What You Should Know About Dog Bite Lawsuits and If the Owner Is At Fault?

If a dog bites a person, usually, their owner is responsible for the injury. The injured person may sue the owner and seek compensation for their injuries and medical expenses. But, dog bites are not always the responsibility of the owner. Sometimes the victim is to blame.

Everything depends on the circumstances. Dog owners (along with their attorneys and insurers) may fight back that the injured person provoked the dog, broke in or trespassing when the dog attacked, added to the injury by being careless, and willingly risked getting hurt by the dog. 

The laws in some states are not allowing certain defenses. The available defenses can depend on the type of lawsuit. The injured person may sue the dog owner based on one (or more) of the basic rules for dog-bite injuries:

  • “one-bite rule” – the owner is at fault if their dog put another person in danger 
  • “strict liability” dog-bite laws – in most states owners are responsible even if they did not know that their dog was dangerous
  • negligent dog owners – the owner was careless in controlling their dog

In many states, the dog-bite laws do not apply in certain circumstances, such as when the injured person provoked the dog or was trespassing. Some of these statutes demand the victims prove they are not at fault. 

Indiana has a general “one bite” rule that is known as a negligence-based rule for dog attacks. 

Was the dog provoked?

Dog owners would not be liable if the injured person provoked the animal. Provocation is hitting or teasing the dog. Depending on the circumstances, courts might not find owners liable of liability when victims unintentionally provoke dogs by:

  • Stepping on the dog’s tail 
  • Petting strange animals while they are chained up or eating
  • Intervening in a dog fight
  • Spraying repellant on a dog in self-defense

Toddlers often tend to hug strange dogs, grab them or pet them, pulling their tail, so if the dog bites the child, the main question is whether the animal’s owner will face the provocation defense? 

It depends on the contents of the state law and how the courts interpret it. 

In some states, the courts have ruled that the provocation exception in a dog-bite statute applies even when the victim is a child. Other courts have found that such defense does not apply to toddlers because they are not responsible for their actions or, in other words, they are not capable of provoking a dog.

The most important thing is that in most states, the dog-bite statutes don’t apply if the victims were violating the law.

Did the victim know the risk of injury?

A dog owner might avoid liability by proving that the injured person knew there was a risk of injury from the dog but took that risk anyway. If the owner placed a sign “Beware of Dog” on their home, they might not be liable if the victim ignored the sign and entered the property or agreed to take care of the animal.

This rule is suitable for injured veterinarians or other people who work with animals (pet sitters, groomers, vet’s assistants). They take the risk of dog bites as part of their job. 

The victim was trespassing 

A trespasser is a person who was not invited on the property and who has no valid reason to be there. 

Owners, in most cases, will not be at fault if their dog bites a person who was trespassing.  

There is an important exception when it comes to children. Landowners generally have the duty to protect trespassing children; children don’t have the judgment to avoid dangerous situations.

Members of the public who must approach the home have an “implied invitation.” These are people like mailmen, police officers (they are legally on someone else’s property), people asking for directions, or people who do surveys.  

Was the victim careless?

In most states, the “comparative negligence” is a rule, which means the victims will collect less compensation in proportion to their part of the blame. 

When it comes to the statute of limitations for dog bites, the state of Indiana has a statute of limitations for two years, just like other types of personal injury claims. If you let this time pass, you will not be able to file or seek compensation.

If recently you have suffered dog bite injuries, call our office, and schedule your first consultation. Our team is expecting your call.

View these other frequently asked questions pages:

Can You Get Settlement if Your Child Was Injured in a Car Accident?

What Do I Do if There Are Multiple Plaintiffs In My Auto Accident Case?

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