Dog Bite Liability: Who’s Responsible?

Dog Bite Liability: Who’s Responsible?

As a responsible dog owner, you take every precaution to ensure your beloved pet does not harm others. However, even with the best training and precautions, there is always a possibility of your dog biting someone, whether out of fear, aggression, or instinct. If this occurs, you need to know who is legally responsible for the injuries and how to protect yourself. Many states follow the 'one free bite rule,' but others adhere to strict liability, holding owners accountable regardless of the dog's history. Understanding your state's laws around dog bite liability is critical in the event of an incident. An Austin dog bite lawyer can help explain the process. This article provides an overview of the liability laws in each state so you know your responsibilities and rights as a dog owner.

Dog Owner Liability: Strict Liability Laws

In the majority of states, dog owners are held strictly liable for injuries caused by their dogs under what are known as "strict liability laws." Strict liability means that the dog owner is responsible for damages regardless of whether the owner knew the dog had vicious tendencies or not. The idea behind these laws is that dog owners have a duty to prevent their dogs from harming others.

Some key things to know about dog owner liability:

  1. The dog owner is typically liable even if the dog has never shown aggression before. The owner is responsible for controlling and properly restraining the dog at all times.
  2. The dog owner is usually liable even if the victim provoked the dog or trespassed on the owner's property. There are some exceptions to this, such as if the victim tormented or abused the dog. But in general, the owner is responsible for the dog's actions.
  3. The dog owner's homeowner's insurance or renter's insurance will typically cover liability for a dog bite. However, some policies may exclude certain breeds or may not cover dogs with a bite history. Owners should check with their insurance provider.
  4. Some states have a "one-bite rule" which means the owner is not liable for the first bite unless the owner had reason to believe the dog was dangerous. However, many states have moved to strict liability laws to better protect victims.
  5. The victim can recover damages which may include medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, scarring or disfigurement, and possibly punitive damages in some cases.

In summary, in most instances the dog owner will be held legally liable and financially responsible for injuries caused by their dog. Following leash laws and properly containing one's dog at all times is the best way for owners to avoid this liability.

Exceptions to Owner Liability: Provocation or Trespassing

In most cases, a dog owner can be held liable if their dog bites someone. However, there are two exceptions: provocation and trespassing.

Provocation refers to intentionally antagonizing or aggravating the dog. If a person provokes the dog through teasing, tormenting, or abusing it, the owner typically cannot be held liable. The key is that the provocation must be intentional on the part of the victim. Accidentally startling or upsetting the dog does not qualify as provocation.

Trespassing refers to entering or remaining on the dog owner's property unlawfully. In many states, a dog owner is not liable if:

  • The victim was trespassing on the owner's property at the time of the bite.
  • The dog was defending the owner's property.
  • "Beware of Dog" signs were clearly posted on the property.

However, some states may still find the owner liable if the force used by the dog was excessive under the circumstances. It ultimately comes down to evaluating whether the dog's and owner's actions were reasonable given the situation.

If you have been bitten by a dog in an unprovoked attack and were not trespassing, the owner can typically be held responsible for your injuries. You may be entitled to compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages. Speaking with an experienced personal injury attorney is advisable to better understand your rights and legal options.

Liability of Property Owners or Landlords

As a property owner or landlord, you can be held liable for injuries caused by dogs on your property. There are two main ways liability can arise:

Strict Liability

Some states follow the strict liability rule, meaning the property owner can be held liable for dog bites regardless of whether they knew the dog was dangerous or not. The key factor is whether you kept the dog on your property. In these states, it is important for property owners to obtain proper insurance coverage for dog bites and attacks in case an incident occurs.


In other states, liability is determined based on negligence. This means the victim must prove that you failed to exercise reasonable care in preventing the dog bite. For example, if you knew the dog had vicious propensities but still allowed tenants to keep the dog on your property, you could be found negligent. Failing to enforce leash laws or properly maintain fencing are other examples of potential negligence.

As a property owner, the best way to limit liability is through prevention and insurance:

  • Enforce leash laws and proper containment of dogs
  • Require tenants to obtain renter's insurance that covers dog bites
  • Obtain your own liability insurance policy to cover dog bites
  • Conduct regular inspections to ensure dogs do not show dangerous behavior
  • Issue proper warnings to tenants about dangerous dogs
  • Consult an attorney regarding specific laws in your state

By taking proactive steps to prevent dog bites and attacks, property owners and landlords can reduce the risk of liability for injuries caused by dogs on their land. But in the event an incident still occurs, proper insurance coverage is critical to avoiding potential financial loss. Exercising reasonable care and following the law regarding dangerous dogs will help strengthen your case should a victim pursue legal action.

Liability of Dog Walkers, Sitters or Keepers

Dog walkers, sitters, and keepers can also be held liable for dog bites in some situations. If you hire someone to care for your dog and they are negligent in properly handling or securing the animal, they may share liability for any bites that occur.

Some key factors that determine liability in these cases include:

  • Did the walker follow standard safety practices? Things like keeping the dog on a leash, supervising the animal at all times, and not taking on more dogs than they could properly handle are expected. Failure to do so may indicate negligence.
  • Was the dog known to be aggressive or bite? If the walker was aware of the dog’s dangerous tendencies but did not take extra precautions to prevent bites, they may be deemed partly at fault. They have a responsibility to protect the public from reasonably foreseeable harm.
  • Did the bite happen during the time the walker was responsible for the dog? If a bite occurs when the dog was supposed to be under the care of the walker, then they may share liability along with the owner. However, if the bite happened at a time when the owner had regained custody of the dog, the walker would typically not be at fault.
  • Was the victim following the walker’s instructions? Dog walkers and sitters should provide clear directions to keep a safe distance from the animal. If a bite victim was doing so against those warnings, liability may shift more to the victim for provoking the dog. However, walkers still need to maintain control of the animal.

In summary, dog walkers, sitters and keepers have a duty to properly care for the animals under their supervision and prevent foreseeable harm. Failure to do so in a reasonable manner may expose them to shared liability in the event of a dog bite. Owners should screen walkers carefully and verify they follow recommended safety practices to limit liability for all parties.

FAQ: Common Questions About Dog Bite Liability

As a dog owner, you may have questions about who is legally responsible if your dog bites someone. Here are the answers to some common questions about dog bite liability:

Who is liable if my dog bites someone?

In most cases, the dog owner is liable for any injuries caused by their dog. As the owner, you are responsible for controlling your dog and ensuring it does not harm others. If your dog bites someone, whether on your property or not, you can typically be held financially liable for any medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other damages.

What if the person provoked or teased my dog?

Even if the victim provoked or teased your dog, you as the owner are still usually liable. The only exception is if the victim was trespassing or committing a crime on your property at the time of the attack. Otherwise, you must take responsibility for your dog's actions in most instances. It is important to take precautions to avoid dog bites regardless of provocation.

Do homeowners insurance policies cover dog bites?

Most standard homeowners insurance policies provide some coverage for dog bite liability claims. However, the coverage amount may not be sufficient for serious injuries. It is a good idea to check with your insurance provider to make sure you have adequate coverage in the event your dog bites someone. Some insurance companies may also require certain breed restrictions or increase premiums for certain breeds considered “aggressive.”

Can I be sued if my dog bites someone?

Yes, dog bite victims can pursue legal action against the dog owner to recover damages related to their injuries. Lawsuits for serious injuries caused by dog bites are not uncommon. As a dog owner, you have a responsibility to prevent your dog from harming others. Failing to do so can make you liable for costly legal consequences. The best way to avoid dog bite lawsuits is to take all necessary precautions to properly handle and restrain your dog so it does not bite someone.

Call Fletcher Law For Help With Your Dog Bite Case

If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and damages. Dog owners can be held liable for bites and attacks under certain circumstances. The dog bite laws vary in each state, but generally, the dog owner is responsible if:

  • The owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities. This means the owner was aware the dog had previously shown aggression or biting behavior.
  • The owner failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent the dog from biting. For example, not keeping an aggressive dog confined or muzzled in public.
  • The dog bite occurred while the dog was running at large. In many states, dog owners can be held liable if their unleashed dog bites someone, even if the dog has no prior history of aggression.
  • The victim was in a place they had a lawful right to be. Dog owners typically cannot claim trespassing as a defense against liability.

If you meet any of these conditions, you may have grounds to pursue compensation from the dog owner through a personal injury claim. The experienced dog bite attorneys at Fletcher Law have been helping victims in your state for over 20 years. We can review the details of your case, determine who is liable, and fight to get you the maximum settlement for your claim.

Call us today for a free, no-obligation consultation. We work on contingency, so you pay nothing up front. Don’t delay—dog bite laws have strict statutes of limitations, so time is of the essence to take action. Our caring staff is here to support you through this difficult time. Let us help hold the negligent responsible party accountable and get you back on the road to recovery.