coined by Attorney Kenneth Phillips to describe the practice of moving a dog from one group to another for the purpose of sanitizing its record of vicious behavior toward people and animals. (See Phillips, Don’t Support Dog Laundering.) In some cases, vicious dogs are stolen from shelters so that they can be released illegally into the community or even adopted out to a family. (See Associated Press, More dogs stolen from Columbia animal shelter.) In one notorious case, a dogo Argentino that killed a man in New York was released for rehabilitation to a rescue group in Ohio, and then was stolen. (See Jim Sielicki, BLADE, Dog freed in murder stolen from local kennel.)

The following animal shelters have recently been implicated in “dog laundering” schemes to re-home vicious dogs with unsuspecting families:

The consequences of re-homing vicious dogs are often drastic. On April 29, 2016, a pit bull-mix rehomed by the San Diego Humane Society killed a baby, 3-day old Sebastian Caban. (See Colleen Lynn, 2016 Dog Bite Fatality: Pit Bull Rehomed by Humane Society Kills Newborn Baby.) Temporary fosters working with adoption groups and rescue groups have been killed and injured. (See Rebecca Carey, Georgia Student, Killed By Dogs She Rescued.) Dog bites increase in frequency throughout the geographic area. (See Dog Bites Increase 35% in Austin After the Adoption of ‘No-Kill’ Policy.) The acting director of the Fairfax County Animal Shelter resigned during an investigation of its adoption practices. (See WUSA9, Multiple dog attacks inside animal shelter.) Adoption groups, rescues, and governmental animal shelters can be prosecuted criminally and sued for damages. (See the Jennifer Lowe Case and the Krystal Cooney case, both of which were handled by Attorney Kenneth Phillips, at Animal Control Liability for Dog Bites.)

What To Do When There Is No Insurance

When the dog owner denies having insurance coverage, the victim still may have a remedy.

Make sure the dog owner understands where the insurance can be found

First of all, know that there are four kinds of insurance that could provide coverage for what happened: homeowners insurance, renters insurance, canine liability insurance, and commercial general insurance (if the dogs were performing a service for a business, like guarding a junkyard, and they somehow got out and attacked you). For more details, refer to Insurance for the Dog Owner.

Your dog owner might be insured by any of these. You can start by asking. If there is a criminal case or “dog court” case going on, contact the detective, prosecutor or animal control officer in charge of it, and ask them to find out for you. That often works. In some states, giving insurance information is mandatory, but in most states it unfortunately is not mandatory. Attorney Kennerth M. Phillips has lobbied to enact laws to change that.

Often the dog owner does not realize that insurance coverage on the place where they live equals insurance coverage on them. In other words, if the dog owner’s mom has homeowners insurance and the dog owner is living at home, the latter is covered. But if the dog owner is renting from the person he or she is living with, there is no coverage for the dog owner. So make sure you check out their residence because if it is a house or a decent looking apartment then there probably is insurance coverage.

Look for a co-owner who might have insurance

Look for somebody else who could be held responsible for the accident. For example, an uninsured, single woman may seem to be the sole owner of the dog but there might also be a fully insured boyfriend or separated husband or even ex-husband who either considers himself to be a co-owner of the dog or legally fits into the category of a co-owner of the dog. And of course that works the other way around, with an uninsured guy who has an insured, well-to-do girlfriend or separated wife or ex-wife who is the co-owner of the dog.

Read the adoption contract that “incriminates” the prior owner of the dog

For reasons that only can be guessed at, there are adoption and rescue groups using adoption contracts which say that the group remains the owner of the dog. If so, the victim can go after them as the owner.

Find the dog owner’s “principal”

Another potential defendant is a person whose interests were being served by the dogs being where they were at the time of the accident. In agency law, this person would be the “principal” and the dog owner would be the “agent.” For example, Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips had a case where pit bulls owned by an uninsured, pennyless ex-convict severely mauled a four-year-old boy walking on the street. It turned out that the dog owner used those dogs to keep predators out of his mother’s farm and away from her residence. Because his mother lived on the farm and the accident happened on a street going through the farm, Attorney Phillips argued that both the farm insurance and the mother’s homeowners insurance had to pay for the boy’s damages. That is exactly what happened. The little buy was Matthew Guess and you can see his horrific injuries at https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/article208552764.html

Consider whether the dog owner’s employer can be held liable

Yet another potential defendant would be the employer of the dog owner if the latter and his or her dogs were engaged in some activity within the scope of the employment duties. For example, a few years ago Attorney Phillips had a case against a famous movie studio because one of their guards trained his German shepherds to attack trespassers, and they attacked an art director, severely injuring him. Attorney Phillips won that case also.

File a lawsuit to get information

Use your funds to retain a lawyer to file suit against the dog owners. There are three very good reasons for doing this:

  • A lawsuit can reveal hidden insurance. It is common for dog owners to lie about their insurance until they are sued. When they are served, they will then “come clean” by giving the victim’s attorney the insurance information, or turning the matter over to their insurance company for defense and indemnification.
  • Lawsuits lead to settlements. Dog owners who truly do not have insurance coverage may offer an acceptable settlement arrangements.
  • Defendants blame others who might have insurance. You might not be aware of another dog owner, premises owner, employer or principal who may be legally liable for what happened and might be insured for it too. Examples include a friend who co-owns the dog, an ex-boyfriend or ex-wife who still co-owns the dog, or a rescue group whose contract foolishly provides that it still owns the dog. A word of caution: discovering other parties who are legal owners of a dog is uniquely the job of a lawyer, not a person with little or no knowledge of dog bite law. See Tips and Tricks for Victims’ Attorneys on this website or better yet view the video Tips and Tricks for Dog Bite Lawyers.

Press hard to get the dog owner convicted of a crime so there will be “restitution”

If there is a criminal prosecution, you can collect that way too. A defendant can be ordered to “make restitution” to the victim, meaning pay compensation for the victim’s economic losses of all sorts and even attorneys fees. Two things have to happen: the defendant has to be convicted (even with a plea bargain or sentence bargain) and you have to work with the prosecutor to get the order and then enforce it. This can be a powerful tool because the dog owner will go to jail if they don’t pay you.

If the dog owner is convicted, make a claim against the victims fund

All states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico have established compensation programs for crime victims. To receive compensation, victims must comply with state statutes and rules. Again, the key requirement is that the dog owner is convicted first. For details, start at State Crime Victims Compensation, an official website of the US government.

Make a workers compensation claim if possible

If the victim was doing something for someone when attacked, consult a workers compensation lawyer because the workers compensation system pays for medical treatment and provides temporary disability payments as well as permanant disability income. The definition of “worker” is unsettled at this time in a number of jurisdictions; for example, California enacted a statute in 2020 that vastly broadened the definition and thereby made a wider range of people eligible for workers compensation benefits.

Sue in small claims court if you can’t get a lawyer

Finally, you can sue the individual in a small claims court and then execute on the judgment by garnishing their wages and hitting their bank account. So it’s a two-step process: first you have to win your lawsuit and then do what is required for the garnishment or bank account levy.

Felony or Misdemeanor for Injury by Vicious Dog or “Mischievous Animal”

A number of states make it a felony or misdemeanor to own or possess a dog known to be vicious, if the dog injures or kills a person as a result of the dog owner’s criminal negligence. One state (California) has a more general penal law referring to “mischievous animal” as opposed to only a dog, Penal Code section 399:

399. (a) If any person owning or having custody or control of a mischievous animal, knowing its propensities, willfully suffers it to go at large, or keeps it without ordinary care, and the animal, while so at large, or while not kept with ordinary care, kills any human being who has taken all the precautions that the circumstances permitted, or which a reasonable person would ordinarily take in the same situation, is guilty of a felony.
(b) If any person owning or having custody or control of a mischievous animal, knowing its propensities, willfully suffers it to go at large, or keeps it without ordinary care, and the animal, while so at large, or while not kept with ordinary care, causes serious bodily injury to any human being who has taken all the precautions that the circumstances permitted, or which a reasonable person would ordinarily take in the same situation, is guilty of a misdemeanor or a felony.

In these states, a prosecutor does not have to prove the elements of involuntary homicide, battery or other more general penal laws, but can rely on the specific statute relating to vicious dogs or mischievous animals.

An interesting question arises, however, in cases where the prosecutor proceeds under both the specific and general statutes. Although it is common to do so (see for example the overlapping convictions in the Diane Whipple case), there is at least one unpublished court opinion in California which holds that it is improper to convict a defendant under both the mischievous animal law as well as the involuntary manslaughter law.

Senior Citizens and Dog Bites

Senior citizens and young children are the two groups most affected by the dog bite epidemic. Preventing attacks on senior citizens, caring for them after an attack, and handling their cases involve special considerations and resources. Here are a few places where one can find great information:

NIH Senior Health

Health for Seniors

22 Senior Health Risk Calculators for Healthy Aging

Cats and Seniors

Canine Caregivers for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Patients

Pets for the Elderly Foundation

Older Adults & Anxiety

Seniors & Drugs – NCADD

Ultimate Guide to Rehab & Medicare

Assisted Living Regulation and Laws

Aging in Place

Senior-Friendly Home Remodeling

How To Avoid And Detect Elder Fraud: A Guide For Older People, Carers And Relatives

National Council for Aging Care

Considerations for Older Travelers

Liability for Rabies

A dog’s saliva can transmit the disease of rabies. By the way, so can the saliva of raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes.

If a dog or other animal actually has rabies, treatment has to start within 48 hours of the time of the bite. Nobody who was treated within 48 hours has ever died from rabies. Although few Americans are infected with rabies in any given year, precautions are required because an untreated case of rabies always ends in death.

Unless there is evidence of rabies, the normal procedure is for animal control to either take the biting dog into custody for 10 days or issue a written order to the dog owners to quarantine the dog at their home for that period of time. During quarantine the dog must not come into contact with other animals and its death must be reported. If it dies, its brain is tested for rabies. Violation of a quarantine order is a crime usually punishable by jail time. Concealing the dog to avoid a quarantine order also results in the same penalty.

If the dog does not die, the victim is presumed to be out of the woods and no treatment for rabies is administered. If it dies or the bite victim has rabies symptoms, however, treatment must commence immediately. Early symptoms of the disease include irritability, headache, fever and sometimes itching or pain at the site of the exposure. If untreated, rabies disease progresses within days to paralysis, spasms of the throat muscles, convulsions, delirium and death. The incubation period varies; it normally is 2 to 8 weeks, but in rare cases symptoms have appeared a year or more after exposure.

A dog owner who failed to obey laws requiring rabies vaccinations can be held liable for any resulting injuries and damages if his dog bites a person. If the victim suffered from rabies disease, the losses would be significant. Even if the victim simply had to undergo rabies treatment, the pain, inconvenience, and anxiety of worrying about the possibility of dying from rabies disease would result in a significant level of damages.

Additionally, violating a quarantine order or concealing a dog to prevent further investigation can also result in significant damages because of emotional distress on the part of the victim, as well as the cost, pain and suffering stemming from rabies treatment. 

For further information, see Rabies and Animal Control and Why They Quarantined Your Dog.  

Do we have to file a lawsuit?

Normally, a lawsuit based on a dog bite claim is unnecessary. The most common reason is that most states have a dog bite statute that makes dog owners strictly liable for the payment of compensation to dog bite victims. (To read about liability in general, see Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA; to find out whether your state has a dog bite statute, return to our home page and click on the name of your state in the drop-down menu.)

Even if you were bitten in a “one bite state,” it usually is unnecessary to file a lawsuit if you retain an attorney who has significant experience handling dog bite cases. That lawyer knows what evidence is required, how to obtain it, and how to present it to the dog owner’s homeowners insurance company or renters insurance company. Just as important, he knows how much his other clients have received under similar circumstances. The more cases he has handled, the more accurate his information. There is no need for a lawsuit when the insurance company and the victim’s attorney have similar views about the dog bite claim. The client is the winner because he receives proper compensation and saves money and time.

Lawsuits are for disputes that cannot be resolved between the parties. The lawsuit puts the dispute in front of one stranger at first (i.e., the judge) and ultimately 12 other strangers (i.e., the jury). The case is decided by strangers when the parties fail to resolve it on their own. If enough money is in dispute, it can be very much worth it. If the insurance company is being unfair to the dog bite victim or the latter takes an unrealistic position, it also is worth it. A lawsuit enables the parties to gather evidence, take depositions, and then hopefully resolve their different assessments of the case. If they can do that, they then can settle the matter without going to court.

Often settlement is accomplished with the help of a mediator. There are attorneys who serve as mediators rather than represent clients; when judges retire, many become professional mediators because of their vast experience. When the parties have pinned down the most important evidence and testimony, they often agree to select a mediator whose job it will be to help settle the case. Mediations often result in settlement; even if the settlement represents more of a compromise in the parties initially believed they could tolerate, mediation often becomes that “happy ending” because it is quicker, less costly, less emotional, and far more convenient than going to trial.

Only 1% of dog bite cases actually go to trial. That does not mean, however, that the litigation process is unnecessary. The threat of going to trial requires the parties to be realistic. The ability to subpoena witnesses and evidence enables the parties to get to the truth. Unwarranted claims and defenses can be eliminated by the judge long before the day of trial. New theories of recovery can be tested. And unfair positions by any party can be squelched before causing too much trouble, wasted effort, and hurt feelings.

 

Trespass by the victim as a defense

Overview of trespass

Trespass upon real property is defined, generally speaking, as the act of going upon the real property of another without his consent, his express or implied invitation, or the legal right of entry. It extends to any physical invasion of land without permission or legal right. Trespass requires no bad intent or knowledge that one is violating another’s rights: all it requires is a voluntary act of being on someone else’s land or being responsible for an object being on someone else’s land. There is no de minimis exception for trespass: placing a toe on someone else’s land or building one millimeter over the boundary line is a trespass. Putting part of the body, such as a hand, finger, or face, over a fence generally is considered a trespass. Restatement of Torts (Second), sec. 159(1) provides, “Except as stated in Subsection (2), a trespass may be committed on, beneath, or above the surface of the earth.” Illustration 3 of sec. 159 is more specific: “extending an arm over a fence into the space above the surface of plaintiff’s land is a trespass.” But there are numerous exceptions to the general rule of trespass.

Examples of successful use of the trespass defense

The trespass defense is illustrated by Kenney v. Barna (Neb. 1983) 215 Neb. 863. It held as follows: 1. A trespasser is a person who enters or remains upon premises in possession of another without the express or implied consent of the possessor. 2. Trespass: Minors. While the age of a child will not protect such a child if the act is denominated a trespass, yet, as trespass is an intentional tort, an initial determination must be made whether the child concerned formed the intent to do the physical act which released the harmful force. 3. Trespass. A person can trespass on another’s property by simply extending his or her arm over the boundary fence. 4. Trespass: Minors. In making a determination as to whether a child was capable of the necessary intent to be classed as a trespasser, the standard of conduct to be used is that of a reasonable person of like age, intelligence, and experience under the circumstances.

When trespass is proven, it can constitute a crime or a defense to a civil action. Most dog bite statutes incorporate the trespass defense. See, for example, the California dog bite statute and Fullerton v. Conan (1948) 87 Cal.App.2d 354 (against clear prohibition by the dog owner, the young child opened a gate and wandered into the dog owner’s back yard while she and her mother were guests; held that the child was trespassing and, therefore, the dog owner was not liable under the dog bite statute).

Therefore, a victim who was bitten on private property, therefore, must usually establish he had a right to be there and therefore fits within an exception to the trespass defense.

Exceptions to the trespass defense

There are many exceptions to the trespass defense. See Defenses – Trespass by U.S. Legal. The most common is a leasehold interest in the property or an explicit invitation, such as when one is an invited guest at a party. Examples of implicit invitations include but are not limited to:

  • Neighbors who customarily enter each other’s yards and even homes without prior notice.
  • Children who often play in a front yard or a back yard.
  • A customer who enters a store that is open for business.

The law provides an implied license to approach a home by the front path, knock promptly, and wait briefly to be received. (Florida v. Jardines (2013) 569 U.S. 1, 8 [133 S.Ct. 1409, 185 L.Ed.2d 495].) While that implied license may be revoked, courts have found that a fence or no trespassing signs alone are not sufficient to revoke that license. (See State v. McIntyre (1993) 123 Ore.App. 436, 440-441 [finding house surrounded by tall fence with metal driveway gate insufficient to conclude homeowner intended to exclude visitors]; State v. Rogoulot (Idaho App. 1992) 846 P.2d 918, 923 [” ‘No Trespassing’ ” signs “cannot reasonably be interpreted to exclude normal, legitimate, inquiries or visits by mail carriers, newspaper deliverers, census takers, neighbors, friends, [and] utility workers”].) In U.S. v. Holmes (M.D.Fla. 2015) 143 F.Supp.3d 1252, 1266, the court held that a fence with an unlocked gate, no trespassing signs, beware of dog signs, the lack of a knocker or doorbell, and other physical obstructions to the front door did not revoke the implied license of police conducting a knock and talk.

There are many other situations where a person will not be regarded as a trespasser. These include the common law defenses (e.g., necessity) and exceptions and modifications imposed by legislation or regulation. There are very important schemes of antidiscrimination laws governing public accommodations and the right of entry afforded to land surveyors. Such exceptions tend to govern certain kinds of land, or they are qualified by notice-giving and purpose restrictions.

Trespass is no defense when scienter is proved

If the victim is a trespasser, the question of compensation does not necessarily end there. The next issue is whether the dog was known to be vicious. Knowledge of a dog’s viciousness is referred to as “scienter.” The owner, harborer, or keeper of a vicious dog is not permitted to use the defense of trespass against a dog bite victim. The rule is stated in Restatement, Second, Torts § 338 (1965):

A possessor of land who is in immediate control of a force, and knows or has reason to know of the presence of trespassers in dangerous proximity to it, is subject to liability for physical harm thereby caused to them by his failure to exercise reasonable care (a) so to control the force as to prevent it from doing harm to them, or (b) to give a warning which is reasonably adequate to enable them to protect themselves.

See the discussion in Farrier v. Payton (1977) 562 P.2d 779, 785-786.

For that reason, a dog bite victim who was bitten while trespassing should not base his claim upon the state’s dog bite statute, but on the common law ground of scienter (i.e., the one bite rule). For more about the distinctions between dog bite statutes and scienter, see Legal Right of Dog Bite Victims in the USA and The One Bite Rule.

Animal Control Liability for Dog Bites

Background: animal control agencies in general

The enforcement of laws pertaining to animals is a police function. In many cities and counties, the responsibility is delegated to an animal control department, namely a limited law enforcement agency that is staffed by animal control officers. In some places, animal control is put into the hands of the local humane society which is not a governmental agency at all but which possibility could have some of the legal rights of one. (See Humane Society Liability for Dog Bites here at dogbitelaw.com.)

The authority of animal control officers to make arrests, conduct searches, and deal with animals varies widely from one jurisdiction to another. For example, officers in one city might carry guns, make arrests and have the ability to conduct dog court hearings and euthanize vicious dogs, while officers in an adjoining city might be unarmed, have the power to do nothing other than write tickets, and be authorized to quarantine a vicious dog that attacks a person, but not to put the dog down. 

The government has a monopoly on animal control. It is illegal for an ordinary citizen to trap, exile or kill dogs that are vicious to people (unless a situation arises in which a dog is reasonably certain to inflict severe bodily injury on a human being, triggering the right to defend oneself or another person). If we shoot a dog in self-defense, we face the possibility that a wrong-headed local prosecutor might file charges against us of animal cruelty or discharging a firearm within the city limits.

Even though this monopoly is justified by the notion that the enforcement of animal control laws is a governmental function, many cities have abandoned it almost entirely. The department might lack the necessary number of officers, proper facilities, working trucks, safe equipment, and legal authority to actually do something in response to a vicious dog or a recidivist dog owner.

Even the adequately supported animal control officers have conflicting mandates: to protect animals from the negligence and cruelty of some people, and to protect people from the dangerousness and viciousness of some animals. This contradiction itself frequently results in chronic under-enforcement of the laws. Consider, for example, the plight of residents of San Diego, California. Its animal control department has engaged in the controversial practice of promoting the adoption of pit bulls. The results have been terrible: the city’s Union-Tribune newspaper has published official statistics establishing that approximately 9% of San Diego’s pit bulls bite people, while the average is 1-1/2% for all breeds. (Read John Wilkins, What’s Being Done About Dog Bites, U-T San Diego.) On November 11, 2012, Remedios Romero-Solares, 30, of Fallbrook, California, was killed by one or more of 8 American bulldog mixes. In San Diego, this was the 4th killing by a pit bull type dog in a short period of time. One can truly say that the no-kill policy applies only to dogs but not to people in San Diego.

Dog pack injuries that animal control could have prevented

The result of animal control under-enforcement can be injuries and deaths. In recent memory, wild dogs and dogs running at large in a pack have injured or killed a number of people. Here are some of them:

1. On April 29, 2000, in Newberry Springs, California, a pet sitter / house sitter named James Chiavetta, 54, left a gate open, allowing a number of dogs to run at large. The dogs chased and killed 8-year-old Cash Carson.

2. On June 10, 2000, Dorothy Stewart, a census worker, was killed by a pack of more than 18 dogs while collecting census data in Indiana.

3. On March 6, 2001, 10-year-old Rodney McAllister of St. Louis was eaten alive by a pack of dogs in the park across the street from his home. (“He was literally eaten by the dogs,” Police Chief Ron Henderson said on the news. “They fed off of him.”)

4. On November 30, 2003, 40-year-old Jennifer Brooke of Elbert County, Colorado, was killed by 3 roaming pit bulls in a barn near her rural home.

5. On December 12, 2003, in Ocala, Florida, 81-year-old Alice Broom was killed in her own yard. She was attacked by 6 dogs and bled to death on the street.

6. On March 8, 2005, in Partlow, Virginia, 82-year-old Dorothy Sullivan was killed on her front lawn by a neighbor’s 3 roaming pit bulls.

7. In July 2006, Jimmie May McConnell of Kansas City, Kansas, was killed by dogs that had entered her yard.

8. On July 31, 2006, John Brannaman, 81, died of a heart attack at Orlando, Florida, after he was mauled by loose dogs in front of his home.

9. On November 3, 2006, 10-year-old Matthew Davis of Dillon, South Carolina was killed by 6 dogs that attacked him outside a rural home.

10. On May 13, 2007, Celestino Rangel, a 90-year-old man in San Antonio, Texas, was killed by two pit bulls that had broken into his home and attacked him.

11. On May 17, 2007, 59-year-old James Chapple, Jr., died in Memphis, Tennessee, due to complications from injuries inflicted by stray dogs running at large.

12. On September 13, 2007, Edward Gierlach, 91, of Iosco Township, Michigan, and Cheryl Harper, 56, of Fowlerville, Michigan, were killed in separate incidents by a pack of bulldogs that were running at large.

13. On October 15, 2007, Rosalie Bivins, 65, died after a pack of 5 to 7 dogs attacked her as she used a walker to get to the mailbox at the end of her driveway. This happened in Oklahoma.

14. On December 25, 2007, in Yermo, California, 45-year-old Kelly Caldwell was killed by up to 5 dogs. They were running at large on the street where she was walking.

Note: all of the above mentioned deaths happened before Krystal was mauled on June 15, 2008.

15. On August 17, 2008, Henry Piotrowski, 90 years old, of Staten Island, New York, died after being mauled by two loose dogs on July 1, 2008.

16. On September 4, 2008, Luna McDaniel, 83, of Ville Platte, Louisiana, died as a result of being mauled by 3 dogs running at large on August 24, 2008. She was collecting cans in her neighborhood for recycling.

17. On March 28, 2009, 48-year-old Gordon Lykins of Winterhaven, California, was attacked by wild dogs near a drainage canal road, a few miles north of Yuma, Arizona. He died on April 10, 2009, from those injuries.

18. On April 10, 2009, Michael Landry, a 4-year-old boy from Louisiana, was killed by a neighbor’s 3 dogs that were running at large.

19. On August 14, 2009, 66-year-old Sherry Schweder and her husband, 76-year-old Lothar Schweder, were killed by an unknown number of at-large dogs near the couple’s home outside Atlanta, Georgia.

20. On December 4, 2009, 70-year-old Lowell Bowden of Lindside, West Virginia, died from injuries that 4 dogs inflicted upon him on November 27, 2009. He was taking a walk near his home, and was mauled beyond recognition.

All of these killings were by packs of dogs. Some of the packs were wild, others were “neighborhood dogs.” These were only the death cases. There are hundreds of thousands of non-fatal pack attacks on Americans each year. The point is that when dogs roam at large in a pack, they are very dangerous. When they are wild, they are even more dangerous. 

Animal control departments have been held liable for dog bite injuries

As a result of the under-enforcement of animal control laws, courts have held animal control departments responsible for the payment of compensation to victims of dog attacks that resulted in part from animal control negligence. For example:

  • The Jennifer Lowe case. On November 12, 2007, pit bulls belonging to Charles Smallwood of Knoxville, Tennessee, savagely attacked twenty-one year old Jennifer Lowe at the entry of Smallwood’s mobile home, from which Smallwood himself was absent. The pit bulls severely mauled Ms. Lowe during the attack, inflicting horrific injuries on her face and body which ultimately caused her death later that day. Attorneys Kenneth M. Phillips and Wayne A. Ritchie II, representing Ms. Lowe’s family, uncovered evidence that the same dogs had repeatedly attempted to bite people, had attacked and bitten a sheriff’s car, had been shot at by police officers in self-defense, and had actually been formally declared to be vicious by the Knox County Animal Control Department. Despite having the legal authority to confiscate the dogs, however, the animal control officers did not do so, up to the time of Ms. Lowe’s horrific death. As a result of the negligence of its animal control department, Knox County was forced to pay substantial monetary damages to her family.
  • The Krystal Cooney case. Attorney Phillips also represented Krystal Cooney, who was injured by a pack of dogs on June 15, 2008 in Parlier, California. The attack left her with permanent and disfiguring scarring on her left arm and both legs. These were wild, vicious dogs that had been living on the premises of Parlier High School. Numerous complaints to the city’s animal control department were met with inaction. The county’s animal control department took some measures to round up the packs of dogs in the area, but those measures were inadequate. As a result, the city and the county, as well as the school district, were forced to pay substantial monetary damages to Ms. Cooney.

Problems that arise in lawsuits against animal control agencies and employees

The requirements for suing any governmental agency or employee, however, can present difficulty to the dog bite victim. A memorandum of law must be drafted at the outset, specifying the legal grounds on which the plaintiff will rely. Generally, an animal control agency can be sued only where it breached a mandatory duty set forth in the state, county or city law, or where it had adequate notice of the dangerous dogs, the authority to remedy the situation, but failed to take appropriate action. The plaintiff is required to notify the city or county within a short period of time following the attack, and to file suit a short amount of time after being informed that the city or county denies liability (which they always do). One should expect that the government then will attempt to defend itself by using all of the immunities that the law provides. For more about the doctrine of sovereign immunity, see Governmental Immunity

A remarkable example of animal control avoiding liability is County of Los Angeles v. Superior Court (Faten) 209 Cal.App.4th 543 (2012). In that case, it was held that a county ordinance stating that the director of animal control “shall” confiscate any dog constituting a sufficient hazard did not establish a mandatory duty to take custody of the pitbulls that attacked a child. 

Here are some of the reasons to hold liable an animal control department and/or the city or county where a dog mauling took place:

  • Citizens complained about vicious, roving dogs but the authorities did not investigate.
  • The authorities investigated in an incompetent manner, resulting in no action taken.
  • The authorities had the right (or even the duty) to impound the vicious dogs, but failed to do so.
  • The authorities impounded the vicious dogs, but released them without justification.
  • The authorities impounded the vicious dogs, but released them to a person known to used the dogs to commit crimes, or a person otherwise clearly unsuitable to own those dogs.
  • The authorities released the vicious dogs to fosters or residents without warning them or disclosing the circumstances of the prior attacks.
  • The authorities released the vicious dogs with conditions, but took no action to enforce the conditions.
  • The injuries were caused by a significant number of vicious dogs, in a jurisdiction that did not allow a person to harbor that many dogs.

For more opinion and information about whether the existing animal control laws protect our communities or make them less safe, and what to do about that, see Make a Choice: Animal Control or Animal Uncontrol

Defending Against Criminal Charges: Case Study of People V. Maureen Faibish

On June 3, 2005, Maureen Faibish’s son Nicholas Faibish was brutally killed by one of the family pit bulls. Mrs. Faibish had left him alone in the basement for hours, with a shovel to barricade himself against her raging pit bull, which had bitten the boy that same day. When she left the house, it was not to borrow some rice from the neighbor across the street, but to attend a carnival for a few hours with her daughter.

The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office filed felony child endangerment charges against Maureen Faibish. The trial took place in 2006. Every day in court, Mrs. Faibish cried. She could not look at the photos. Proceedings were halted repeatedly when she had to be let outside for air. When it came time for the jury to make a decision, only two voted guilty. The judge declared a mistrial, and Mrs. Faibish moved to another state.

The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office had the right to try Mrs. Faibish again, on the same charges. However, it dropped the case. The prosecuting attorney told the trial judge that there was nothing new to present in a second trial, and suggested “a possibility, perhaps even a likelihood” that a new jury would also deadlock.

This is the same district attorney’s office that obtained the second degree murder conviction of Marjorie Knoller in the Diane Whipple case. Why did they drop the Faibish prosecution?

A close look at a number of canine-inflicted homicides suggests that it is practically unheard-of for parents or grandparents to be convicted of crimes when their children or grandkids are mauled to death by the family dog. In this context, the Faibish prosecution was hardly a half-hearted gesture, but a rare attempt to bring the real guilty party to justice. As they say, punish the deed, not the breed.

A comparison of two Bay Area killings sharply illustrates the deferential treatment that prosecutors give to parents and grandparents. Within a few weeks of Diane Whipple’s death, a 6-year-old girl was killed by dogs in the San Francisco Bay area. The circumstances of these maulings were very similar. Both victims were killed by two dogs that worked together. The breeds were known to be dangerous: Presa Canarios in the Whipple case, Rottweilers in the case of the little girl. In both cases the dog owners were just a couple of feet away, but somehow did not prevent the maulings. And the dog owners in both cases had exceptional knowledge about the dangerous propensities of the breed of dog that did the killing.

There also were significant differences between the two attacks. Whipple was a grown woman; the other victim was a child. The dog owners in Whipple’s case were neighbors; in the child’s case, it was her grandmother. The Whipple defendants went on the offensive, making accusations against the deceased victim, while the grandmother was grief-stricken.

Prosecutors treated these two cases as different as night and day. Both of the Presa owners were charged with serious felonies, and both were convicted; one owner was convicted even though he was not present when Whipple died, and the other was convicted of murder (the case is being appealed). But no charges of any kind were filed against the owner of the dogs that killed the little girl.

Why not? What was at the heart of the decision to file murder charges in connection with Whipple’s death, and totally drop the ball in the other case?

The answer to this question probably lies in a nasty cultural bias. There is an almost universal belief that parents are entitled to wide latitude in raising their children. Recall that, in a not so long ago time, children and wives actually were the property of a man, and he could do with them just about whatever he wanted. In the law, this became the doctrine of parental immunity, which stated that a child had no recourse against his parents for any act or inaction which resulted in the young one’s injury or damage. One court stated:

It would impose a fetter on parental judgment and discretion [to allow a child to have recourse against his parents]….Some parents might choose to be highly protective, others might accept that their children will get hurt, or hurt themselves, as a necessary part of the child’s development. (Holodook v Spencer 36 NY 2d 35, 329 (1974).)

The doctrine of parental immunity has been abandoned or at least modified in many American states. Children can now make claims against parents under a range of circumstances. Exposing a child to a strong and obvious danger can result in civil liability. Gibson v. Gibson (1971) 3 Cal. 3d 914, 921. The proper test of a parent’s conduct is what an ordinarily reasonable and prudent parent whould have done in similar circumstances. Gibson, ibid. The usual rules of negligence are modified when the issue is the parent’s liability to his child for injury to that child.

Nevertheless, in the absence of something obviously harmful, the courts and our culture take a very hands-off attitude when it comes to the treatment of children by their parents. “Supervision is uniquely a matter for the exercise of judgement. For this reason parents have always had the right to determine how much independence, supervision and control a child should have….” Holodook v Spencer 36 NY 2d 35, 346 (1974). “The parent is clearly in the best position to know the limitation and capabilities of his or her own children. These intangibles cannot be adequately conveyed within the formal atmosphere of a courtroom. Nor do we believe that a court or a jury can evaluate these highly subjective factors…” Foldi v Jeffries 93 N.J. 533, 461 A.2d 1145 (1983).

Accordingly, when a parent or grandparent appears to be genuinely sorry for the death of a child under their care, people give them every benefit of the doubt. Misdeeds and negligence which would be intolerable from a neighbor are judged in the softest and most gentle light when parents engage in them. Bluntly, parents and grandparents appear to be able to get away with murder, if only it looks like they were trying their best, and they show an appropriate amount of grief.

The Faibish prosecution bowed to those deep-seated beliefs that excuse the crime of a parent against a child, as long as the act is loosely within the wide, wide scope of parental discretion, and the parent shows grief. The tears of Maureen Faibish won the day — over the blood of her son and, some would say, over common sense.

Misdemeanor to Fail to Quarantine or Produce Animal, or Give Information About Animal

The California Health and Safety Code makes it a misdemeanor, with a significant fine, to fail to quarantine or produce an animal that might have rabies, or has bitten, or to fail to give information about such an animal:

121705.  Any person who willfully conceals information about the location or ownership of an animal subject to rabies, that has bitten or otherwise exposed a person to rabies, with the intent to prevent the quarantine or isolation of that animal by the local health officer is guilty of a misdemeanor. Any person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor.

121710.  Any person who, after notice, violates any order of a local health officer concerning the isolation or quarantine of an animal of a species subject to rabies, that has bitten or otherwise exposed a person to rabies or who, after that order, fails to produce the animal upon demand of the local health officer, is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for a period not to exceed one year, or by fine of not less than one hundred dollars ($100), nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) per day of violation, or by both fine and imprisonment.

Misdemeanor for Destruction of Attacking Dog Needed As Evidence

A dog owner who destroys his own dog can be found guilty of destruction of evidence. For example, section 135 of the California Penal Code states:

135.  Every person who, knowing that any book, paper, record, instrument in writing, or other matter or thing, is about to be produced in evidence upon any trial, inquiry, or investigation whatever, authorized by law, willfully destroys or conceals the same, with intent thereby to prevent it from being produced, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Misdemeanor Based Upon Degree of Injury Caused by Attacking Dog

A dog owner can be convicted of a high level misdemeanor in states that base conviction upon the degree of injury inflicted upon the victim of an unjustified dog attack. For example, Pennsylvania’s Dog Law provides that even merely negligent conduct on the part of a dog owner can result in a first degree misdemeanor conviction if the consequence was the severe injury or death of a person. (See Pennsylvania.) The penalty for such a crime can be a prison sentence of up to five years. (Pennsylvania Crimes Code, section 106 (Classes of Offenses).

Manslaughter Resulting from Death Caused by Negligence

Any person (the dog owner or someone who controls, harbors or keeps the dog) may be guilty of involuntary manslaughter for a death caused by negligence. Here are examples:

In November 1986, three dogs jumped through a broken window and killed a young boy in Decatur, Georgia. The owner of the dogs, Hayward Turnipseed, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

In 1987, Michael Berry of Morgan Hill, California, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after his pit bull killed a 2-year-old child, James Soto. 

In 2000, pet sitter James Chiavetta of Barstow, California, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter because he left open a gate, allowing a pit bull that he was deathly afraid of to kill 10-year-old Cash Carson. 

In 2005, 2-year-old Jonathan Martin was mauled to death by his parents’ pit bulls, which were used to guard their marijuana plants. His parents, James Martin and Heather Frango of Whaleyville, Virginia, were convicted of involuntary manslaughter following their toddler’s death. 

In the Diane Whipple case, both of the defendants, Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, were convicted of involuntary manslaughter, among other things. (See The Diane Whipple Case on this web site, www.dogbitelaw.com.) 

For more, see CALCRIM, the California jury instructions for criminal cases. 

Manslaughter Resulting from Death During Commission of Misdemeanor Per Misdemeanor – Manslaughter Rule

A person who violates a law can be convicted of manslaughter if, in the course of that violation, another person dies. This is called the misdemeanor-manslaughter rule. It is codified in many states. For example, California Penal Code section 192 states:

192.  Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice.  It is of three kinds:    …   

(b) Involuntary–in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony….

A dog bite might result in a misdemeanor conviction in cities that have adopted laws like section 9.04.060 of the South San Francisco Municipal Code, which requires that dog owners and keepers prevent their dogs from biting or harassing people, or keeping people from lawfully using public or private property:

9.04.060. Public protection from dogs.

(a) Every owner or possessor of a dog shall at all times prevent such dog from biting or physically harassing any person engaged in a lawful act or interfering with the lawful use of public or private property.

A violation of section 9.04.060 occurs whenever a dog owner or keeper in South San Francisco somehow fails to prevent a bite from happening. In other cities, such as the City of San Francisco itself, it is only an infraction (a public offense less than a misdemeanor) for a dog to bite a person or animal, and in still others, there is no criminal law against it at all.

Section 53.34 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code is similar but the violation covers both animals and people, and is based not only on the fact of a bite but also the act of allowing or causing the attacking dog to be at large or trespassing:

A person who owns or is in charge of or controls or who possesses a dog or other animal who permits, allows or causes the dog or other animal to run, stray, be uncontrolled or in any manner be in, upon, or at large upon a public street, sidewalk, park or other public property or in or upon the premises or private property of another person is guilty of a misdemeanor if said dog or other animal bites, attacks or causes injury to any human being or other animal.

The municipal code where the dog lives may make it a crime to allow the dog to endanger a person coming onto private property, if the owner or keeper knows that the dog is dangerous or vicious. For example, Section 53.33(a) of the Los Angeles Municipal Code states: 

No person, owning or having custody or control of any dog, other than a sentry dog, or any other animal known by such person to be vicious or dangerous, shall permit it to run at large, or permit it to run loose on or within the premises of such person in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any person lawfully entering such premises. For the purposes of this section “sentry dog” shall mean a dog trained to work without supervision in a fenced facility to deter or to detain persons found within the facility.

Similarly, it is a violation of the Los Angeles Municipal Code for a person to “permit” a leashed or unleashed dog to not only assault, but also to threaten or menace any person or animal anywhere except the owner’s property. Section 53.34.1 provides:

No person, owning or having custody or control of any dog, whether or not restrained by a substantial chain or leash, shall permit the dog to unlawfully assault, threaten or menace any human being or other animal upon any public street, sidewalk, park or other public property, or in or upon the premises or private property of another. 

The Beverly Hills Municipal Code has the effect of forcing the exile from the city of any dog that has bitten a person or otherwise has demonstrated viciousness:

Sec. 5-2.201. Vicious dogs.

It shall be unlawful for any person to keep within the City a vicious dog. Proof that a dog has bitten a person shall be deemed to be prima facie evidence that the dog is vicious; provided further, a dog may be shown to be vicious even though it is not proven to have bitten any person.

Mere ownership of a dangerous dog can be a crime in itself. The Beverly Hills Municipal Code makes it a crime to keep within the city any dog that has bitten someone or otherwise has demonstrated viciousness. See also Dangerous Dogs for the similar state law. 

However, not every misdemeanor or infraction requiring general criminal intent can serve as a basis for involuntary manslaughter. “{W]here involuntary manslaughter is predicated on an unlawful act constituting a misdemeanor, it must still be shown that such misdemeanor was dangerous to human life or safety under the circumstances of its commission.”  (People v. Cox (2000) 23 Cal.4th 665, 675) The Court stated that in California there is no “misdemeanor-manslaughter rule that automatically establishes the offense of involuntary manslaughter whenever a killing results from the commission of any misdemeanor.” (Ibid.) It was held that the underlying unlawful act must be dangerous to human life or safety under the circumstances of its commission. (Cox, 23 Cal.4th at p. 676.)

In order for a municipal code section requiring that a dog be kept on a leash, therefore, or that the owner or keeper prevent bites from occurring, be the basis for involuntary manslaughter, the circumstances must have created a danger to human life or safety. Although no cases have specifically addressed dog bites and municipal code sections making them illegal, it appears clear that the prosecution would need to prove that defendant had knowledge of some dangerous propensity of the dog. (See the discussion of People v. Berry, in Death caused by mischievous animal, above.)

Felony or Misdemeanor for Using Dog As Deadly Weapon

A dog can be used to inflict bodily injuries on a person, and therefore the use of a dog in that manner can be charged as a crime or an enhancement to a criminal charge. As was stated by one court, “[i]t is well established that an innocuous instrument can become a dangerous instrument when under the circumstances in which it is threatened to be used, it is readily capable of causing death or other serious physical injury.” (People v Garraway (1992) 187 A.D.2d 761, 589 N.Y.S.2d 942.) Under the Model Penal Code, “deadly weapon” is defined to include both inanimate and animate instruments which, in the manner used, are capable of producing death or serious bodily injury. (Model Pen. Code, § 210.0(4).)

Accordingly, since the 1950’s, the use of a dog as a weapon has prompted prosecutors to charge defendants with crimes usually associated with guns and knives.

A video by WCSH-TV tells dramatically about the use of a pit bull to commit robbery and assault, and explains why prosecutors believe that vicious dogs are deadly weapons under the law. The New York Times interviewed Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips for the article, Instruments of Danger in Weapons Case Were Dogs, Authorities Say. Video of Phillips talking about using dogs as weapons is included at the bottom of this page.

In 2016, there was a dramatic surge in crimes committed using pit bulls as an offensive weapon. (See Merritt Clifton, Pit Bull Crime Doubled in 2016.)

Here are 3 cases in which deadly weapon charges were filed against dog owners:

  • A 45-year-old man was charged with violation of the New York gun control law (the Sullivan Act) because of his possession of a huge German shepherd dog that allegedly attacked three patrolmen. (Read the abstract of this 1956 incident from the New York Times.)
  • A youth was charged with child molestation with a deadly weapon, in addition to other felony charges of criminal confinement and intimidation, after using his pit bull to assault a 9-year-old girl in Lake County, Illinois, in 2003. (Read the article in the Chicago Tribune.)
  • A man in Worcester County, Massachusetts, was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon after he unleashed his pit bull to enable it to bite another man, who indeed was bitten on the stomach. (Read the article about this 2012 assault in the Sentinel & Enterprise.)

The California case of People v. Nealis (1991) 232 Cal.App.3d Supp. 1 surveyed the law throughout the USA and concluded “a dog trained to attack humans on command, or one without training that follows such a command, and which is of sufficient size and strength relative to its victim to inflict death or great bodily injury, may be considered a ‘deadly weapon or instrument’.” In Nealis, the defendant commanded her Doberman to attack two victims, and the dog responded by doing so and inflicting significant injuries.

Prosecutors have charged defendants with other, related crimes because of the use of a dog. For example, in People v. Henderson (1999) 76 Cal.App.4th 453, pit bulls were used to threaten police, and the dog owner was charged with a violation of Penal Code section 417.8 (brandishing a deadly weapon). There was testimony from a dog expert that pit bulls as a breed are capable of inflicting great bodily injury. Under the circumstances of that case, the court held that the dogs were deadly weapons, not necessarily because of their breed, but because the defendant was using them as deadly weapons.

Similarly, a dog attack can constitute malicious wounding, which is a felony in some states. See, i.e., Long v. Commonwealth, 379 S.E.2d 473, 8 Va. App. 194 (Va.App. 1989). In the Long case, it also was held that the prosecution is not required to prove that the dog was vicious or trained to attack if the defendant intended to command the dog to attack.

A pit bull owner in California was convicted of a felony and given probation and fines after his dog repeatedly bit and terrorized neighbors. The case of People v. Flores was a prosecution for keeping a “mischievous animal.” California Penal Code section 399 establishes that if a person knows his animal is “mischievous” and fails to exercise ordinary care, and as a result a human being suffers serious bodily injury or death, that person may be convicted of a misdemeanor or felony (up to 4 years in prison). The defendant’s pit bull in the Flores case, named “Blue,” had never bitten anyone or broken free of its confinement; however, the court stated “[t]here was overwhelming evidence that Blue’s aggressiveness, combined with his massive strength and power, made him uncontrollable and a danger to the public.”

The crime of assault generally consists of putting a person in fear of a battery (i.e., an unlawful touching). Therefore this crime can occur even without the dog biting a person. The necessary element is the action or threat that creates the fear. Assault with a deadly weapon is serious crime. For example, California Penal Code section 245 provides that any person who commits an assault with a deadly weapon or instrument other than a firearm, or by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury, may be punished by imprisonment in state prison for two, three, or four years; or county jail not exceeding one year; or by a fine not exceeding $10,000; or by both the fine and imprisonment.

For more: Pit Bull Owner Charged With Assault with a Deadly Weapon

 

Felony or Misdemeanor for Injury by Dog Trained to Fight, Attack or Kill

A number of states make it a specific crime to possess a dog that is trained to fight, attack or kill. For example, California Penal Code section 399.5 makes it a misdemeanor or felony (in the prosecutor’s discretion) to own or have custody or control of a dog if the following four conditions are met: 

  • The dog was trained to fight, attack or kill.
  • The owner or keeper knew of the dangerous nature of the dog.
  • The dog bit one or more people on two separate occasions (causing any kind of injury), or on one occasion which caused substantial injuries.
  • The attack(s) resulted from the owner’s or keeper’s failure to exercise ordinary care.

Felony Conviction for Mayhem Where an Injury Is Especially Serious

If as a result of a dog attack, the victim is disabled, disfigured or loses part of his or her face or body, it is possible that a conviction of mayhem may follow if the person handling the dog intended that such injury would result.

For example, the California Penal Code states:

203.  Every person who unlawfully and maliciously deprives a human being of a member of his body, or disables, disfigures, or renders it useless, or cuts or disables the tongue, or puts out an eye, or slits the nose, ear, or lip, is guilty of mayhem.

204.  Mayhem is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four, or eight years.

Death As Second Degree Murder

Second degree murder is generally defined as the killing of a person that is intentional but not planned in advance, or one that results from engaging in dangerous conduct with a conscious disregard for other people’s safety. (See Second Degree Murder Overview at Findlaw.) Several dog owners have been convicted of second degree murder because their animal killed a person.

In 1992, Jeffrey Mann was convicted of second degree murder (ORC 2903.02) for causing his pit bull to kill his girlfriend, 28-year-old Angela Kaplan. 

Araceli Garcia of Pomona, California, was convicted ofr second-degree murder in 1994. She tossed her newborn son to a pack of pit bulls in a neighbor’s yard. 

In Kansas v. Sabine Davidson, the defendant was found guilty of second degree murder because her Rottweiler dogs killed a young boy, 11-yeqr-old Christopher Wilson of Milford, Kansas. There was evidence that the defendant trained the dogs to be aggressive. Davidson was not present when the animals killed the boy. The fatal mauling took place in Geary County, Kansas, in April 1997. The story of this tragic case can be read on the website of Court TV.

Marjorie Knoller was convicted of second degree murder and related crimes because she and her husband Robert Noel were the owners of a Presa Canario dog that on January 26, 2001, killed Diane Whipple, a 33-year-old woman in San Francisco, California. Knoller was present as Whipple was killed but failed to stop her animal from mauling the victim to death. Noel was not present but had knowledge of the viciousness of the dogs. The defendants also were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and negligently keeping a mischievous animal that caused death. See The Diane Whipple Case; People v. Knoller (2007) 41 Cal.4th 139.

Alex Donald Jackson was convicted of second degree murder after his pit bulls killed Pamela Devitt on May 8, 2014. He was a marijuana grower who used pit bulls to guard his operations. He was well aware that his pit bulls were vicious. On several occasions they ran loose in his neighborhood and threatened or injured people. He was not present when the victim was killed. 

Discussion: Second Degree Murder in California

The Penal Code sections relating to second degree murder in California are similar in principle to other states, and therefore are reproduced here:

187.  (a) Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought. …

188.  Such malice may be express or implied.  It is express when there is manifested a deliberate intention unlawfully to take away the life of a fellow creature.  It is implied, when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart. …

189.  All murder which is perpetrated … by any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing … is murder of the first degree.  All other kinds of murders are of the second degree. …   

To prove the killing was “deliberate and premeditated,” it is not necessary to prove the defendant maturely and meaningfully reflected upon the gravity of his or her act.

The California statute establishes three kinds of second degree murder: 

  • Unpremeditated murder with express malice. This might result from an intentional attack on the victim, using the dog as the instrument of the attack, but there has been no such case like that. 
  • Second degree felony-murder. This would be a homicide that happens during the course of a felony that is inherently dangerous to human life, and not an integral part of the homicide itself. “Inherently dangerous” means that the felonious act presents a high probability that it will result in death. There are a few felonies that involve dogs, but there have been no prosecutions for second degree murder of this sort.
  • Implied malice – murder. Malice is implied when either (a) no considerable provocation appears, or (b) circumstances indicate an “abandoned and malignant heart.” The latter refers to doing an act with a (a) wanton disregard for human life, or an act involving a high degree of probability that death will result, or (b) conscious disregard for human life, i.e., doing something dangerous to human life, with actual knowledge of the danger and conscious disregard of the fact that the act endangers the life of someone. 

An act of implied malice can include a failure to act, such as not feeding a baby until it starves to death. A person might be convicted of second degree murder on an implied malice theory if he or she knew that a front yard has pit bulls in it, that the pit bulls were trained to attack human beings or had a habit of attacking human beings, that the pit bulls were capable of killing human beings, that the front yard had a gate that would permit the pit bulls to escape the yard if the gate were left open, that the gate might be open, and that children might be walking past the open gate.

Indeed, that was the prosecution’s theory in the Cash Carson prosecution. Prosecutors filed second degree murder charges against the caretaker of the two dogs that mauled 10-year-old Cah Carson to death in Newberry Springs, California, on April 29, 2000. The caretaker was Joseph Chiaveta, 54. The defendant also was charged with involuntary manslaughter. In that case, the jury found the defendant not guilty of second degree murder (but guilty of manslaughter) because there was no evidence that the dogs were known or trained to fight, attack or kill.

To read more about about second degree murder, see The Diane Whipple Case.

Death As First Degree Murder

It is theoretically possible to murder a person with a dog, and for that murder to qualify as first degree murder. The intentional killing of a person that is planned in advance is generally regarded as first degree murder. (See First Degree Murder Overview at Findlaw.) However, no person has been convicted of first degree murder following a canine homicide in the USA. 

Examples of Criminal Prosecutions

gavelListed by the name of the victim or the dog owner, here are some of the criminal prosecutions that followed dog maulings in the USA:

Sabine Davidson — convicted of second degree murder because of a dog attack

April 1997, Geary County, Kansas. Davidson owned three Rottweillers and trained them as protection dogs. However, she herself never was instructed as to how to train them properly. Two young brothers were waiting for their school bus, and the dogs got out of their yard, and went for the boys. They ran up a tree. When the dogs walked away, the younger brother climbed down and looked for the dogs. They found him and killed him. 

In Kansas v. Sabine Davidson, Davidson was found guilty of second degree murder. Examples of other second degree murder convictions can be found at Death as Second Degree Murder

Cash Carson — the boy who was killed while walking to his “fort”

April 29, 2000, Newberry Springs, California. A pet sitter / house sitter named James Chiavetta, 54, was so afraid of the pit bulls at the house that he would use a stick to push their food dish under the fence. On the fateful day that Cash Carson, 10, walked up the street to get to his “fort”, Ciavetta decided to take a nap, leave the dogs out front, but not check to see whether the front gate was closed. It was not. The dogs chased Cash and his friend, and killed Cash.

Ciavetta was not convicted of second degree murder because three members of the jury felt that the charges were too harsh, in view of the fact that the dogs had never been trained, or known, to fight, attack or kill.

Dorothy Stewart — the Census worker who was killed by 18 dogs in Indiana

June 10, 2000, Brown County, Indiana. Dorothy Stewart, a volunteer worker for the US Census, was attacked and killed by a pack of (more than 18) dogs while collecting census data in Indiana.  Her family filed a wrongful death suit and eventually settled with the defendants’ insurance company for the limit of the policy.

Charges of criminal recklessness were filed against the dog owners, because as they had maintained the pack for over 10 years, and numerous other people had run-ins, albeit not fatal, with the dogs.  This was the only charge apparently available to the prosecutor due to a loophole in Indiana law. In that state, it is a felony if your dog leaves your property and attacks someone, but not a crime at all if the attack happens on your property.  An attempt to change the law last year failed; the bill was watered down — first it would only protect government employees, then only between the hours of 8 and 5, and finally the house and senate couldn’t reconcile their bills and the entire effort to change the law sputtered to a halt.

The prosecutor entered into a plea agreement (dropping drug charges) and the defendants pled guilty.  On July 6, 2001, they received the maximum sentence available under the agreement, which was 1.5 years in jail for the wife, and 3 years in jail for the husband. 

Rodney McAllister — the boy who was eaten alive in St. Louis

March 6, 2001, St. Louis. Rodney McAllister was ten years old when a pack of dogs ate him alive in the park across the street from his home in St. Louis. “He was literally eaten by the dogs,” Police Chief Ron Henderson said. “They fed off of him.”

Rodney’s mother was arrested on charges of child endangerment. She did not know where her son was until police talked to her after the body was found.

Kristin Jolley — the baby killed by a starving dog

October 29, 2001, Lovell, Wyo. A starved and mistreated dog attacked and killed Kristin Jolley, a 1-year-old girl who wandered into the dog owners’ yard. They subsequently were charged with felony involuntary manslaughter. 

Court documents allege that the dog’s owners recklessly caused Kristin Jolley’s death because they starved and mistreated the dog until it became “a vicious animal that attacked and killed an innocent child.”

The dog’s previous owner, Karen Hytrek, told authorities that when she gave Max to Anne Shine and Matthew Martinez the dog weighed about 110 pounds, “was good-natured, was never known to have bitten anyone and interacted well with children who attended school next to her home.” 

Veterinarian Jane Undem, who examined the dog, said Max weighed about 65 pounds at the time of the attack. She said he was “ravenous” when he was brought to her clinic, devouring four cups of dry dog food and then trying to eat some cat food. The dog was killed so Undem could conduct a complete exam. 

The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. 

Diane Whipple — the lady killed in San Francisco  

See The Diane Whipple case. This killing resulted in the third murder conviction in United States history where a dog killed a person. It was the first time a California defendant was convicted of second degree murder for a dog attack. The conviction, however, will be appealed.

Shawn Jones — the boy who was left for dead after being mauled 

See The mauling of 10-year-old Shawn Jones. Shawn was mauled nearly to death by a drug dealer’s three pit bulls in Richmond, California. The dealer left Shawn for dead, and hid his pit bulls at different places around the city. Because of loopholes in the California laws and the fact that the dealer will go to federal prison on charges related to cocaine sales, he will not be prosecuted for the attack on Shawn. The young victim will never recover from his injuries and always will be disabled.

Alicia Clark — the 10-year-old killed by 6 Rottweilers at her friend’s house

April 14, 2002, Elroy, Wisconsin. Melissa McCracken, an 11-year-old girl in Elroy, Wisconsin, watched her family’s six Rottweilers attack and kill her best friend. “I ran to her and told her not to scream. I tried to get her outside,” Melissa McCracken said of the victim,  Alicia Clark. “But they kept pulling her back in.” The Rottweilers continued biting 10-year-old Alicia, tearing off her clothes and not stopping until the little girl lay lifeless on the kitchen floor of Melissa’s home. The victim’s mother and boyfriend face homicide and reckless endangerment charges.

Edward Leonard — 14-year-old neighbor used a pit bull to assault him in Detroit

June 7, 2002, Detroit, Michigan. A 14-year-old boy used a pit bull to assault 9-year-old Edward Leonard in Detroit. The dog mauled him, inflicting lacerations that required 63 stitches, and breaking his left arm. The older boy’s mother said that the pit bull was trained to attack people carrying bats, sticks and pipes. But that is not what happened, according to police reports, which quoted witnesses as saying that the 14-year-old opened the gate to his backyard and ordered the dog to “sic him!” Charges have been filed, specifically for assault with intent to inflict great bodily injury, and the prosecutors are deciding whether to proceed against the 14-year-old as a minor or as an adult.

Jennifer Brooke — killed in her barn by roaming pit bulls

November 30, 2003, Elbert County, CO. A 40-year-old woman was killed by three roaming pit bulls in a barn near her rural home. An hour later, the same dogs attacked a neighbor who eluded them by jumping into the bed of a pickup truck. The second victim’s son then opened fire on the dogs; soon, he was joined by sheriff’s deputies, who had to shoot the dogs to stop them from their rampaging attacks. 

Follow-up story:

April 26, 2004, Elbert County, CO. Jacqueline McCuen and William Gladney, the owners of the dogs that killed Jennifer Brooke, have pled not guilty to the crimes of keeping a dangerous dog (a class 5 felony), and criminally negligent homicide (also a class 5 felony). There is evidence that one or more of the dogs previously bit a different person, and that the owner habitually permitted the dogs to roam at large despite knowing that they were dangerous to people.

Alice Broom – 81-year-old woman killed in her own yard

December 12, 2003, OCALA, Fla. Alice Broom, 81, was attacked by six dogs in her front yard and bled to death on the street. The dogs were described as mix-breed pit bulls. Robert Freeman, a 67-year-old retiree, has said he does not know how the dogs got out of his single-wide trailer. Neighbors had previously complained about being threatened by the dogs.

Follow-up story:

April 25, 2006, OCALA, Fla. The prosecution is trying to prove that a Marion County man’s dogs were a vicious, roving pack before they fatally mauled an 81-year-old woman in 2003. In court Tuesday, prosecutors showed the dogs’ long history of biting neighbors, while the defense tried to show that those other people bitten were actually on Freeman’s property. This startling defense — that dogs are legally justified in mauling people simply because the victims were on the dog owner’s property even if not committing crimes — is an example of the irresponsible attitude of many dog owners, an attitude that perpetuates the dog bite epidemic.

Dorothy Sullivan – 82-year-old woman killed in her yard by neighbor’s three roaming pit bulls

March 8, 2005, Partlow, Va. Three roaming pit bulls belonging to Deanna Large killed 82-year-old Dorothy Sullivan on her front lawn, along with her own dog, a Shih Tzu.

Follow-up story:

March 29, 2006, Partlow, Va. Deanna Large, whose pit bulls killed Dorothy Sullivan and had terrorized neighbors, was sentenced to three years in a Virginia prison and a fine of $500. She had been convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and two misdemeanor charges for allowing her dogs to run loose.

This case illustrates that dog owners need to understand not only their responsibilities but also their potential liability, criminally as well as civilly. If a dog owner cannot control, socialize, train and keep healthy his or her dog, there can be serious consequences, as there were here.

Criminal Penalties for a Dog Bite

Under city, county and state laws, dog owners can do jail time after dog attacks.

Criminal prosecution of a dog owner: a primer

When a dog has seriously injured a person, the dog owner may face criminal prosecution.  A number of steps are taken before charges are filed. The charges themselves can differ greatly, providing two different avenues that could lead to a criminal conviction. 

In most jurisdictions, when a person “brings charges” he is simply making a report to the police or sheriff. The officers take the report. It then is reviewed by a detective and, if the detective deems the incident to be sufficiently serious, he or she further investigates it. The detective attempts to determine whether enough witnesses and evidence seem to prove the commission of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. 

At regular intervals, the detectives bring their case files to the local prosecutor’s office. The files are put into three piles: do nothing, file this case if you want, and definitely file this case. The prosecutors read all three piles, or just two of them, or just one of them. There are more detectives at the prosecutors office who may or may not do some investigating of their own. Eventually, the prosecutor commences criminal proceedings, or doesn’t. 

The point of all this is that it is the prosecutor who brings the criminal charges, not the complaining person or the police. Furthermore, it is the prosecutor who decides what those charges will be, not the complaining person, and not the police.

In a case involving dogs and dog owners, the officer who takes the report might be a sworn police officers or sheriff, but might not be. It depends on exactly who enforces the animal control laws in the jurisdiction: the police or sheriff, the animal control department which consists of sworn animal control officers, a humane society like the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the animal control department of another jurisdiction. 

The officer evaluates the case in relation to the jurisdiction’s “dangerous dog laws.”  These are laws which define what behavior is unacceptable on the part of a dog, and then set forth conditions of confinement and whether the authorities can euthanize the dog. If the officer believes the triggering incident to be sufficiently serious, he or she then tries to find enough proof to establish the case by a preponderance of the evidence. 

If the evidence appears to be sufficient, the officer issues a summons which requires the dog owner appear at a hearing in “dog court” and produce evidence in defense of the dog. The dog owner can avoid the hearing by stipulating that the dog is dangerous and agreeing to the conditions of confinement, or by surrendering the dog for euthanasia or adoption if the authorities agree. 

“Dog court” is a proceeding in which the animal control officer or police try to prove that the dog fits the jurisdiction’s definition of a dangerous dog. After the prosecution evidence is received, the dog owner has the right to defend the dog by producing witnesses and other evidence, as well as argument that the dog does not fit the definition of a dangerous dog, or that only one or two of the conditions of confinement should be imposed on the dog. Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips’ book, Defending Your Dog, goes into the process in depth and is used by the owners of good dogs to avoid “convictions” and harsh “sentences” in dog court. 

If the dog is adjudicated to be a dangerous dog, the dog owner is ordered to obey various conditions of confinement, obey other conditions such as maintaining a certain level of insurance on the dog, or sometimes to surrender the dog for euthanasia. The dog owner has limited rights of appeal. 

The “dangerous dog laws” rarely establish significant criminal penalties for the dog owner. Nevertheless, there can be significant criminal consequences if a dog was previously adjudicated to be a dangerous dog, or if the dog owner violated any of the conditions of confinement or did not surrender the dog for euthanasia. 

There is a second direction that authorities can take to criminally prosecute a dog owner: the general criminal laws of the jurisdiction.  For example, the person having ownership or custody of the dog at the time of injury to a person might be charged with homicide, assault, child endangerment or any other general criminal offense that suits the circumstances.  This tactic is far more common in cases involving serious injury or the death of a human being.  

It is interesting to note that only a few states have specific criminal laws relating to incidents involving a dog as the means of inflicting injury on a person.  For example, California has a penal code section which refers to a “mischievous animal” that injures or kills a person as a result of the negligence of the defendant.  This law is vague as to what constitutes “mischievous animal,” and there have been a number of court battles over this vagueness.  To illustrate how it was applied, the main defendant in the famous Diane Whipple murder case was convicted of owning a mischievous animal and, also, second degree murder for the same incident.  

So, the specific laws involving dogs as an instrumentality of inflicting harm are not available in most of the states, and in states like California, where such laws exist, they are not necessarily helpful.

Specific criminal charges against dog owners

Causing the death of a person by a known vicious animal
Examples of criminal prosecutions
Death as first degree murder
Death as second degree murder
Felony conviction for mayhem where injury is especially serious
Felony or misdemeanor for injury by dog ordered or trained to fight, attack or kill
Felony or misdemeanor for injury by vicious dog or “mischievous animal”
Felony or misdemeanor for using dog as deadly weapon
Manslaughter resulting from death during commision of misdemeanor per misdemeanor – manslaughter rule
Manslaughter resulting from death caused by negligence
Misdemeanor based on degree of injury inflicted by attacking dog
Misdemeanor for destruction of attacking dog needed as evidence
Misdemeanor to fail to quarantine or produce animal, or give information about animal
Lesser used criminal laws

Defenses to criminal charges involving dogs

Defending a dog and its owner
Defending against criminal charges: case study of People v. Maureen Faibish
Defending against criminal charges: double jeopardy
The Tyler Huston case

Humane Society Liability for Dog Bites

A humane society and its animal control officers are subject to liability for dog bites under a variety of circumstances. However, they also may be entitled to the same privileges as a governmental defendant, including a special statute of limitations.

Humane society historically was agent of the state
Modern humane society as “public authority” per governmental tort claims act

Dog Bites and Electronic Pet Containment Systems

Pet containment systems such as electronic fences do not prevent dog bites as well as ordinary fences. Dogs get excited and run through the boundaries. Neighborhood children are particularly at risk because the electrical systems do not prevent the kids from approaching the dog, and mislead kids because of the dog’s apparent good behavior (which in fact was caused by the electronic fence).

Consider the following E-mail message:

My daughter was bitten on the face by a neighbors dog that was contained by an electronic fence in the front yard while the occupant was inside the house.  She was walking up the driveway with my other daughter to ring the doorbell and see if their friend could come out and play.  This bite will most likely require plastic surgery and already has caused an incredible amount of pain for my daughter.

Guidelines for Dog Parks

Free downloadIf you are thinking about establishing a dog park or a dog run, consult with an attorney familiar with the area where the new facility will be. You also should read a copy of Attorney Kenneth Phillips’ article, The Perfect Dog Park, which gives guidelines to ensure safety, harmony and accountability. You can download a free copy from the Dog Bite Law Bookstore.

As a starting point, here are some guidelines that will promote safety and hopefully limit liability:

  • There should be adequate fences that dogs cannot dig under or jump over
  • There should be adequate parking so that dog owners can drive to the dog park and park their cars in the parking area, as opposed to walking large numbers of dogs on nearby streets, and taking up precious parking spaces required by the residents
  • There should be at least one gate that securely latches (consider using two gates, so that a dog rushing through the first cannot get past the second)
  • Visible signs should establish rules
  • Users should be advised that they will be using the park at their own risk, including but not limited to the risk of being bitten, being knocked down, tripping, etc.
  • The number of dogs per person must be limited
  • The age of users must be limited
  • Professional dog walkers should register (at least)
  • Every dog must wear a collar
  • Every owner must possess a leash upon the person of the owner (for taking the dog to and from the car or the park)
  • Every dog must display its license or registration tag (illegal dogs are denied privileges in the park; important if there are problems in the park)
  • Every dog must be current on its vaccinations
  • Every person bringing a dog to the park must possess a driver’s license or government-issued identification card (important if there are problems)
  • No dog shall be left unattended by its owner 
  • No dog allowed if previously adjudicated to be dangerous
  • No dog allowed that previously has bitten or injured a person or another animal
  • No dog allowed that is known to initiate fights with other dogs
  • No dogs in heat
  • Dogs to remain on leash at all times, coming to and from dog run
  • All violations will be investigated and one of the possible penalties is revocation of privilege
  • There is a prominently posted address for complaints, which will be reviewed in a timely manner
  • There will be a board or other body that will make decisions regarding enforcement and application of penalties

Remember to see your local lawyer for questions pertaining to local matters like zoning.

Assumption of the Risk

Adults and mature children who voluntarily encounter a known risk are usually deemed to have consented to the injuries they receive as a result of that particular risk.

If you go to a no-leash dog park and you are injured by a dog, under circumstances other than a bite where the dog would not have injured you if it was leashed, then there is a very good argument that you assumed the risk. After all, you knew that leashes were optional at the park, but you went there anyway to take advantage of the same leash-optional law that resulted in your own injuries.

However, the assumption of risk doctrine will not be used against a responsible dog owner who goes to a dog park that is frequented by an irresponsible dog owner who fails to follow the rules of the dog park. The law states that every person can assume that others will abide by the law. Therefore, one does not assume the risk that another user of a dog park will violate the rules of the park. For that reason, courts will not permit this doctrine to be used as a shield for unreasonable or unlawful conduct.

Similarly, the assumption of the risk doctrine will not be used to permit a dog owner to evade responsibility when he brings a dangerous dog into a dog park. (See the next section.)

Suits Against Local Governments

The victim of a personal injury or injury to the victim’s dog probably will not prevail on a claim against the local government entity that established the dog park. Generally, there are immunities that protect government entities from many claims; if the entity believed that it was doing something beneficial for the community, it is hard to get around the immunity.

However, failure to enforce its own rules and regulations may result in governmental liability. Dog parks frequently are governed by special rules that are either posted or part of the local municipal code. If an irresponsible dog owner has a habit of breaking those rules, and the local animal control officers do nothing despite being informed, a person who sustains personal injuries or injuries to his or her dog may prevail against the municipality.

Negligence Liability

In a leash-optional park, it will be more difficult for a victim to establish that the dog owner was negligent by not having the dog on a leash. Negligence is the lack of ordinary care; that is, the absence of the kind of care a reasonably prudent and careful person would exercise in similar circumstances. If a person’s conduct in a given circumstance doesn’t measure up to the conduct of an ordinarily prudent and careful person, then that person is negligent. In a leash-optional dog park, the dog owner still must do what is reasonable, such as keep his or her dog on a short leash if the dog is unruly, easily scared, not socialized, unneutered, has provoked fights with other dogs, or has any known dangerous propensity, such as the habit of jumping on people.

If the owner of such a dog fails to keep it on a leash in a leash-optional park, or allows it to cause injury to person or dog in a manner that could have been prevented, the victim should still prevail on a claim that the conduct of the dog owner was unreasonable, and therefore negligent. To read more about negligence, see the discussion of it in Legal Rights of a Dog Bite Victim.

Overview

Jack Russells runningLeash-optional dog parks are a great place to take your dog. There is no need for the dog owner to worry about joggers, kids on bikes, inattentive drivers, elderly people and the disabled. Like any recreational area, however, dog parks are not free of risks. People and dogs get injured in dog parks throughout the United States. And dog parks cause other kinds of problems too. Here is an overview of the problems that stem from dog parks:

  • Dog owners do not clean up after their dogs. In dog parks and on the street, dog owners are legally required to clean up after their dogs. Failure to do so can result in fines, can cause the spread of disease, and might prompt the civic authorities to close the dog park entirely. For example, a neighborhood in Los Angeles that is adjacent to a dog park commissioned a study of the bacteria in rainwater flowing down from the dog park, through the streets and into the public storm drains. The levels of harmful bacteria went off the charts. As a result, the neighborhood is exerting pressure on City Hall to close or restrict the dog park.
  • Some dogs are inappropriate for a dog park. One of the most reported problems is that irresponsible dog owners bring the wrong dogs to dog parks. Unneutered male dogs and other aggressive dogs may prompt dog fights, with people and dogs being bitten. Overly aggressive, overly assertive, overly unruly, and undersocialized dogs to not belong in a dog park. Similarly, puppies and fearful dogs can be dangerous, because they might fight or bite as a fear reaction. When dogs fight in a dog park, people sometimes get bitten, and there may follow an altercation between the responsible owner and the irresponsible one.
  • Injuries to people. There currently are no reported legal opinions about injuries to people that occur in dog parks, but some conclusions are possible. People who suffer bodily injuries or injuries to their dogs have most of the usual rights in dog parks that they have outside such places. Leash-optional parks are not zones of immunity for irresponsible dog owners and dangerous dogs. Basically, leash-optional dog parks merely are places where the city’s leash laws do not apply. They are not, however, Wild West frontier towns where dogs can fight it out and attack people without fear of the Sheriff!
  • Ambiguous waiver of rights / assumption of risk. Dog owners should carefully read the signs that are posted around dog parks. Warning signs might result in a waiver of rights or an assumption of risk. One of the problems here is exactly what risks are being assumed. For example, a sign that says Use the park at your own risk means what? Can such a sign deprive you of the right to be free of danger from a dog that was previously declared dangerous? Exactly which risks are you agreeing to accept? There have been no reported legal opinions about the signs at dog parks. (See the discussion below regarding Assumption of the Risk.)
  • Inappropriate location of parks. Some city councils have placed dog parks next to playgrounds. Because it is foreseeable that dogs in dog parks might become over-excited and aggressive, parents have expressed the fear that that the placement of dog parks near playgrounds poses an unacceptable and unreasonable risk to the children in the playgrounds. Again, there have been no cases and therefore no precedents on the placement of dog parks.
  • Canine professionals. There is a controversy about the appropriateness of allowing canine professionals to use dog parks. A dog walking service that brings in 10 dogs at a time, and uses the park 8 hours per day, might be seen as misusing the dog park. Some parks limit the number of dogs, and others require canine professionals to pay fees to use the parks.

Canine professionals need to respect the rights of ordinary dog owners in dog parks, or risk being banned from these parks.

If your dog is injured or killed in a dog park, the rest of this section will guide you as to your legal rights. For more specific advice, and pre-written legal letters and forms to help you get compensation, see When a Dog Is Injured Or Killed. To find dog parks, see the Links page of this web site.

The One Bite Rule

The “one bite rule,” “first bite rule,” and “one free bite rule” are different names for a legal doctrine that determines whether the owner of a domestic animal (such as a dog) can be held legally liable for injuries caused by that animal.

Overview of the one bite rule
Dangerous propensity
Knowledge or “scienter”
The history of the one bite rule
Criticism of the one bite rule
Plea to abolish the one bite rule

Why Dogs Bite People

Dog bite injuries can occur when a dog’s motive to bite a person exceeds his inhibition to bite.

Motives to bite
Factors that determine whether a dog will bite
A dog attack danger scale to keep you and your kids safe
Chaining, being male, and other causes of dog bites
Provocation: the myth

Beware of the Statute of Limitations

Every state has a statute that limits the amount of time in which an injured person can make a claim for compensation, augmented with special rules for minors and governmental defendants, as well as special rules stemming from the COVID health crisis in 2020-2021.

Defending Dogs and Other Animals

It is dangerous to defend dogs and other animals from attack. If you intervene in a dog fight and receive a bite, for example, you will suffer pain, possible disability and possible disfigurement. The owner of the other dog may assert that your own dog bit you. For more information about injuries in such an attack, see below, Legal rights of a person who is injured while defending a person or pet from attack.

The legal consequences vary, depending on the state and the circumstances. For that reason, you are reminded again that you must seek the advice of an attorney if you have defended your dog against a dog attack. Only very general information can be provided here.

In California, people have a statutory right to kill dogs that attack certain listed animals, and a common-law right to defend their other domestic animals from attack under most circumstances. Other states have laws that are similar in nature; however, the list of animals might be different, so the laws have to be read carefully.

California provides a privilege to kill any animal that is worrying, wounding or killing certain other animals. California Civil Code section 3341, subdivision 2, states that any person can kill any animal (including a dog) that is off the premises of the owner and is worrying, wounding or killing certain listed animals:

3341, subd. 2. Any person on finding any dog or dogs, or other animal, not on the premises of the owner or possessor of such dog or dogs, or other animal, worrying, wounding, or killing any bovine animals, swine, horses, mules, burros, sheep, angora or cashmere goats, may, at the time of finding such dog or dogs, or other animal, kill the same, and the owner or owners thereof shall sustain no action for damages against any person so killing such dog or dogs, or other animal.

If a dog comes into your backyard and is killing your pet rabbit, you cannot kill the dog and claim a privilege under this statute, because rabbits are not listed. However, your fault (if any) for killing the dog would be compared with the fault of the dog owner. While you would not be entitled to claim a privilege to kill, a jury might decide that you nevertheless acted reasonably, or that the dog owner was principally at fault. This is because there is a common law privilege for defending domestic animals from attack:”

The section [Civil Code sec. 3341] was not intended to, nor does it, abridge the common law right of a person to defend his domestic animals against the attacks of dogs, or to kill such dogs when the circumstances warrant the belief that his property is in peril. At the common law the justification for the killing was complete when it appeared that the dog was engaged in worrying and terrifying domestic animals in their own lawful enclosure, and where the necessity of the killing in order to protect the property was apparent.” (Sabin v. Smith (1915) 26 Cal.App. 676, 678-9.)

The right to kill a dog or other animal that is attacking a domestic animal is not affected by consideration of which animal is more valuable. ” The right to kill a dog found trespassing and endangering property is not affected by the relative value of the dog and the property being injured.”  (Sabin v. Smith (1915)  26 Cal.App. 676, 680.)

In some states it is legal to kill a vicious dog that is running at large. For example, the law of Alaska makes it legal to kill a dog if (a) it “has ever bitten or attacked a human being” when “unprovoked”, and (b) is running at large:

Sec. 03.55.010. Killing of vicious or mad dog authorized.

Any person may lawfully kill any vicious or mad dog running at large.

Sec. 03.55.020. Dogs deemed vicious.

Any dog which when unprovoked has ever bitten or attacked a human being is considered vicious within the meaning of AS 03.55.010.

The compensation the owner of the injured dog may be entitled to receive is discussed in Compensation for Injury to or Death of a Dog.

What To Do After a Dog Bite

This section of Dog Bite Law provides advice for the human victim. If the victim was a dog, see What To Dog If Your Dog Is Injured Or Killed. If you are the owner of the dog that did the biting, see If Your Dog Bites Someone.

The first things to do after being bitten
Steps to protect your rights
The dog bite victim’s right to a lawyer
The risks of not retaining an attorney
You will not have to pay your lawyer “up front”
You will receive more money — not less — even after paying the legal fee
Cosmetic surgery in the future will not be covered by your health insurance
Your lawyer will help you to deal with the dog

For Dog Bite Victims

The dog bite law for your state

Want to read the law yourself? Here are Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips’ in-depth legal briefs for every U.S. state:

The 9 issues that determine your legal rights as a dog bite victim

A human dog bite victim usually can recover full compensation from the homeowners insurance policy or renters insurance policy of the dog’s owner, harborer or keeper. (See Where the Money Comes From.) Injuries to dogs are governed by other legal rules. (See When a Dog Is Injured or Killed.) Here are the questions that will tell you who is legally obligated to pay when the victim is a human:

  • Did the dog have the tendency to bite people without legal justification prior to this accident? If so, did the owner of the dog know it? If the answers to these questions are yes, the owner is legally liable in every state. (See The One Bite Rule.)
  • Did the person who had control of the dog at the moment of this accident know that the dog had this tendency? If so, that person is liable in every state. (See The One Bite Rule.)
  • Did the person who owned or controlled the property where the incident happened know that the dog had this tendency? If so, that person is liable in most states. (See Landlord Liability for Dog Bites.)
  • Did this bite occur in a state with a dog bite statute? If the answer is yes, the dog owner is liable and even the harborer or keeper of the dog might be liable. A “harborer” is someone who gives some combination of food, water and shelter to the dog. A “keeper” is someone who had temporary custody or control of the dog at the time of the accident. (See Statutory Strict Liability States.)
  • Was there a violation of an animal control law like a leash law or law that says that a dog cannot go on other people’s property without their permission? If the answer is yes, then the person who had custody of the dog is liable if the violation caused the accident. (See Negligence Per Se for Violating a Leash Law or Other Animal Control Law.)
  • Did the person who had custody of the dog do something negligent, causing the accident? If the answer is yes, the person is liable. A negligent act or omission is one that was unreasonable under the circumstances. For example, it is negligent to let somebody pet a dog that is upset because it is sick or injured, or because children are running around and screaming. (See Negligence.)

Liability depends on three more things:

  • Having admissible evidence that proves your case.
  • Overcoming defenses such as that the victim was trespassing, provoking the dog, ignoring warnings, or acting negligently.
  • Following procedural rules like starting a lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires.

If your injuries are substantial, talk to a lawyer like Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips, the author of Dog Bite Law. Even if it seems as if nobody is liable but your injuries are substantial, contact an attorney like Mr. Phillips right away. He has won difficult and unusual cases against dog owners, landlords, employers, stores, animal control departments, police departments, and school districts. See His Greatest Cases.

The 3 categories of money a victim can receive

A dog bite victim is entitled to receive:

  • Economic damages, meaning medical costs, expenses of transportation for medical reasons (i.e., an ambulance, airlift, mileage to the doctor), future medical costs for the cosmetic treatment of scars or for surgery, loss of income in the past, loss of the ability to earn money in the future, defensive measures such as putting up a fence, loss of the value of a home because of the proximity of dangerous dogs, torn clothing, past counseling expenses, future psychological costs, funds expended on a vacation that could not be taken because of the accident, and other out-of-pocket costs that were necessary because of the incident.
  • Non-economic damages, including pain from the injury and treatment, mental suffering when confronted by dogs or remembering the attack, humiliation caused by scars, loss of quality of life because of disability, anxiety about not being able to get work in the future, loss of earning capacity in the future, the indignity of being handicapped and similar detriments that are intangible by nature.
  • In addition to economic and non-economic damages, a dog bite victim sometimes can recover statutory penalties or punitive damages. For example, a Wisconsin statute makes a dog owner liable for double damages if he had reason to know that the attacking dog previously injured a person, domestic animal or property. Punitive damages are appropriate when the dog owners knew their dog was vicious but decided to keep it anyway and let it interact with people.

The precise amount of money depends on many things, such as the age and gender of the victim, his or her relationship to the defendants, the nature and extent of injury, whether a scar is ugly or painful or both, the degree of disability if any, the laws where the incident happened, the attitudes of potential jurors in the relevant court district, the strength of the evidence, and the reputation of the victim’s lawyer. There is no general rule, no formula, no book that tells how much money your case is “worth.” The more dog bite cases that attorneys and insurance adjusters handle, the better able they are to tell you what you should receive.

To find out more:

The 2 scenarios that will tell you how long it takes

If the liable party has insurance

As soon as the victim’s medical bills arrive, reimbursement is available under the medical payments section of the liable party’s insurance policy. The usual limit is $1,000 but some policies provide more.

Full compensation is possible two or three months after the victim heals fully and the doctor writes a final medical report. Waiting for full healing is necessary because a settlement is final — you never can ask for more money even if the injuries turn out to be worse than you thought or the medical costs higher than expected.

Having a lawyer doesn’t make the process take longer. An attorney experienced in dog bite cases knows what evidence is the most convincing and how to get it, and has the people who can produce it the fastest.

There are times when the other side refuses to settle, however, or wants to pay an unfairly low amount of money. When that happens, the victim has no choice but to sue. The good news is that lawsuits against insured defendants usually get settled after a while — sometimes a few months, sometimes a year or two, depending on the skills of your attorney and how congested the courthouse is.

To find out more:

If the liable party does not have insurance

The amount of time it takes to be compensated depends on the method used to make the uninsured defendant pay.

  • Settlement

Some defendants agree to settle in order to avoid the costs and risks of defending against a lawsuit. The paragraph above, starting with “Full compensation is possible,” applies to this type of settlement. The defendant will require the victim to sign a proper Release to ensure there will be no lawsuit in the future.

  • Restitution

A victim can receive reimbursement for medical costs, property damage and lost income through criminal restitution. The defendant has to be convicted of a crime related to the dog attack, however, and the sentence must include restitution to the victim. A criminal case normally takes less than a year but the defendant’s monthly payments usually are very low.

  • Lawsuit

A victim can receive full or partial compensation through a lawsuit. Depending on the nature and extent of the injuries, the lawsuit can be filed in small claims court or “regular” court.

An attorney usually is not required in small claims court, but the amount that the victim can recover is limited to the court’s jurisdiction — $1,000 in some states, up to $25,000 in others. Parents often are not allowed to sue on behalf of their children in small claims court, but can do so through a lawyer in “regular” court. A case in this type of court usually takes only several months.

The victim receives only a “judgment” from the court. If the defendant does not pay the judgment, the victim has to contact the sheriff to garnish the defendant’s wages, take money from his bank account, and seize his property. This will take extra time.

If the injuries are moderate to serious, or the victim is a child, the lawsuit should be filed in “regular” court. As a practical matter, this requires retaining a lawyer and paying the legal costs and attorneys fees every month. “Contingency fee” arrangements are very rare when defendants have no insurance. A case in “regular” court takes from one year to several years. The paragraph above, beginning with “The victim receives only a ‘judgment’ from the court,” also applies here.

The 7 things to do after getting bit

  • Obtain the names and addresses of witnesses, the dog owner, and the people who had custody of the dog when it bit you.
  • Demand that the dog owner give you copies of his dog’s rabies vaccination records and his homeowners insurance or renters insurance (meaning the policy booklet and the declarations page showing his name, address and monetary limits of coverage).
  • Take photographs of the wounds and the area where the bite happened, including any “beware of dog” signs or the lack of signs.
  • See a doctor to document your dog bite incident and obtain treatment. At the hospital, insist on a plastic surgeon for wounds on the face.
  • Go to the agency that does animal control in your jurisdiction and make a report, and then cooperate fully with the investigating officers. The report you made at the hospital usually will not trigger a full investigation by the authorities.
  • Retain an experienced lawyer like Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips, the author of Dog Bite Law, unless the injuries are insignificant (see below).

If the dog owner’s insurance company calls you, get the following information:

  • Name of insurance company
  • Address of the adjuster’s office
  • Telephone number
  • Claim number
  • Name of the person who is insured
  • The monetary limits of the “liability coverage” and “medical expense coverage.”

The 8 things to NOT do after getting bit

  • Do not discuss money, payment of money, settlement, injury value or anything else involving money
  • Do not accept any money
  • Do not set up an appointment
  • Do not write a letter or a memo
  • Do not mention the breed of the dog
  • Do not permit yourself to be tape recorded
  • Do not allow the victim to be photographed
  • Do not discuss who is responsible for what happened.

The 9 injuries that always require the help of an experienced lawyer

You need a lawyer if the injuries are significant. Attorneys such as Kenneth Phillips, the USA’s top dog bite lawyer, charge nothing unless they win your case. Attorney Phillips handles only dog attack cases and has been doing them since 1991. He represents the families of people who were killed by dogs, and victims with significant and moderate injuries all over the USA, and charges nothing unless and until money comes in. Contact him or another attorney while the facts are fresh! Significant injuries include:

  • Bite to the face.
  • Bite to the genital area.
  • Bite to any part of the body that required stitches.
  • Bite that caused a broken bone.
  • Bite that did not break the skin but enabled the dog to pull the victim to the ground where he sustained a broken bone or a significant soft tissue injury.
  • Bite that did not break the skin but forced the victim to take defensive actions which resulted in a broken bone or a significant soft tissue injury.
  • Bite that became infected and required an overnight stay in the hospital.
  • Injuries that caused unconsciousness or brain trauma.
  • Injuries that required an overnight stay in the hospital or caused death.

The 2 injuries that seem minor but require a free consultation because they might be significant

These two kinds of injuries usually appear to be minor at first, but often turn out to be significant, and therefore should be discussed with an experienced lawyer as soon as possible:

  • Bite that did not break the skin but caused a permanent bruise.
  • Bite or scratch that caused a visible, significant scar (other than to the face, because any bite to the face produces a significant injury).

The one letter to read if the victim is a child

The 14 reasons why kids and adults need a lawyer for a dog bite case

  • Insurance companies try not to pay anything.

Insurance companies pay only 15,000 to 16,000 of the 4.7 million Americans who get bit every year. So without a lawyer, a victim has less than a 1% chance of getting justice.

  • Victims who don’t have lawyers are treated unfairly.

An insurance adjuster will offer a victim 10% to 20% of what he would offer an attorney, so the insurance company will get richer by keeping the other 80% to 90%. If the victim has a lawyer, the victim will receive 60% or more, because the attorney’s fee will be 33-13% to 40%.

  • The law is complicated.

Dog bite law is complex because it is based on a combination of state statutes, county ordinances, municipal codes, and prior court cases. The legal doctrines include negligence, negligence per se, comparative negligence, the law of trespass, the law of provocation, the law of damages, the law of evidence, the law of insurance and more.

  • Experienced lawyers know how much money you deserve.

The amount of money you should receive is based on what was paid to similar dog bite victims during the past 10 years — but you have no idea how much and there is no book or website that will tell you.

  • Lawyers don’t charge money up front.

There is no downside to having a contingency fee lawyer handle the case for you. The initial consultation is free and there won’t be a bill if you don’t have a good case.

  • The dog owners won’t be hurt if you hire a lawyer.

Don’t worry about the dog owners. Those who have homeowners insurance policies or renters insurance policies will owe nothing from their own pockets because these policies do not require co-payments or have deductibles. The lawyer normally will not confront the dog owners, make them feel guilty, put them in a bad light, harass them, write threatening letters to them, embarrass them, foreclose on their home, drive them into bankruptcy, or have their dogs euthanized.

  • Getting a lawyer doesn’t mean you have to sue in court.

A good attorney knows how to present a case to an insurance company in a way that probably will get it resolved without going to court.

  • It costs more than $1,000 to get the evidence, and your lawyer will pay it.

A lawyer uses his or her own money to get official, reliable copies of medical evidence, professional photos, a private investigator to find out whether the dog ever acted viciously in the past, and at least one doctor to summarize all the medical evidence. This usually costs $1,000 to $2,000.

  • Your attorney will get you the right amount of money and help you keep it.

When your health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid pays your medical bills, it will make a reimbursement claim against your case. Your attorney will negotiate with them so they will reduce their demands. If you owe your doctors, your lawyer will negotiate with them too.

  • Getting a lawyer early will help your case.

Retaining an attorney early in the process means the insurance company will make a better estimate of how much money you should receive. This makes the claim easier to settle. If you try to represent yourself, you risk passing along the wrong information and insufficient evidence.

  • Having a lawyer won’t slow things down.

Your case will get resolved after you heal because the dog owners’ insurance company will need to know how badly you were hurt, and your doctor will not want to write a final report until your injuries are healed or “permanent and stationary.” So how long it takes depends on how fast you heal, not whether you have a lawyer.

  • The money has to be protected and invested if the victim is a child.

By law, you won’t be allowed to touch your child’s settlement money. It will be deposited into a special bank account, or special annuity for accident victims, or both. If this is done correctly, all of the interest will be tax free. This requires a lawyer.

  • Your attorney will have a judge review the settlement if the victim is a child.

When a child is injured, a judge must review the settlement. This means going to court even if no lawsuit is filed. You should have a lawyer for this court hearing. Otherwise you won’t have anyone to turn to when the judge asks questions.

  • Your lawyer will make a claim for you too if possible if the victim is a child.

Sometimes a parent is also entitled to compensation because of a son or daughter’s accident. Most mothers and fathers find it difficult to assert their own rights when fighting for their kids. An attorney helps parents to get what they deserve, too.

Videos

You can learn the basics about dog bite law by watching Dog Bite Law in 2 Minutes.

In-Depth Articles

Liability for Dog Bites to Human Beings

“Plain English” overview of dog bite law
Legal rights of dog bite victims in the USA
Legal rights of rescuers who incur dog bites
Legal rights of bystanders and family members
The “one bite rule”
What is a “bite”?
Vicious dogs
Protection dogs
Criminal penalties for dog bites
Dog parks and liability for dog bites
Electronic pet containment and liability for dog bites
Landlord liability for dog bites
Homeowner association liability for dog bites
Animal control liability for dog bites
Humane society liability for dog bites
Adoption organization liability for dog bites
Police liability for dog bites
Seller liability for dog bites
Liability for rabies
Medical malpractice and dog bite injuries
Model dog bite laws

Liability for Injuries to Dogs or by Means Other Than Bites

Liability for non-bite injuries
Liability when a dog is injured or killed

Proving Liability

What to do after a dog bite
Investigating the attacking dog
Bite reports
Ownership of a dog
Photography in dog bite cases
Beware of the “statute of limitations”
Does an adult need a lawyer for a dog bite claim?
Should parents get a lawyer for their injured child?
From parent to parent – an open letter about using a lawyer for your child
Do we have to file a lawsuit?
Dog bite victims need an attorney for “dog court”
Forms and templates for attorneys who represent dog bite victims
Tactics and strategies in dog bite lawsuits
Trespass by the victim as a defense
Meet Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips

What the Dog Bite Victim Can Receive

Compensation for the dog bite victim
Bodily and emotional injuries in dog bite cases
Finding the insurance that will cover a dog attack
What to do when there is no insurance
Bankruptcy and dog bites
Senior citizens and dog bites
Structured settlements in dog bite cases
How to know if you have a good case

When Dogs Injure Other Dogs

Those who own, harbor or keep a dog may be held responsible for the payment of compensation if it harms a person, a domestic animal, a farm animal, or property of any sort. Liability depends on whether there was negligence, a violation of an animal control law (such as a leash law), and particular provisions in the state, county and municipal law where the incident happened.

A dog owner can be held responsible for his negligence if he does something unreasonable with this dog or fails to take a reasonable precaution. For example, if you own a dog that has the tendency to attack other dogs, it would be unreasonable for you to bring that dog into a dog park. Therefore if your dog attacked another dog in a dog park, the owner of the other dog could hold you responsible for negligence.

Violating an animal control law pertaining to health or safety is always considered to be negligence. For example, if you are walking your dog without a leash, and your city or county has a leash law, you can be held responsible for anything bad that happens as a result of your dog being off the leash. If it chased a child who was riding a bicycle, and caused the child to have an accident by falling off the bike or crashing into something, you would be held liable for that.

Additionally, there are some places that have ordinances making dog owners responsible for any damage caused by their dog, regardless of how it happened. In these places, if you were walking your dog on a leash and it injured another person or dog in any manner, you would be held liable under the ordinance even if you were not negligent. Usually a dog owner will not be held responsible, however, if his dog is provoked or if somebody is hurt while trespassing on the dog owner’s owned or rented property.

The foregoing sets forth general legal principles applicable throughout the United States. To learn the specific law applicable to a particular jurisdiction, one must read the the state laws, municipal ordinances and county ordinances for that area.

If your dog was injured or killed by a dog or a person, see When a Dog Is Injured or Killed.

Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA

 

Most states and the District of Columbia impose liability on a dog owner for all dog bites even if the dog previously was a “good dog.” The victim is compensated through the dog owner’s homeowners or renters insurance. A minority of states observe the “one bite rule” which shields a dog owner from liability unless he knew that it tended to bite, or caused the bite negligently or intentionally, or violated a leash law or other animal control law.

To gain a general understanding of the legal rights of a dog bite victim, read “For Dog Bite Victims“. Following that, select any of the following topics for additional information.

See also: