If you are concerned about your dog's propensity to bite someone, or if your dog has just bitten someone for the first time, you may be wondering about your liability as an owner. Although many states impose strict liability on dog owners from the very first incident, others follow the principle that the dog must have a history of aggression before you can be held responsible for its actions. Familiarizing yourself with your state's laws can help you understand your legal standing as a dog owner and explore your options if you are facing a lawsuit.
Understanding Your State's Law
There are currently 15 states that follow "one-bite" laws, including New York, Texas and Virginia. In these states, you are only liable for your dog's first bite if there is already documented evidence that the dog might cause injury. In most cases, this shifts liability to the owner after the first bite, meaning only a second incident would leave you exposed to a lawsuit. On the other hand, if your dog does bite twice in one of these states, you will have few if any legal arguments in your favor, because you have already been given the benefit of the doubt.
Factoring In Negligence
Even if your dog is covered under a "one-bite" law, you may still not be off the hook if the bite victim can prove negligence on your part. For example, if you allowed your dog to roam the neighborhood freely knowing children were present, you may be held liable for its actions anyways. These arguments can be thwarted if you can prove that your dog was provoked or the victim waived his or her rights beforehand, but documented cases of negligence are very difficult to fight for dog owners, even in "one-bite" states.
Protecting Yourself and Your Dog From Lawsuits
Of course, your first priority as a dog owner should be to ensure the safety of your pet and everyone around it, and that means avoiding bites in the first place. If your dog has not yet bitten someone but shows signs of aggression, keep it on a leash while in public and do not allow interactions with strangers. Even older dogs who are developing sight or joint problems can be a risk for bites, so monitor your dog closely whenever strangers or children are present. By limiting your dog's exposure to stressful situations, you can help your pet never feel the urge to bite at all.
Responding to Your Dog's First Bite
If, however, your dog has bitten someone for the first time, you should contact an experienced dog bite attorney to assess your liability and begin mounting a legal defense. This may not only shield you from a ruinous court-mandated payout, but it can also save your dog's life. With a thorough understanding of your rights as a dog owner and a good lawyer, you can protect both your pet and your assets from a lawsuit and move on to ensure that your dog is never permitted to bite again.