Dog Bite Liability

68 percent of U. S. households own a pet. This is according to a 2013/2014 survey by the American Pet Products Association. As a result dog bite liability is a very real problem.

About 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year.  About 885, 000 require medical attention for injuries.  Half of these are children.

Some insurance companies will not insure homeowners for dog bite liability.   Pit bulls are a breed not favoured by insurance companies. Others decide on a case-by-case basis. It depends on whether an individual dog, regardless of its breed has been deemed vicious.

Dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one third of all homeowners insurance liability claims.  More than $530 million has been paid out. This is according to the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm.

The average cost paid out for dog bite liability nationwide was $32, 072 in 2014, compared with $27, 862 in 2013. The average cost per claim nationally has risen more than 67 percent from 2003 to 2014. This is due to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements.

California continued to have the largest number of claims for dog bite liability in the U. S. at 1, 867. Ohio had the second highest number of claims at 1, 009. While New York had the third highest number of claims at 965, it registered the highest average cost per claim in the country namely $56, 628. The trend in higher costs per claim is attributable not only to dog bites but also to dogs knocking down children, cyclists, the elderly.

In Cincinatti a new law holds dog owners accountable for fines up to $15,000 for a first offence. The ordinance does not name specific breeds, as some other local and state laws, such as Ohio, have attempted to do specifically with pit bulls.

Ohio is not among the 17 “one bite states” (also referred to as a “one free bite state”) where the first time a dog bites, the owner does not face any legal consequences. Rather Ohio imposes the dog bite liability as a zero tolerance “statutory strict liability”, making the owner of a dog legally liable to a victim who was bitten. The ordinance now makes specific provision for fines of up to $15, 000 if a dog causes “serious”, “permanent” or “disfiguring” injury or causes death to a human or another dog. This does not apply to police dogs.

There are instances in which an owner of a vicious animal might not be held liable for an attack by the animal. For example, if the owner adequately warned other people that the animal was dangerous.  Furthermore if the owner took measures to keep the animal away from people.  A person who ignored the owner’s warnings and was injured by the animal might not successfully sue the owner. In legal terms, the injured person’s behaviour in such a situation is known as “contributory negligence” or “assumption of the risk”.

If the owner puts up a “Beware of Dog” sign, and a person ignores the sign and gets bitten by the dog, the owner might not be responsible for that person’s injury.

An animal owner can also argue that the injured person provoked the animal, and this may be a way for the owner to avoid liability.

Depending on the seriousness of injuries resulting from an animal attack, a person may be entitled to recover for:

Medical expenses
Lost wages
Pain and suffering
Property damage.