Millions of people across the US own dogs as pets since they are wonderful companions to young and old alike. Dogs are also used for racing, in show events, contests of agility, hunting, for guarding buildings or residences, and for military and law enforcement. Recent studies seem to strongly suggest that having a dog may even increase your lifespan. But dogs do bite and attack people for various reasons, whether based on its having dangerous propensities or having been provoked or any other reason. But regardless of the reason why a dog attacked or bit another person, Arizona law imposes owner liability in most cases.
If you or a loved one were bitten by a dog, you may have legal recourse against the owner and/or caretaker of the dog based on either Arizona statutory law or common law negligence. Also, an owner may be charged with a criminal violation in some instances.
Strict Liability for Dog Bites
In the past, many states had laws that allowed a dog to have a second chance or a one-bite pass. While some states have retained that law many, including Arizona, have abandoned it and now have strict liability laws when it comes to dog bites considering the harm that an animal can do to a person, especially children who are often the target of many dog bites and attacks.
Strict liability means that you do not need to prove negligence on the part of the dog owner or caretaker. You merely need to demonstrate:
- the defendant was the owner (or caretaker) of the dog
- the dog bit the claimant
- the claimant suffered an injury
Prior knowledge of the dog’s viciousness or propensity to bite because it previously bit someone is not a prerequisite to a claim for injuries under strict liability principles. If the dog was under the supervision or control of someone other than the owner, such as a hired dog-walker or a neighbor, that person may be held jointly liable for the claimant’s damages. Further, it is irrelevant if the attack occurred on the owner’s private property, or another person’s property, or on public property such as in a park or city sidewalk.
Trespassing and Dog Bites
Trespassing refers to being on private property without the owner’s permission. A person who is trespassing but is injured on the property generally has no legal recourse against the property owner unless he/she shows that the owner intentionally harmed the trespasser such as by means of a trap. If injured by a dog, however, the trespasser still may bring a claim. But if a trespasser is attacked and bitten by the owner’s dog, the trespasser who ignored conspicuously posted signs on the property warning of an attack dog may in theory still bring a claim for injuries but is highly unlikely to recover. Also, if the trespasser was committing a crime on the property such as burglary, this might constitute provocation for the dog’ attack and be a defense to an injury claim.
Statute of Limitations
If you were injured by a dog, you have a limited time to bring your claim to a court or to reach a dog bite settlement before filing. The statute of limitations forces claimants to bring their claims to court before evidence or facts of the event fade from memory or witnesses pass away or become unavailable to testify so that defendants have a reasonable opportunity to defend themselves. In Arizona, you have one-year from the date you were bitten to either settle your claim or file it in court. This is an exception to the usual two-year statute of limitations for other personal injury claims.
If the claimant is a child, however, the one-year statute does not begin to run or is tolled until the child turns 18. The statute is also delayed if the claimant is found mentally incompetent or impaired.
There are instances when a dog is off-leash and bites someone, usually on public property. Phoenix, like most municipalities, has a leash law so that owners can be cited for not having their dogs on a leash unless in a designated area where they are allowed to roam free. If the dog has a collar and license but is off-leash, the owner can be given a civil dog-at-large citation. If the animal does not have a collar or license, then the owner may be cited for a criminal violation or Class 1 misdemeanor. Other localities have their own leash laws that should be examined in case if you have a dog bite claim that might support or enhance your claim.
Common Law Negligence
You also have the option of bringing a dog bite claim under common law rules regarding negligence. This may be necessary if you failed to settle your claim within the one-year statute for strict liability and did not file on time or if you were trespassing and were bitten. The statute of limitations for negligence cases in Arizona is two-years.
There are different requirements or elements for a common law negligence claim, however. In the context of a dog bite, you must demonstrate and prove:
- The defendant had a duty of care towards the claimant by exercising reasonable care
- The defendant breached his/her duty of care towards the claimant by not exercising reasonable control of the dog
- It was the defendant’s actions or omission that proximately caused the injury or was the “cause-in-fact”
- It was foreseeable that the dog would injure the claimant
- The claimant suffered damages
All dog owners have a duty to exercise reasonable care over their dogs, which may include keeping them leashed or in an enclosed area if they are aggressive. By not keeping the dog away from people or restrained in some manner, the owner risks being liable for any injuries the dog causes.
The key element of a common law claim is that the defendant had knowledge of the dog’s propensity or viciousness or should have been aware of it and did not take steps to keep others safe. You can establish “knowledge” by the following:
- Prior complaints about the dog
- Dog was kept muzzled
- Dog’s role as a guard dog
- Had a tendency to lunge at people
- Prior statements by the owner about the dog’s character
- Use of chains or restraints on the dog
- “Beware of Dog” sign posted by owner
- Size and breed of dog
Defenses to a Dog Bite Claim
Even if you can demonstrate a strict liability claim or one grounded on negligence principles in that the owner had previous knowledge of the dog’s violent tendencies, the defendant may still avoid liability if it is shown that you provoked the animal, or if the animal was engaged in military or police work and was assisting an employee of such agency in:
- apprehending a suspect
- Investigating a crime
- Executing a warrant
- in defense of a peace officer or other person
Otherwise, a defendant can allege provocation as a defense. Provocation means that something occurred that caused the dog to become aggressive or that a claimant contributed to the incident by his or her particular conduct. The standard in demonstrating provocation is whether a reasonable person would expect the conduct or circumstances would be likely to provoke a dog.
Examples could be:
- throwing objects at the dog
- taunting or teasing the animal
- Trespassing in some cases
- committing an illegal act (robbery, burglary or kidnapping)
- harming or threatening to harm someone
- petting a dog that is chained up
- Pulling or stepping on a dog’s tail
- agreeing to care for a dog with known vicious characteristics
If a person was or should have been aware that there was a risk of injury by engaging in such behavior, then the owner may be relieved of liability. However, if a child as young as 4 provokes a dog bite by punching or pulling on dog’s tail, some courts such as California will presume a child under the age of 7 was not provoking the dog since the child at that age is not capable of acting with reasonable care. Arizona courts look at what caused the dog to react rather than the intentions of the actor so that a dog owner could escape liability regardless of the child’s age. There may be other facts in such cases, though, that a lawyer experienced in dog bites and lawsuits could raise to find liability such as leaving an unrestrained dog with known aggressiveness with a young child.
Damages in Dog Bite Cases
Injuries in a dog bite claim can be extensive and include muscle and tendon damage, spinal cord injuries, concussion, deep lacerations, wound infection, loss of limbs, loss of vision, emotional trauma, and death. Typical damages are:
- past and current medical expenses
- past and current income loss
- loss of earning capacity
- permanent disfigurement
- permanent disability
- emotional trauma
- diminished enjoyment of life
Call Petersen Johnson Injury Lawyers
Dog bite injuries range from minor to catastrophic. If you or a loved suffered a serious injury in a dog bite attack, you will need experienced and knowledgeable injury lawyers who will give you the best opportunity to obtain the most compensation available for your claim. Call one of our dog bite injury lawyers now at (602) 396-4635 for an evaluation of your claim.