There you are, minding your own business, when a dog comes out of nowhere and bites you.
Common sense would tell you that the owner of that dog is responsible to you for your injuries, right?
Not so fast! Nothing is ever as easy as it seems. Even though most dog bite cases are strict liability cases — in other words, the dog’s owner is liable to you, the bitten party — bringing a claim against the dog’s owner may involve more obstacles than you might imagine.
Most dog bite cases are “strict liability.” In other words, when you’ve been bitten, you don’t have to prove fault or negligence by the owner.
In Arizona, for example, the law governing liability for dog bites, A.R.S. §11-1025, states that dog owners are responsible for paying damages to victims if they are legally on public or private property. This includes the dog owner’s property.
The statute reads, “The owner of a dog which bites a person when the person is in or on a public place or lawfully in or on a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, is liable for damages suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of its viciousness.”
California dog bite laws are clear on assigning liability for dog bites, as well. Section 3342 of California Civil Code creates strict liability for dog owners when their dogs bite someone in public or on private property. In effect, the dog owner cannot simply claim that he or she took reasonable care to restrain the dog, in an effort to avoid liability for injuries the dog has caused to someone.
Next, let’s discuss the defenses that attorneys and insurance companies might employ when defending their clients — the owners of dogs who bite — in dog bite cases.
Defense Number One: “That Really Wasn’t a Dog Bite!”
When you’ve been bitten by a dog, you know you’ve been bitten. So, it might come as a surprise when you hear back from an insurance company or defense attorney that your bite wasn’t technically a bite.
From a technical perspective, a bite may be defined as a dog actually closing its teeth on a person’s body. The defense might argue that the dog never actually closed its teeth and, as such, the bite couldn’t have occurred.
Other arguments that we’ve heard in dog bite cases have involved situations where our client wasn’t bitten by a dog, but nonetheless suffered an injury as a consequence of an attempted bite. After all, even if a dog were to jump at you, you could still fall down and get hurt.
In such instances, we would argue that a dog bite caused the injury. However, a defense would likely argue that, since you were never bitten, dog bite laws do not apply.
Defense Number Two: “The Dog Was Provoked!”
The insurance company or defense attorney is most likely to point the finger at you — the bitten party — after you make a dog bite claim. They would take the provocation defense. Provocation can be defined as any action by a person that causes the dog to immediately engage in a response that is different from the response it was engaged in just prior to the action of the person.
Another way of describing provocation is that someone did something to radically change the dog’s behavior.
Let’s explore a hypothetical example of how provocation might play out. I am an avid runner. This morning, when I was out for a run, I saw someone walking a dog off its leash. I was approaching dog and owner from behind at a rapid speed.
What if that dog became startled and bit me? Is my action of running enough to cause the action of the dog to immediately engage in a different response? I would tell you no. That is not what the law says and that is certainly not the way I interpret the word provocation.
Defense Number Three: “You Assumed the Risk of Being Bitten!”
This might be a head-scratcher for most people. How is it possible to assume the risk of being bitten by a dog?
Insurance companies and defense attorneys will say that your knowledge of the dog, or the fact that you may be around dogs regularly, is enough to argue that you assumed the risk of being bitten.
For example, imagine that you are over at your friends’ house and they tell you not to pet their dog Fifi, because she bites sometimes. The defense would argue that by reaching to pet Fifi, you assumed the risk of being bitten. I would argue that your friends should have kept Fifi away from everybody to ensure that no such bite occurred.
A similar example could involve a veterinarian or someone who volunteers at a pet shelter. Just because you work with dogs routinely does not mean that you’re assuming the risk of them biting you.
You should not expect dogs to bite you. That’s like saying that a certain breed of dog (e.g., a Rottweiler) is more dangerous than another. That simply isn’t true.
Moose, the star of Negretti & Associates’ very own Legal Beagle Podcast, is the sweetest dog on the planet. He would never hurt a fly. Chihuahuas, on the other hand, are a totally different story. 🙂
Either way, a dog’s breed does not mean you have assumed the risk of being bitten by that breed of dog.
Have a Potential Dog Bite Case? Find Help with Negretti & Associates
If you have been bitten by a dog, it’s important to get medical treatment right away. After that, you’ll need to begin collecting evidence as quickly as possible. Contact our team of dog bite lawyers so that we can evaluate your situation and help you determine if your case is worth pursuing. Call us at (602) 531-3911 in Arizona, contact us online, or send us a text.