The Colorado dog bite statute is for cases where the victim cannot prove the elements of the “one bite rule.” See Proving a Dangerous Propensity in Colorado.
The statute covers any “person, firm, corporation, or organization owning, possessing, harboring, keeping, having financial or property interest in, or having control or custody of, a dog.” (Col. Rev. Stats. sec. 13-21-124.)
The statute applies only to a “serious bodily injury.” The definition of “serious bodily injury” is contained in section 18-1-901(3)(p), which defines it as “bodily injury which, either at the time of the actual injury or at a later time, involves a substantial risk of death, a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement, a substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, or breaks, fractures, or burns of the second or third degree.” A “bodily injury” means “any physical injury that results in severe bruising, muscle tears, or skin lacerations requiring professional medical treatment or any physical injury that requires corrective or cosmetic surgery.” (Sec. 13-21-124, subd. (1)(a).) Emotional distress, for example, would not be covered under the statute if it does not result from actual physical injury.
The dog bite statute provides a limited remedy: the victim’s recovery will be limited to economic damages. The term “economic damages” includes past medical bills, future medical bills, past psychological counseling, future psychological counseling, past loss of income, future loss of income, and loss of earning power. The jury instruction refers to “any economic losses incurred to the present time, or which will probably be incurred in the future, including: loss of earnings or impairment of earning capacity; reasonable and necessary medical hospital and other expenses.”
A plaintiff in a personal injury action may recover compensatory damages for physical impairment, disfigurement, economic damages (including loss of earnings, impaired earning capacity, medical, hospital and care expenses (both past and future), and out-of-pocket expenses), and noneconomic damages for such things as pain and suffering, inconvenience, emotional stress, and impairment of quality of life. Interest on personal injury damages may be claimed from the date the action accrued. . . . The statutory rate of interest in Colorado is 8% per annum. (John P. Craver and Adam Goldstein, State Law Summary, Overview of the State of Colorado, pp. 11-12.)
It bears emphasis that the dog bite statute does not entitle a victim to receive general damages for intagible losses, which are referred to as “noneconomic loss.” Section 13-21-102.5 defines “noneconomic loss” as “nonpecuniary harm … including pain and suffering, inconvenience, emotional stress, and impairment of the quality of life.” To recover full compensation for pain and suffering, a dog bite victim has to prove that the defendant was negligent or should have known that the dog had the tendency to bite people. In Barger et al. v. Jimerson et al. (1954) 130 Colo. 459, 276 P.2d 744, the Colorado Supreme Court held that a dog owner who is free of negligence shall nevertheless be liable for injuries and losses resulting from a dog bite, if the owner knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous prior to attack. A victim only has to prove that the dog had the tendency to bite, not that it ever actually bit anyone. As the court said in Barger, “There is no evidence in this case that the dog in question had ever bitten anyone before, but its ferocious and violent nature as daily exhibited to many people, especially the neighbors, was such as to put prudent people on guard to prevent a possibility of attack on human beings . . . ” (130 Colo. at p. 463.)
With regard to noneconomic loss, Colorado limits them in amount unless the victim has physical impairment or disfigurement. The limit originally set forth in Section 13-21-102.5 was $250,000 but has risen from year to year. An attorney must be consulted for any case that could result in a significant monetary loss.
The statute does not permit a victim to recover anything if he trespassed, provoked the dog, ignored a warning sign, was a judge at a dog show, or was performing a service for the dog, or if the dog was doing military or police work, or was working as a hunting, herding, farming, ranching, or predator control dog.
Here is the text of Colorado’s dog bite statute, Col. Rev. Stats. sec. 13-21-124 (Civil actions against dog owners):
13-21-124. Civil actions against dog owners.
(1) As used in this section, unless the context otherwise requires:
(a) “Bodily injury” means any physical injury that results in severe bruising, muscle tears, or skin lacerations requiring professional medical treatment or any physical injury that requires corrective or cosmetic surgery.
(b) “Dog” means any domesticated animal related to the fox, wolf, coyote, or jackal.
(c) “Dog owner” means a person, firm, corporation, or organization owning, possessing, harboring, keeping, having financial or property interest in, or having control or custody of, a dog.
(d) “Serious bodily injury” has the same meaning as set forth in section 18-1-901 (3) (p), C.R.S.
(2) A person or a personal representative of a person who suffers serious bodily injury or death from being bitten by a dog while lawfully on public or private property shall be entitled to bring a civil action to recover economic damages against the dog owner regardless of the viciousness or dangerous propensities of the dog or the dog owner’s knowledge or lack of knowledge of the dog’s viciousness or dangerous propensities.
(3) In any case described in subsection (2) of this section in which it is alleged and proved that the dog owner had knowledge or notice of the dog’s viciousness or dangerous propensities, the court, upon a motion made by the victim or the personal representative of the victim, may enter an order that the dog be euthanized by a licensed veterinarian or licensed shelter at the expense of the dog owner.
(4) For purposes of this section, a person shall be deemed to be lawfully on public or private property if he or she is in the performance of a duty imposed upon him or her by local, state, or federal laws or regulations or if he or she is on property upon express or implied invitation of the owner of the property or is on his or her own property.
(5) A dog owner shall not be liable to a person who suffers bodily injury, serious bodily injury, or death from being bitten by the dog:
(a) While the person is unlawfully on public or private property;
(b) While the person is on property of the dog owner and the property is clearly and conspicuously marked with one or more posted signs stating “no trespassing” or “beware of dog”;
(c) While the dog is being used by a peace officer or military personnel in the performance of peace officer or military personnel duties;
(d) As a result of the person knowingly provoking the dog;
(e) If the person is a veterinary health care worker, dog groomer, humane agency staff person, professional dog handler, trainer, or dog show judge acting in the performance of his or her respective duties; or
(f) While the dog is working as a hunting dog, herding dog, farm or ranch dog, or predator control dog on the property of or under the control of the dog’s owner.
(6) Nothing in this section shall be construed to:
(a) Affect any other cause of action predicated on other negligence, intentional tort, outrageous conduct, or other theories;
(b) Affect the provisions of any other criminal or civil statute governing the regulation of dogs; or
(c) Abrogate any provision of the “Colorado Governmental Immunity Act”, article 10 of title 24, C.R.S.