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Are Dog Owners Liable for Injury or Damage Their Dog Causes?

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock

Corgi messed cat litter

Laws governing dog bites and similar damages vary a lot from state to state. In some states, dog owners can be on the hook with only small injuries in most areas. However, there are typically several exceptions to this rule. For instance, if someone is on your property illegally, then you may not be liable for them being bitten by a dog.

Because laws vary so much by state, it’s important to look at each state in turn. Let’s take a look at a few states’ laws so you can see the variance for yourself.

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Overview of Dog Bite Law by State

Alabama

Alabama will hold the owner accountable for the dog bite if the owner allowed the animal to roam around carelessly. However, if the person can prove that they had no knowledge of the dog being dangerous under the circumstances, then they are often not held liable.

Furthermore, a dog bite does not “count” if the person was not somewhere they had a legal right to be. Therefore, if they were trespassing, then the owner cannot be held liable for the dog bite.

However, even if you aren’t technically liable for the dog bite, you may still be required to pay the actual costs of the injury in some cases.

Arizona

In Arizona, you’re only held liable for dog bites if the person is in a public place or in a private place where they are legally allowed to be (such as in their own home, for instance). Police dogs are exempt from these laws in most circumstances, as you would expect.

Furthermore, Arizona allows for proof of provocation, which would make the dog owner not liable for the damages.

California

California laws are to the point. They hold the owner liable for damages if the bite took place in a public place or private place where the person was legally allowed to be. There are no statutes for provocation or allowance if the owner didn’t realize that the dog was dangerous.

Colorado

Colorado only takes serious dog bites into account. Furthermore, it is required that the dog bite took place while the person was lawfully on public or private property. However, if the person was trespassing, then they require that the owner post signs stating “beware of dog” or “no trespassing”.

Furthermore, provocation is a defense to avoid liability. You will have to prove that the person knowingly provoked the dog, however. Vets, dog groomers, and other dog workers are not allowed to sue over dog bites, either.

Unlike many states, Colorado also eliminates liability if the dog is working on the property or under the control of the owner. Therefore, many hunting dogs, herding dogs, and other animals are exempt.

Black dog making a mess
Image Credit: Karolina Grabowska, Pexels

Connecticut

Connecticut could potentially require dog owners to pay for damages to the person and any of their property, which can include companion animals. There are exemptions for trespassing, as well as teasing, tormenting, and abusing. However, the burden of proof is on the caretaker.

Delaware

In Delaware, the laws are similar to most other locations. Dog owners can be held liable for bites unless the victim was trespassing or committing another criminal offense. They also protect dogs in the case of provocation.

Florida

Florida protects dogs only in the case of trespassing. Otherwise, dog owners could be liable for the bite. However, they also take any negligence on the bitten person’s part into consideration. Therefore, if a bitten person provoked the dog, the owner may not be liable.

The owner is also not liable if they post a sign that includes the words “bad dog”. However, these words are extremely specific. If you live in Florida, be sure you put up the correct signage.

Georgia

Georgia does not have many laws regarding dog bites and damages. They do protect against provocation, though it is assumed that the burden of proof is on the owner. Furthermore, the owner must be carelessly allowing the animal to wander and not have control of the animal during the incident.

Hawaii

In Hawaii, dog owners are protected in the case of trespassing and provocation. In both of these circumstances, the law clearly states that the owner is not liable.

Illinois

In Illinois, you can be found liable for attacks, attempted attacks, and any other injuries your dog commits on another person. However, provocation and trespassing are both protected. Furthermore, the law states that the injured person must have been “peaceably” conducting themselves for the dog owner to be found liable.

Indiana

In Indiana, the laws protect dog owners from liability in the case of provocation and trespassing. However, it explicitly states that the dog owner can still be found liable if the person was required to be on the property because it is their job. For instance, this would include the postal service.

Iowa

Liability is exempt when the party is committing an unlawful act. Otherwise, dog owners can be found liable in most other situations. There is an exception in this case for dogs with hydrophobia, which is a sign of rabies. However, if you could not have reasonable knowledge about the infection, then you won’t be held liable.

Big dog sleeping in a messy room
Image Credit: Karolina Grabowska, Pexels

Kentucky

Kentucky does not have any specific laws regarding dog bites and when the owner is liable. Therefore, it is up to the owner to convince the court that they shouldn’t be liable. Furthermore, livestock is protected from canine abuse, so you may be held liable for the loss of farm animals, as well.

Louisiana

The owner is liable for any dog bite or other damages if the owner could have prevented the attack or bite. What exactly this includes depends on the court. Furthermore, the attack must have been unprovoked.

Maine

Maine only holds owners responsible if the attack occurred off of their property. Therefore, when anyone goes on a property with a dog, they are assuming their own risk of being bitten. Furthermore, if the bitten person was found more at fault for the attack than the owner, the owner may not be liable (or only partially liable).

Maryland

Maryland laws lean heavily on the side of a dog owner. The dog owner had to know that their dog was vicious or potentially dangerous to be held liable. Furthermore, there are several potential defenses for dogs “running at large,” as well, including teasing and trespassing.

Massachusetts

Most laws in Massachusetts are what you would expect. The dog owner is held liable unless the injured person was trespassing or provoking the dog. Furthermore, the law does state that those under 7 are assumed to not be trespassing or tormenting the dog. Therefore, in these cases, the burden of proof would be on you.

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Conclusion

As you can see, laws vary highly from state to state. Plus, you also have to consider previous court rulings, which can affect when you may be liable, as well. For this reason, it is best to talk to a lawyer regarding liability questions. While this does cost money upfront, this can save you a lot of money in the future.

For this reason, we highly recommend speaking to a lawyer about specific questions regarding your situation.

 

Featured Image Credit: Stephanie Ho, Pexels

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