Determining Strict Liability In Animal Attack Cases

Last updated on: October 4, 2022

Some states have a legal principle known as strict liability that holds pet owners liable for injuries their animals cause to others. Even if the pet owner was unaware that their animal may be dangerous, and even if the victim cannot establish that the animal owner was negligent in any way, liability can still be established.

It’s often the case that a dog attacks someone they are familiar with as opposed to a stranger. When a dog has bitten someone, its owners are subject to strict liability standards under certain conditions. When strict liability is applied, the owner ought to be held accountable for the victim’s damages.

Using the theory of strict liability, it’s implied that even if the owner took precautions to stop the animal from attacking or had no idea the animal would hurt someone, they could still be held liable. For victims of dog bite injuries, this means there’s no need to establish that the dog’s owner was acting negligently.

What Are The Elements Of Strict Liability Involving Domestic Animals?

A person injured by an animal can bring up a claim in a lawsuit if the animal is a dangerous, domesticated animal. A domesticated animal is one that we keep in a tame condition, such as dogs, cats, and horses. A person must prove the following four elements to substantiate this claim:

  • The defendant owned or possessed the animal
  • The animal had dangerous propensities abnormal to its class
  • The defendant knew or had reason to know that the animal had dangerous propensities
  • The dangerous character of the animal led to the injury.

The first element listed is typically easy to prove. The second element – that an animal has dangerous propensities abnormal to its class – simply means that a particular dog, for example, acts in a way different from other dogs. A dog that attacks people, unprovoked, or that is generally ferocious might meet this element. Whether a particular animal meets this element depends on the facts of the particular case.

The third element – that the defendant knew or had reason to know that the animal had dangerous propensities – is fairly straightforward. If an owner knew that his dog did not like children, or that it attacked people for no reason, then this element is met. 

Also, this element is met even if a person did not know that his or her animal had dangerous propensities. If the person knew enough about the dog that the person should have known that it was dangerous, that knowledge is enough.

The fourth and last element – that the dangerous propensities were the producing cause of injury – sounds like the proximate cause element of a negligence claim described above. 

However, there is an important difference. 

While proximate causation requires that a defendant foresee that his actions might cause injury, producing causation does have the same requirement. If a defendant’s actions cause injury, under a producing cause analysis, the defendant is liable even if the injury was not foreseeable. 

This is called strict liability in the law.

What Is Strict Liability For Wild Animals?

If a person is injured or killed by a wild animal kept by another person, there might be a strict liability claim available. An injured person or her family must prove the following elements for this claim:

  • A person either introduced a wild animal to the person’s possession or control or introduced a wild animal into the area 
  • The wild animal had dangerous characteristics
  • The dangerous nature of the animal caused the plaintiff’s injury.

What’s The Difference In Applying A Strict Liability Standard Versus A Negligence Standard In Dog Bite Cases?

In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff asserts that their injuries were caused by the defendant’s negligence or recklessness. Whereas, in a strict liability case, the plaintiff isn’t required to prove that the defendant acted negligently.

Simply put, under strict liability, the plaintiff doesn’t have to prove what the defendant’s state of mind was at the time of the accident, only that there has been harm suffered because of the defendant’s action or inaction. In most cases, this amounts to proving that the defendant was in violation of a statute irrespective of their knowledge of the statute or whether they intentionally chose to violate it.

The One Bite Rule And Dog Bite Injury Liability

The so-called “one bite” rule stands in stark contrast to the strict liability rule. This rule assumes that until a dog attacks someone or otherwise displays a propensity for violence, its owner is unaware that the dog can be dangerous. Until the pet owner becomes aware of the animal’s predisposition for aggression, which is frequently not until after the dog attacks someone for the first time, the owner is not liable for any injuries that result.

If there is no dog bite statute or if the applicable dog bite statute does not apply because one of the prerequisites is not satisfied, the one bite rule typically applies. Furthermore, a victim may still seek another legal theory even if they are unable to prove the requirements for strict liability. To understand the legal theories that may apply to your case, contact the dog bite accident lawyer from Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 today for a 100% free case evaluation.

Potential Defenses In Dog Bite Cases

Strict liability involving animal attack cases is subject to various defense strategies. Provocation on the part of the victim is one such defense. This is a wise strategy as many dog bite laws only apply in situations when the animal that bit the person wasn’t provoked.

Another defense strategy is to attack the validity of a dog-bite statute. For example, if any of the fundamental provisions of the dog bite statute do not apply, they may be challenged. Additionally, if any one relevant factor is not met, the strict liability claim may be invalidated.

Statute Of Limitations

According to state law, you have the right to pursue financial compensation if a dog bit you or your child or if a loved one died as a result of the consequences of a dog bite. In such a case, you should know the difference between a personal injury case and a wrongful death case.

There are numerous actions you can take to protect your rights in these circumstances. If your goal is to prove liability and receive compensation, then your best bet is to find legal counsel as soon as you can. An experienced injury attorney can help guide you through the following processes and preserve your chance of receiving compensation for your injuries.

Cases involving dog bites are covered under your state’s statute of limitations, which is the deadline for filing a personal injury claim. Generally, the victim of a dog attack has one year from the incident date to file a lawsuit to recover damages. If this deadline for filing is missed, the court is within its rights to dismiss the time-barred case.

Proving Strict Liability

The notion of strict liability is applied in various states across the country. Since animals lack a conscience and people who choose to keep them as pets have a responsibility to confine them to prevent harm, strict liability is the law that governs most regions.

With regard to proving liability, state laws frequently distinguish between domestic and wild animals. For example, a domesticated animal owner may only be held strictly liable in certain situations such as if they knew or should have known about the animal’s harmful tendencies.

However, laws and ordinances have been passed in several states making dog owners accountable for any harm their pets cause when trespassing on someone else’s property. Even if the wild animal is not known to be hazardous, the keeper will be held strictly liable when wild animals are involved.

How Our Lawyers Can Help

At Zinda Law Group, our dog bite accident attorneys have the experience needed to assist you in your injury case. 

If you would like to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer or to learn more about dog bite injuries, call Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 to receive your free case evaluation.

Meetings with attorneys are by appointment only.