Homeowner Liability for Dog Bite Injury

Having a dog can be a wonderful thing, but it can also subject the dog owner to liability for an accident claim if the dog bites someone. Whether or not a homeowner will be responsible for a dog bite claim is going to depend on the circumstances of the bite and on state law. Dog bite claims are generally governed under personal injury/tort rules, but there may be some situations in which the general "negligence" standard that applies to most torts does not apply.

The One-Bite Rule Vs. Strict Liability

The states can broadly be divided into two different camps when it comes to dog bite liability:

Strict Liability States

In these states, if a dog bites, the homeowner is essentially always going to be liable for the injuries that arise from the dog bite, whether the homeowner should have known that the dog was prone to aggression or not. In other words, even if a perfectly nice dog bit someone without warning, the homeowner would be responsible for the costs associated with that bite and subject to liability. There may be exceptions to this rule if the individual who was bitten by the dog was trespassing or provoking the dog, but otherwise, the homeowner will be liable

One-Bite States

In these states, a homeowner is not considered to necessarily be liable for all damages associated with the first dog bite. The key in "one-bite" states is whether the owner had any reason to believe that the dog was dangerous and prone to biting. 

Liability Issues for Unleashed Dogs

When a homeowner takes his or her dog into a public area or allows his/her dog to be outside, generally the dog must either be wearing a leash or must be contained by a fence. Leash laws exist in almost every state in order to avoid situations where loose dogs might cause harm. If a homeowner allows his dog off leash and/or allows his dog to go unrestrained into the yard, that homeowner may be considered to be acting in a negligent manner in violation of leash laws. This negligence can subject the homeowner to liability, regardless of "one-bite" rules or strict liability rules. 

Injuries to Guests

When guests are invited to someone's home, the homeowner has a legal obligation under premises liability law to make that home safe of known dangers. If the homeowner knows or has reason to suspect that the dog is dangerous and invites a guest over without restraining the dog and/or warning the guest of the potential dangers, the homeowner can be liable for the dog bite that occurs. 

Injuries to Neighborhood Children

A homeowner may be liable for injuries that occur to neighborhood children as a result of dog bites based on the situation. Generally, the same rules as described above apply. A homeowner can be liable for injuries to a neighborhood child arising from a dog bite if:

  • The child is invited to the home; 
  • The dog is permitted to be unrestrained outside in violation of leash laws and leaves the homeowners property to attack the child; 
  • If strict liability applies 
  • If the "one-bite" rule applies and the dog is known to be aggressive

If a child trespasses onto private property and/or does something to agitate the dog and provoke the bite, then there may be exceptions to homeowner liability. 

Homeowners Insurance and Dog Bites

In most cases, your homeowner's insurance policy will cover you for dog bite liability up to the limits of your policy. You should check with your insurance carrier to determine if such protection is provided for you and ensure that your insurer is aware that there is a dog living in your home. 

Getting Help

If your dog bites someone, or if you were bitten by a dog, you need legal help. The laws on dog bites and dog bite liability can vary from state to state, so it is imperative to consult a lawyer to determine what your rights are.

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