Animals, and dogs in particular, have a special place in many people’s hearts. A shift in thinking over the last thirty years has dogs lounging at their family’s feet, or even in their beds, instead of staying outdoors or working on farms. Dogs are especially loved in Arizona; which has the highest percentage of dog owners in the United States with approximately 1.7 million (43.3 percent) households that include man’s best friend.
Households that call a dog (or two) their family have many wonderful benefits, including companionship, unconditional love, lower blood pressure, an example of responsibility for children and enhanced exercise. However, what happens if your beloved family dog bites another individual?
Common Law and Colorado Law
Under the common law, a person that was injured by a dog could recover if they proved that the owner knew, or should have known, that the animal had a predisposition to cause harm. This was known as the “one bite rule”.
Under the “one bite rule,” an owner generally would not be held liable if their dog bit someone for the first time because the owner would never have known that the dog had a predisposition to cause harm. However, once the dog had bit someone (or growled and snapped), the owner would know that they had the ability to cause harm and could be held liable if the dog bit a person in the future.
Colorado is included in a list of states that applies the “one bite rule.”
Arizona and California Law
Arizona and California, however, impose strict liability on the owner of a dog in dog bite cases. This means that in Arizona and California, dogs do not get “one free bite,” and owners will be held strictly liable for the injuries caused by their dogs without regard to an owner’s knowledge of the dog’s predisposition to cause harm.
Arizona Revised Statute 11-1025 and California Civil Code section 3342 govern dog bite cases. Arizona and California law explain that a dog’s owner is liable if their dog bites a person who is in a public place or lawfully in a private place when the bite occurs, “regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of its viciousness.
Two common defenses that may be raised in a dog bite case in Arizona and California include trespassing and provocation. Since both laws require the injured person to “lawfully” be in a public or private place when the injury occurs, a person that is trespassing would be on the premises unlawfully, therefore, they would be unable to recover damages. Additionally, the statute states that an injured person cannot recover if the person “provoked” the dog. Although, provocation was initially directed at military or police dogs, it is a common defense for household pets as well.
Although the dog owner is liable for any injuries caused by their dog, often their insurance company will ultimately pay for the damages. Additionally, rental, business and landlord insurance may also cover dog bite injuries. Some damages that may be recovered from a dog bite case include: lost wages, medical bills, future medical bills, therapy, pain and suffering and loss of quality of life.
Dogs add such a wonderful facet to life. Please take the time to review your state’s dog bite laws to keep your family, which includes your dog, and others safe.