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Dog Bite Liability: Who’s Responsible?

Dog bites result in thousands of injuries in the United States on a yearly basis. Dog bite injuries are serious and can include permanent scarring, psychological damage and even death. Liability for these injuries can be significant. Fortunately, most homeowner policies cover injuries inflicted by the homeowner’s dog. In most states under the common law, dogs are allowed “one free bite.” After the first bite, the dog owner is required to take reasonable steps to ensure that his dog does not injure others. Courts created liability laws for breeds of dogs that are determined “inherently vicious”. In these cases, a dog owner could be held liable for not taking reasonable steps to protect the public from the dog’s bite. Some breeds that meet this criterion include Rottweilers, Pit bulls, Dobermans and the like. In more recent years, many cities have enacted “leash laws.” Under these ordinances, all dogs “off the leash” are considered “inherently vicious”. If a person is attacked and injured by a dog running free in a leash law jurisdiction, even if the dog never has bitten anyone and is not an inherently vicious breed, the dog owner may still be liable. Many states, including New Jersey, have also passed laws that hold an owner liable if the dog bites someone on the owner’s property (or chased from the owner’s property) if that person had a right to be on the owner’s property (i.e. a guest, homeowner’s kids, a postal worker, etc). New York does not have the same liability stature; however, it currently remains a ‘one-bite’ state (animal does not require the existence of a prior bite). Given the millions of dogs in the United States today, it clear we are a dog loving country; however, dogs can and do cause grievous injuries. Dog owners must take responsible precautions to protect members of the public from their pets. Source: “Dog Bites: Who Is Responsible?” The Safety Report Summer 2010: 13.