Are you liable if Your Dog Bites Another Person

Pet ownership can bring countless joys, but sometimes it can lead to precarious moments. According to the CDC there are 4.7 million incidents each year where a person is bit by a dog, with 800,000 of those cases requiring medical attention. If you are the owner of a dog that has bitten someone, or a dog that acts aggressively, there is information that you should be aware of regarding your responsibility and any personal or premises liability that you may bear. 

Alabama law states that if an owner keeps a vicious or dangerous animal of any kind, if they are careless with how they keep the dog confined on (or off) their property, and if the serious dog bite injures an individual who is without fault at the time of the injury, then the owner will be held liable for damages. Alabama Code 1975 Title 3, Chapters 1 and 6 outlines these liability issues.  Liable if Your Dog Bites Another Person

It states, among other provisions, that liability is conferred upon the owner when they knowingly keep a dog known to kill (§ 3-1-1), when the dog bite is from a rabid animal (§3-1-2), when they permit an aggressive animal to wander (§3-1-3), when the injuries take place on property owned or controlled by the dog owner or landlord (§3-6-1), or when a person is deemed lawfully on property of the owner of the dog (§3-6-2). For dogs known to kill, or harass, this counts for bites against people and livestock. 

For rabid animals, the owner must know that the dog has been exposed to rabies or that the person who has been bit is at risk of rabies from exposure to the dog. With wandering dogs, the owner’s fault lies in the fact that they were not responsibly supervising their animal. Both sections (§3-6-1) and (§3-6-2) cover an individual’s legal right to be on a property where a dog is owned, whatever the nature of their business (social or professional, as in postal workers, meter readers, or repairers of public utilities, etc.). 

One provision worth keeping in mind is that Alabama follows the “one bite rule,” meaning that grounds for liability for the defendant (the owner of the dog) is not liable for an injury caused by a dog bite unless it can be proved that the owner had prior knowledge of the dog’s aggressive nature. This rule is codified in section (§3-1-3). The main issue in the case of the one bite rule is the owner’s awareness of what their dog is like; the owner’s “constructive knowledge” of the dog’s dangerous nature must be reasonably established (Rucker v. Goldstein [Ala. 1986]). So, if the plaintiff, the person who was bitten, cannot meet the burden of proof, the dog owner cannot be held liable. 

In some cases, it may be that that premises liability can be established, meaning that the landlord can be held liable. Premises liability holds that landlords are responsible for any dangers in areas that would count as shared spaces, and they must do all they can to mitigate against dangerous conditions like aggressive dogs (Gentle v Pine Apartments [Ala. 1994]). Types of mitigation can be putting up notices of aggressive dogs in the area or warnings to owners regarding their dog’s behavior. 

For your sake, the sake of your dog, and the sake of others, it is important to properly train your dog, keep it leashed when outdoors, and be mindful of any ailments that might cause changes in behavior. That way you can avoid bearing responsibility for any bites that your dog may cause. A good personal injury lawyer can usually spot any potential liability when an injury occurs, so it is a good precaution to avoid such pitfalls before someone is hurt and you are held responsible.

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