Man’s Best Friend? When a Dog Bites an Owner

dog bite attorney

Millions of people are bitten each year by dogs.  Most dog bite victims are members of the dog owner’s family. Dog owners suffer from playful nips from their dogs as well as severe bites requiring emergency room treatment. Some owners are even killed by their own dogs.

Even in instances in which the owner is severely injured by his or her own dog, owners are reluctant to get rid of their pet, concluding it acted in a way that was out of character. Others seek to improve the dog’s aggressive behavior by sending it to obedience school.

Your dog biting you may not only indicate that you are in danger of future attacks, it may set the stage for your legal liability should your dog bite another person sometime in the future.

Legal Liability for Future Bites

New York has what is commonly referred to as the “one-bite rule.”  A dog owner is only liable in instances where the dog owner knows, or should have known, of the dog’s vicious propensities.

Most jurisdictions have one of two types of dog bite rules:  the common law “one-bite” rule, like New York’s, or a statutory strict liability rule.

If your dog has bitten you, you have been put on notice that your dog has the propensity to be vicious.  This means that regardless of whether you live in a strict liability or one-bite jurisdiction, you will likely be held liable for your dog’s actions.

In dog bite “strict liability” states, such as New Jersey, a dog owner is liable regardless of whether or not the dog has bitten someone else in the past.  In other words, the dog does not get one “free” bite. This type of statute allows the victim to recover damages from the dog owner without having to prove any fault on the owner’s part.

“Dangerous Dog” Statutes and Liability

If you are attacked by your own dog and suffer serious injuries, your dog may be deemed a “dangerous dog.”  Many jurisdictions have so-called “dangerous dog” statutes.

These statutes make you strictly liable should your dog attack someone.  In addition, in some jurisdictions, such as New York, a dangerous dog statute allows a judge to order that the dog be neutered, spayed, microchipped, muzzled, sent to behavior school, or even euthanized.

In Michigan, if your dog is deemed to be a dangerous dog and later attacks someone, you may face criminal charges.  For example, if the dog injures someone, you could be charged with a misdemeanor, while if the dog attacks and kills someone, you could be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Insurance Implications

If your dog bites you, your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance may not be willing to take the risk of insuring it against future bites.  Instead, you will likely have to find a separate canine policy.

Furthermore, if your dog does bite someone in the future and the insurance company finds out that your dog has a history of biting, it may not pay the claim.

Personal Safety

It is possible that even the most docile dog will end up biting its owner or another person.  Whether or not you should fear your dog depends on the circumstance of the bite.

Most dog experts will probably agree that if the bite was an aggressive, unprovoked attack, you should be concerned.  It is tough to make the decision to remove the dog from your home, or even to consider euthanization.

However, for your personal safety and for the safety of others these are options that you must think about seriously if your dog has a propensity toward aggressiveness and biting.

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