Who's Liable for a Dog Bite?

In the United States, more than 4.5 million people suffer from dog bites every year. Out of the hundreds of thousands who are bitten so severely they need medical treatment, 27,000 will need reconstructive surgery. In 2015, 34 people died from their dog bite injuries. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, between 2008 and 2012, more than 34,000 people were treated in Arizona emergency rooms for dog bites and 34 of them died from their injuries.

This raises the question: Who is liable for a dog bite?

Arizona Imposes Strict Liability on Dog owners

Arizona imposes strict liability on dog owners. This means that the owner of the biting dog must pay damages to the person bitten. There is no need for the victim to prove the owner was negligent or that the owner knew or should have known the dog was dangerous. If dog bite victims are in a place where they have a right to be, and are bitten by a dog, the owner of the dog is liable.

The statute only applies to dog bites and not to any other injury that may be inflicted by the dog. The only defenses dog owners have available to them under the strict liability statute is to argue that the victim did not have a right to be on the property or that the victim provoked the dog.

Who has a right to be on the property: Anyone who has been invited on to private property has a right to be there. A law enforcement officer who is on private property for purposes of enforcing the law also has a right to be there. If the owner is walking the dog on public property, other people also have a right to be there and owners are liable if their dog bites someone while taking a stroll.

Proving the dog was provoked: Owners can avoid liability if they can prove the dog was provoked by the dog bite victim. Provocation is determined according to the specific facts of each case. Courts will consider all the circumstances surrounding the attack and base their decision on "whether a reasonable person would expect that the conduct or circumstances would be likely to provoke a dog."

Statute of Limitations: Actions must be brought within one year of the date of the dog bite in order for the provisions of the strict liability statute to apply.

Negligent Actions Due to Dog Bites

Dog bite victims are not limited to pursuing damages under the strict liability statute. They can also bring an action for negligence if they can prove that the dog owner failed to exercise reasonable care in the handling of the animal and that failure resulted in the dog biting the victim. The action can be brought along with the claim under the strict liability statute.

The statute of limitations for a negligence action is two years. If more than one year has passed since the dog bite, victims cannot bring an action under the strict liability statute but they may still bring a negligence action if two years have not yet past.

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