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Every year thousands of Americans are bitten by animals, dogs in particular. But who is responsible?

Owner Liability for Dog Bites

First and foremost, dog bite statues vary greatly from state to state.

In some states, dogs got “one free bite.” This meant the dog owner had no liability to a person that his dog injured if that was the first time the animal displayed dangerous propensities. After the first bite, the dog owner was required to take reasonable steps to ensure his dog did not injure others. Failure to take such steps could lead to the dog owner being held liable.

However, many states have moved away from the "one free bite rule" and hold owners responsible for any injury, regardless of whether the animal has previously shown aggressive tendencies. This is referred to as "strict liability." Under this theory, even if the owner had no reason to know that his/her animal was dangerous, if the animal was to bite someone, the owner would still be liable. It can be difficult in some cases to determine the owner knew of an animal’s dangerous propensities.

The strict liability rule does offer some protection to dog owners in certain instances as outlined below:

A dog owner is not held liable if a dog bites a trespasser – a person on the property without permission.

If a dog bites the veterinarian treating him, the owner is not held liable.

If the dog bites someone who provoked him (i.e. the owner warned someone to stay away from his dog but the person pokes the dog with a stick).

Some cities and municipalities have tried breed-specific legislation (BSL)—which regulates or bans certain breeds of dogs—as a way to reduce dog bites, although the effectiveness of this type of legislation is often debated.

Other Potential Responsible Parties

Animal owners are not the only people who can be held responsible for animal bites, below are some examples:

Property Owners can be held liable for injuries caused by an animal that the property owner allowed onto his/her property.

Landlords may be liable for animal bite injuries if they knew (or should have known) that a tenant owned a dangerous animal.

Animal Keepers or anyone responsible for the care or custody may be considered an owner or keeper that can be held responsible (i.e. kennels or an animal shelter).

Dog Bite Statistics

According to a survey conducted in 1994 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 2% of the U.S. population—about 4.7 million people—are bitten by a dog annually. The vast majority of these bites don’t result in injury, and no medical treatment is sought. About 800,000 individuals, half of them children, seek medical treatment for dog bites.

The AKC has some helpful Tips to Prevent Dog Bites, as does the ASPCA.

A dog bite attack can be a traumatic experience that may cause severe and long-lasting injuries. If you or a loved one is the victim of a dog bite you should seek immediate medical assistance and legal assistance if necessary.

Demas & Rosenthal remains one of Sacramento’s most highly respected and accomplished personal injury law firms. We’ve been successfully representing clients since our firm first opened its doors back in 1993. Every Demas & Rosenthal attorney takes pride in obtaining the full compensation and complete justice owed to every client.

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