Indiana Dog Bite Law

A dog bite victim in Indiana can recover compensation under the doctrines of negligence, negligence per se, scienter, and intentional tort; additionally, there is compensation for police officers, firemen, mail carriers and others carrying out duties on behalf of the state or federal government.

Dog bite statutes

The Indiana dog bite statutes apply only to people who are carrying out official duties of the state or federal government. The laws are:

IC 15-20-1-2 “Owner”

Sec. 2. As used in this chapter, “owner” means the owner of a dog. The term includes a person who possesses, keeps, or harbors a dog.

IC 15-20-1-3 Dog Bite Liability

Sec. 3. (a) If a dog, without provocation, bites a person:

(1) who is acting peaceably; and

(2) who is in a location where the person may be required to be in order to discharge a duty imposed upon the person by:

(A) the laws of Indiana;

(B) the laws of the United States; or

(C) the postal regulations of the United States;

the owner of the dog is liable for all damages suffered by the person bitten.

(b) The owner of a dog described in subsection (a) is liable for damages even if:

(1) the dog has not previously behaved in a vicious manner; or

(2) the owner has no knowledge of prior vicious behaviour by the dog. 


It has been held that “animals are not necessarily entitled to one free bite before their owners are held liable in negligence.” (Hardsaw v. Courtney (Ind.Ct.App. 1999) 665 NE2d 1143, 1145.) A dog owner in Indiana is required to keep his dog under reasonable care and control even if he is unaware of any vicious tendencies in the dog. As was stated in Plesha v. Edmonds ex rel. Edmonds (Ind.Ct.App. 1999) 717 NE2d 981, 987: 

[M]aintaining a dog in Indiana imposes on a dog owner the duty of reasonable care, even when the dog owner is unaware of the dog’s vicious or dangerous propensities. Without knowledge of the dog’s vicious or dangerous propensities, the owner may become liable for damages the dog causes where the owner is otherwise negligent in his manner of ‘keeping and control’ of the dog. Above all, an owner is bound to know a dog’s natural propensities and use reasonable care to prevent injuries which might reasonably be expected from those propensities. The foregoing duties are imposed on the owner of a dog regardless of the dog bite victim’s age or status. 


A person who is supervising a child may be liable in negligence if that person’s dog bites the child, even if the dog had not exhibited a tendency to bite people prior to the incident. Vetor by Weesner v. Vetor, 634 N.E.2d 513, 516 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994). In Vetor, a child who was bitten by a dog while visiting her grandfather brought an action against her grandfather on the basis that he failed to use reasonable care for the child’s safety. The trial court granted summary judgment for the grandfather. On appeal, the Court of Appeal held that the designated evidence raised a question for the jury as to whether the grandfather used reasonable care. It emphasized that the grandfather was the owner of the property, that the dog was on the premises, that both the dog and the child were under the grandfather’s supervision, and that the grandfather was in charge of the premises. It further emphasized that it was a question for the jury under these circumstances as to whether the grandfather was a keeper of the dog.

For more about the doctrine of negligence, see Negligence.  

Negligence per se

Plesha v. Edmonds, 717 NE 2d 981 (1999) established that the violation of an animal control ordinance is actionable as negligence per se. In that case, a young boy who was technically trespassing on the dog owners’ property was bitten by the latters’ unleashed dog. A city ordinance required the dog to be “under restraint.” The court held that the dog owners violated the ordinance even though the dog was on its owners’ property. As the court stated, “[t]he unexcused or unjustified violation of a duty proscribed by a statute or ordinance constitutes negligence per se if the statute or ordinance is intended to protect the class of persons in which the plaintiff is included and to protect against the risk of the type of harm which has occurred as a result of its violation. (Plesha at p. 986.)

The defendants in Plesha asserted trespass as a defense. The court also held that in a dog bite case, trespass is not a defense:

As a general rule in Indiana, the only duty an owner or occupier of land owes to a trespasser is to refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring a trespasser after discovering his presence; negligence is insufficient. [Citations omitted.] An exception to the general rule, however, appears in dog bite cases, where this court has consistently applied a negligence standard without regard to whether the victim was an invitee, licensee, or trespasser on the land on which the dog was maintained. (Plesha at p. 987.)

Article 20 (Animal Control) of the Indiana Code has two provisions that can impose civil liability for a dog bite under the doctrine of negligence per se. IC 15-20-1-4 makes it a misdemeanor if a dog owner “recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally fails to take reasonable steps to restrain the dog” and it trespasses and bites a person. Wolfdogs and “coydogs” (coyote mixed with another animal) are forbidden under IC 15-20-1-5 and therefore if such an animal bit a person, the owner, keeper or harborer would be held liable under negligence per se. 


The “scienter” cause of action refers to the one bite rule. It holds a person liable if he owns, harbors or keeps a dog with knowledge that it has the “dangerous propensity” to harm a human being such as by biting. Indiana courts have given the following definition of “dangerous propensity:”

This court has defined dangerous or vicious propensity as “a propensity or tendency of an animal to do any act which might endanger the safety of person or property in a given situation. It is the act of the animal and not in the state of mind of the animal from which the effects of a dangerous propensity must be determined.” Royer v. Pryor, 427 N.E.2d1112, 1117 (Ind. Ct. App. 1981) (quoting Doe v. Barnett, 145 Ind.App. 542, 251 N.E.2d 688, 694, (1969), trans. denied; 3A C.J.S. Animals ยง 180 (1973)). After stating this definition in Royer, we held that it is not reasonable to attribute dangerous or vicious propensities to a dog “merely because he barks at strangers, because a person is afraid of the dog, or because a city ordinance requires a dog to be restrained at all times.” Id.  (Baker v. Weather, No. 49A05-9807-CV-381.)

Landlord liability

Indiana recognizes a limited duty on the part of landlords and land owners to protect third parties from dangerous dogs harbored by tenants. There is a two prong test for landlord liability: the first prong of that test is whether the landlord retains some control over the premises where the dog is kept, and the second is whether the landlord had knowledge, at the time of the injury caused by a dog, of the dog’s vicious propensity. (Morehead v. Deitrich, 932 NE 2d 1272 (2010).) Merely escaping does not provide notice of, or constitute, a dangerous propensity. (Baker v. Weather ex rel. Weather, 714 NE 2d 740 (1999).)