Animal Bite Law

Guide to Dog Bite and Animal Attack Law




Animal Bite Laws are created at the state level, through statutes and common law, so they vary across the U.S. These laws help to determine if a pet owner is liable when his/her animal bites someone. When a person is injured by an animal bite, the bite victim may sue the animal’s owner or another responsible party for damages, under Personal Injury Tort Laws.

Other parties that can also be held liable for damages caused by an animal bite include: animal keepers, who are responsible for the care and custody of an animal, such as a kennel, pound or animal sitter; property owners, when they have allowed the animal on their property; landlords, if they knew that their tenant owned a dangerous animal; and parents of minors who owned the animal or behaved negligently with an animal which led to injury.

Most states impose strict liability laws with regard to animal owners. This means that an animal owner is legally responsible for his/her animal biting, regardless of whether the owner showed actual negligence or fault. In these states, if the animal injures a person, the owner will be liable for any damages the person suffers as a result of the dog bite, even if the animal had never shown vicious tendencies before, or the owner had no knowledge of these tendencies.

The only defense the animal owner may have in these cases is intentional provocation of the animal by the victim, which means inciting, encouraging, or provoking the animal to bite. Additionally, law enforcement agencies that use dogs in the apprehension of criminal suspects may be exempt from liability.

In other states, the owner’s liability is dependent upon his/her knowledge of the animal’s dangerous or vicious propensities. If the victim can show that the owner had knowledge that the animal was dangerous and could injure someone, the owner may be liable for damages when his/her animal causes injury to someone. However, if the animal owner adequately warned others of the dangerousness of the animal and took the proper measures to keep the animal from others, there may be no liability, due to contributory negligence. This means the victim contributed to his own injury by failing to exercise reasonable care and knowingly taking the risk of being injured by the animal.

The damages that can be recovered in a successful animal bite claim include medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and property damages. Although it is sometimes possible to recover punitive damages, but to do so it must be shown that the responsible party was not merely negligent, but was actually reckless or intentionally incited the injury.

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