According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 4.7 million dog bites occur each year. Out of these 4.7 million dog bites, an estimated 800,000 result in injury that requires medical attention. Dog bite liability becomes an important issue when dog bites lead to injuries. The Insurance Information Institute estimates that more than 16,000 dog bite claims were filed in 2012. Dog bites are estimated to account for roughly one-third of homeowners’ insurance liability claims in the United States.

Determining Dog Bite Liability

Generally speaking, the dog’s owner is liable for dog bite injuries when the owner was aware of the dog’s tendency to cause an injury. Dog owners may also hold dog bite liability in cases where their negligent or careless behavior contributed to the dog bite injury. Certain state statutes may also impose strict liability on the dog’s owner whether or not the owner was aware of or directly responsible for the dog bite.

State Dog Bite Liability Laws

All states have laws dictating certain circumstances where owners are legally responsible for injuries caused by their dogs. These dog bite laws vary from state to state. Therefore, determining dog bite liability is often dependent on the state in which the dog bite injury occurs. It should be noted that in several states, dog bite liability does not apply when injuries are caused by the dog acting playfully. There are several types of laws that are in place to regulate dog bite liability.

Types of dog bite liability laws include:

  • Dog bite liability statutes. Dog bite statutes typically impose dog bite liability on the dog’s owner regardless of the circumstances of the situation. In these cases, the dog’s tendencies or provocation do not typically play a role in determining dog bite liability.
  • “One-bite” rule. The one-bite rule states that the dog’s owner may not be held liable for the first bite that his or her dog inflicts. This rule is based on the premise that the owner was not aware of the dog’s aggressive and injurious tendencies. Therefore, liability is waived.
  • Provocation as defense. In some states, the dog owner may not be liable if he or she can prove that the dog was provoked, which resulted in the dog bite. Proof of provocation can thus act as a defense for the dog’s action and tendencies.
  • Negligence laws. Negligence laws impose dog bite liability on the dog’s owner when he or she contributed to the dog bite injury by acting negligently or carelessly. This can be seen in cases where an owner failed to properly leash or restrain a dog which then escaped and bit another individual.

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