The laws regarding whether a dog owner is liable for injuries caused when their dog bites someone, vary from state to state. While the specifics can be unique in each state, they generally all fall into one of two liability categories: Strict liability and One-bite. The difference between the two is that under one-bite liability an owner is not liable unless they have reason to suspect their dog would bite, while in strict liability an owner is responsible regardless.
The idea behind one-bite liability is that an owner should not be held responsible for damage caused by their dog if they had no previous indication that their dog would pose a threat to anyone. The liability law gets its name from the idea that a dog generally gets one free bite before an owner will get punished.
The law is usually more complex than that, though. In most states with one-bite liability laws, there are a number of factors that can lead to a dog owner being held liable for their dog’s actions. An owner can be liable even if the dog never bit anyone before.
In many states, the owner can be held responsible for the first time their dog bites someone if their dog is considered to be from a “dangerous breed”. The owner could also be held responsible if their dog displays character traits that might point towards possible acts of aggression.
In one-bite liability, it comes down to whether the owner knew, or should have known, that their dog was a risk. If they did, then it is important whether they took appropriate precautions if they did.
Strict liability is, simply put, more “strict.” In states with strict liability laws regarding dog bites, an owner is responsible for any attack by their dog, whether they had any reason to believe their dog was a danger or not.
However, there are some exceptions to this liability law. When the person who was bit by a dog was trespassing or in some other way breaking the law, the owner is not liable for injuries resulting from a dog bite. The same applies if the victim of the bite did something to provoke the dog into biting them.
Misconceptions About Dog Breeds
While dog breeds are not taken into consideration in states with strict liability laws, they can be an important factor in states with one-bite liability laws. This can be unfortunate for both dogs and their owners in these states if the dog is to be considered a “dangerous breed.” What makes it especially unfortunate is the fact that the idea of a “dangerous breed” is a common misconception.
The truth is that there aren’t really any dangerous breeds. While some breeds of dogs do tend to share certain personality traits, there are no breeds with built-in aggression. Aggression in domestic breeds is a learned behavior. It is nurture rather than nature. Many people point to the statistics regarding the high number of reported dog bites by pit bulls, as a sign that pit bulls are aggressive, dangerous dogs by nature.
It is true that the number of dog bites reported each year in the United States does skew heavily towards pit bulls. However, the reason for this is not to do with the breed itself, but the typical owners of these dogs. The reputation of the pit bull as a dangerous dog is both a self-fulfilling prophecy and a vicious cycle.
Because people believe that a pit bull is a dangerous dog, many families avoid this breed when looking for a family dog. At the same time, people who are looking for an attack dog, a guard dog, or a dog for dogfighting are likely to pick a pit bull. After all, they are big and have a reputation for being dangerous.
Of these dog owners, the only ones that are likely to show any affection for their dogs are the ones who want a guard dog for their personal protection. People who are looking for an attack dog or a dog for dogfighting are likely to treat their dogs very poorly and build up aggression within them.
Know the Laws
All dog owners should be aware of the laws dealing with dog bites in the state in which they live. Knowing the laws can be especially important if you have a dog that is unfairly prejudiced against within your state.
Responsible dog ownership goes beyond the letter of the law, however. A responsible dog owner should always do everything in their power to prevent a dog bite from happening, whether they will be held reliable or not. Owning a dog can be a wonderful thing, but unless you can be a responsible dog owner, then it is not for you.