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.
Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer
If you or someone you love has been injured by a dog bite or animal attack, you may want to consult with a personal injury attorney to find out your legal options. It's in your best interest to contact an attorney soon after your injury because there are time limits for filing a personal injury lawsuit. You can also learn more about this legal area on our animal bites legal answers page.