You’re at the park with your kids and a pooch without a collar bounds up next to you. Careful not to pet or agitate the dog, you turn away slowly, only to scream a few seconds later when he unexpectedly sinks his teeth into your leg. The doc at the hospital says you need surgery and you’ll be in physical therapy for several weeks, as there’s muscle and ligament damage. And don’t forget about the round of rabies shots coming your way. Missed work, hospital and physical therapy bills, a new pair of jeans – Who’s going to pay for all of this? We asked a panel of professionals. Here’s what they had to say:
An owner is a person to whom a dog belongs.
A stray dog is generally considered a dog without a home. However, if you’re found to be a keeper or harborer of a stray dog, you could be found liable if the stray dog injures someone.
In Ohio, R.C. 955.28(B) imposes strict liability upon the owner, keeper, or harborer of a dog for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the dog. In an action for damages under R.C. 955.28(B), an injured person must prove (1) ownership, keepership, or harborship of the dog; (2) the actions of the dog were the proximate cause of damage; and (3) the monetary amount of damages.
An owner is a person to whom a dog belongs. A keeper has physical control over the dog. And in order to be a harborer, there must be (1) possession and control of the premises where the dog lives, and (2) permission or acquiescence.
So, for example, a business could be found liable as a keeper or harborer if it feeds a stray dog food on a daily basis, and the dog ends up making its home at the business, and subsequently bites a customer.
Likewise, it is possible that a city could be held liable if a court determines that it is a keeper or harborer of a stray dog. Local governments, however, have sovereign immunity defenses that will arguably bar any recovery.
If the owner of the stray dog can be identified
A person that is bitten by a stray dog will likely have no legal recourse against any party unless the owner of the animal can be identified. The city or animal control does not have an affirmative duty to remove every stray dog off of the city streets. That would be an unreasonable duty to impose on the government due to the burden of limited government resources. Furthermore, most municipalities have sovereign immunity unless there is negligence or reckless behavior involved, which is likely not the case if a person is randomly bitten by a stray dog. Assuming the owner of the dog cannot be identified, then the person who is attacked or bit by the dog will simply have to pay [any medical costs] out of pocket.
However, if the owner of the stray dog can be identified, then that owner would indeed be liable to a lawsuit brought by the bite victim. In the event that the owner of the dog that has bitten somebody can be identified, then there may be several affirmative defenses available. Typically, if a person is injured when playing with a frisky or playful dog, an argument can be made that the injured person “assumed the risk.” In those instances, the injured person cannot then turn around and bring a successful lawsuit.
Another affirmative defense is that the injured person was “contributorily negligent” for getting hurt. That is to say that the injured party was partially responsible. All people have a duty to act as reasonable people. If the injured party acted in an unreasonable way and provoked the dog, then a judge or jury may find that injury is a consequence of one’s own negligence. Again, assuming the owner of the stray dog can indeed be identified.
Josh Wagner, Daytona Beach personal injury lawyer. He has been practicing law in Florida for over 11 years. Find him at Accidentfirm.com.
If stray dogs have been repeatedly entering someone’s yard
There may be a few ways that someone could bring an action for being bitten by a stray dog. If a person is bitten by a stray dog while on private property, it is possible they could file a claim against the owner of the property. We would have to show that stray dogs are common in the area and that the owner disregarded the danger.
For example, if stray dogs have been repeatedly entering someone’s yard to get in their garbage, then the lack of measures to deal with that may have created a dangerous condition if the person was there for a cookout. We could make the same argument about a person in a public park. However, that would be more difficult.
If you are bitten by a dog…
The liability falls on the city to contain any stray animals that are out there. While animal control will collect them, they are usually hired by the city to do so, and as such it always falls to the city for the fault of any dogs or other animals that are astray. It can be hard to sue the city for a problem like this, but it is much better than doing nothing, as you may be able to get some compensation and make sure that this does not happen to anyone else, who may fall into the same situation.
Depending on what state this happened in
When you’re bitten by a stray dog, you may still be able to sue depending on where you were bitten and what state this happened in. Stray dog liability laws vary from one state to the next, so for specifics, you’ll have to check with your local area.
However, there are some general rules of thumb in this situation. If you were bitten by a stray on public property/land, then the city or locality is often legally liable for it. Similarly, if you were bitten by a stray on private property, then the property owner is often legally liable for it.
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