Although dogs are usually pretty good pets, sometimes they end up attacking someone. Dog bites and animal attacks can leave a person seriously and permanently injured, and can sometimes even lead to death. Dog bite and animal attack victims can also face expensive medical bills and lost wages. Liability for domestic animals usually depends on whether the animal's owner knew the animal had a propensity for violence.
There are some states, however, that hold a dog owner liable regardless of whether or not the owner knew of the dog's dangerous nature. FindLaw's Dog Bites and Animal Attacks section provides the basics of dog bite liability and how animal attack lawsuits work. In this section, you can also find articles outlining the elements of a dog bite case, animal attack damages, and how to prove an owner's knowledge of an animal's viciousness.
Different Legal Standard for Different Animals
Many states have enacted "dog-bite laws," which impose strict liability on dog owners for injuries caused by their dog. Strict liability means that the dog owner is liable for injuries caused by his or her dog, regardless of whether or not the owner was personally at fault. If there is no dog-bite law that imposes strict liability on the dog owner, the injured party must prove that the owner knew (or should have known) that his or her dog was vicious. Regardless of whether there is a dog-bite law or not, an injured person might not be able to recover if the dog owner shows that the injured person provoked the dog, and sometimes if the injured party was trespassing.
People who have wild animals as pets are often subject to strict liability because wild animals are considered inherently dangerous. For this reason, even if the pet owner tries his or her best to protect people from his or her wild animal, if a person is injured by the animal, the owner can still be held liable. Horses and other domestic animals, on the other hand, are generally treated under the standard rule of negligence. Thus, the owner will usually be held liable if he or she knew (or should have known) that the animal had dangerous tendencies.
Proving a Dog's Vicious Propensities
In states that do not have strict liability for dog bites, the injured party needs to prove that the animal had vicious propensities that the owner knew or should have known about. There are various factors that a plaintiff can use to help his or case in proving that the dog had vicious propensities. A good way to show that the owner knew that the dog could be dangerous is if there were previous complaints brought to the owner's attention. If the owner didn't do anything after receiving the complaints, he or she could be held liable for injuries because of his or her negligent behavior. Actions by the owner, such as often confining or muzzling the dog, could also be used as indications that the owner was aware that the dog could be dangerous.
Does the Type of Animal Affect a Bite Injury Case?
Most states have enacted laws that are collectively referred to as "dog-bite laws." Dog-bite laws impose what is known as "strict liability" on dog owners for injuries caused by their dogs. Strict liability means that the dog owner is responsible for injuries caused by his or her dog, regardless of whether the owner was actually at fault.
Dog-bite statutes provide a significant legal advantage to people injured by dogs. In states that do not have such laws, an injured person has the burden of proving that the dog owner knew (or should have known) that his/her dog was vicious and could injure someone. Under strict liability dog-bite law, however, an injured person only needs to show that the dog bit him or her, and the owner's knowledge is not an issue.
However, an injured person could be barred from recovering damages (even under a dog-bite law), if the dog owner shows that the injured person provoked the dog, or was trespassing. Generally, in states with dog-bite laws, a person injured by a dog will have an easier time proving his or her legal case than a person bitten by another type of animal.
To find out whether your state has a specific dog-bite statute, you should check with an experienced attorney in your area.
Horses and Domestic Animals
Most injuries from horses are caused by kicks rather than bites. Most states do not have specific laws regarding injuries caused by horses, so such injuries are typically are treated in the same manner as injuries caused by other domestic animals: under standard rules of negligence. This means that the owner of a horse will usually be held liable for injuries caused by the horse if the owner knew or had reason to know of the horse's dangerous tendencies. Also, consistent with other animal cases, a horse owner may not be liable for injuries if the owner can prove the injured person "assumed the risk," was "contributorily negligent," or provoked the horse.
People who own or keep wild animals are often subject to strict liability in the same way that dog owners are responsible for dog bites under dog-bite laws. The reason for this is that the act of keeping an animal that is potentially uncontrollable and vicious is considered inherently dangerous. Thus, even if the owner of a wild animal goes to extreme measures to protect people from his animal (such as building high fences), if the animal does end up injuring someone, the owner can be held liable regardless of the effort he or she took to protect the public.
Talk to a Lawyer about Your Bite Injury Claim
The type of animal that injures you can affect your legal rights. To find out if your state has specific "dog-bite laws" or other animal-specific laws, and to discuss your potential claim for injury, you should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer.
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