Dog Owner Liability

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September 01, 2017
Edward Smith

Pet Owner Liability

We spend a great deal of time helping people injured due to dog bites, attacks, and other issues related to pet ownership. This perspective allows us to examine some of the risks associated with pet ownership, discuss the legal extent of dog owner liability, and point out numerous factors worth considering before deciding to own a pet.

Adopt a Friend, Save a Life

Each year, nearly one and a half million shelter animals are euthanized. Before you purchase a new pet, consider adopting. Many charitable organizations dedicated to animal welfare offer numerous behavioral training and informational programs to help pets and owners build healthy, happy, and long-lasting relationships. Check out the Sacramento SPCA for more information about classes, training, and adoption.

There are over 90 million dogs in the US. Most dog owners consider their pets loyal companions and members of the family. Dog-related expenses have increased annually, with most rising costs attributed to veterinary medicine and health care. Despite these costs, dog ownership has not been deterred. Almost 40% of dog households are estimated to have more than one dog.

What is Expected from Dog Owners

State and local legal codes regarding pet ownership vary across thousands of US towns and municipalities. However, dog owners are generally expected to maintain current vaccinations and overall control of their animals. Leash laws, animal control, the number of dogs per household, and other animal issues usually are under local jurisdiction and spelled out in the municipal codes. Some cities require dog owners to obtain a pet license. Licensing your pet is an effective way to maximize its chances of getting home safely after becoming lost.

Nuisance Animals

Most towns have “nuisance animal” statutes that govern noise and excessive behavior (barking, for example) exhibited by certain dogs. Statutes about animal abuse are designed to set minimum standards for the health and welfare of animals under the control of their human owners. Most animal services agencies highly recommend that dogs be spayed or neutered, which can reduce aggressive tendencies and help control unplanned pregnancies.

Animal Welfare

Animal welfare statutes are designed to promote the peaceful coexistence of people, pets, and pet owners. Civil fines and the removal of animals from their owners’ possession are generally the most severe repercussions for dog owners’ failure(s) to care for and/or control their animals. Rabies is considered a grave public health threat, and failure to maintain current vaccines can be dealt with harshly, including fines and the destruction of the infected animal. You can find information on vaccinations and license here. Don’t wait, vaccinate! If you have been bitten by a dog, contact an experienced Sacramento dog bite lawyer after obtaining immediate medical attention for your injuries.

Any Dog Breed Can Bite

The entire ballgame changes if your dog bites or attacks someone. There are over four million dog bites each year in the USA. Folks considering dog ownership should familiarize themselves with local ordinances and state laws. Aggressive dog behavior is not limited to biting but includes attacking, disabling, and/or knocking pedestrians to the ground. Such incidents can expose the dog owner to legal liability and damages.

California has comprehensive statutes related to dog bites and attacks and the types of damages which may be claimed by (and awarded to) victims in court. To this point, California law has “strict liability” statutes. In the eyes of the court, you cannot claim ignorance of a pet’s potentially dangerous or aggressive behavior as a defense. The state also has a “dangerous dog” law which should be reviewed by prospective owners considering certain breeds. Correspondingly, California has the highest number of homeowner’s insurance claims caused by dog bites.

The Insurance Information Institute, which tracks all homeowner’s claims, reports that the industry paid out over $530 million in dog bite claims, with an average payout of $32,000 in 2015. This figure accounts for one-third of all homeowner’s insurance claims, according to the 2015 Claims Journal. Renters should be even more diligent in reviewing their policy concerning dog bites and breed exclusions. These documents can often be found as part of the application disclosure process. Failure to accurately disclose the dog’s breed or denying having an animal at a rental property can affect coverage and coverage amounts.

Here are 7 key things to take away from this section’s brief discussion of liability:

  1. Choosing a pet dog should involve serious consideration of the many factors related to pet ownership.
  2. Dog training and behavioral guidance are usually available from your local Animal services agency or other nonprofits.
  3. Owning more than one dog at a time may increase the likelihood of biting.
  4. Dog bite victims are generally familiar with and to the animal.
  5. Children are more likely to have severe and costly injuries from dog bites.
  6. A review of your renter’s or homeowner’s policy should be part of getting a dog, as it may require changes or modifications.
  7. The emotional toll taken on a dog owner whose animal bites another is rarely spoken of but is probably significant and lingering.

Related Articles:

Sacramento Dog Bite Attorney

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento Dog Bite Lawyer with over three decades of experience handling dog bite claims and lawsuits throughout California, including the Sacramento area. Dog owners can take many steps to reduce their liability, but it can never be eliminated. If you or someone you love has been attacked by a dog, please call me anytime for free, friendly advice at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400. I can also be reached online here.

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Photo by Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash

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