We all love dogs, especially cute little puppies. They're our best friends and most cherished pets. But owning a dog comes with legal risks. And all dog owners should be aware of these risks and do what they can to mitigate them to avoid costly litigation.
In this post, we're going to look at what the law says about your responsibilities as a dog owner. So let's get started.
The "One-Bite" Rule
As the owner of a dog, you are legally responsible for its behavior. This means that if the dog causes somebody injury, you may then be sued for damages. But whether you have been negligent all depends on the prior behavior of the dog and whether you ever had evidence that your dog posed a risk.
Let's say that your dog has never bitten anyone before. One day, you take the dog to the park and, while the dog is off the leash, it bites a stranger on the arm. If you had no prior reason to believe that your dog would bite, in some states you probably won't be liable for negligence. Your behavior in letting the dog off the leash was perfectly reasonable, given your perception of the risk.
But if you knew that the dog had a history of biting, then you knew that letting it off the leash was a risk. In that situation, if the dog then went on and bit somebody on the arm, they would be within their rights to hire a dog bite lawyer and press charges.
The name, "one-bite" rule, is a bit of a misnomer. Obviously, if a dog has bitten before, you are responsible for their actions. But you can equally be put on notice that the dog is dangerous for a range of different behaviors that suggest the dog might bite in the future. If your dog growls at strangers and snaps at people, this should put you on notice that the dog is dangerous, even if it hasn't bitten.
The "one bite rule" only applies in certain states, so check whether it applies to yours before buying a dog.
In more than half of states, it doesn't matter whether you suspected the dog was dangerous. If your dog hurts somebody, you are personally responsible and liable for the injury caused. In these states, the theory is that the dog is your responsibility, period. There is no wiggle room. It doesn't matter if you didn't know the dog would hurt anyone, or whether you took precautionary measures. The dog is your responsibility.
In some states, statutes refer to dog bites only. In these states, owners are only liable for dog bites if their dog bites somebody in public. They are not liable for all the other injuries that their dogs could cause.But there are some states, like Minnesota, where owners are responsible for other injuries. For instance, if your dog jumps on somebody and causes them to fall over, injuring them, you are liable for damages. Thus, when buying a dog find out which laws apply in your state and think about how to mitigate risk.