Owners are liable if their dog bites someone.

Dog owners have a legal responsibility to prevent their pets from damaging property or injuring someone. So, when a dog hurts someone, the owner will typically have to pay the victim’s medical expenses, as well as reimburse for time lost from work and pain and suffering. The dog owner’s liability insurance, typically a homeowners’ or renters’ policy, might cover the cost, even if the injury happens off the owner’s property.

Civil Liability in a Nutshell

A dog owner might be liable in a civil lawsuit for a bite or another type of injury caused by the animal if one (or more) of the following is true:

  • The victim can prove that the injury happened because the dog owner was negligent. For example, by violating a local leash law or leaving a gate open and letting the dog run out and bite the mail carrier.
  • A dog-bite statute applies. Several states have strict liability dog-bite laws that make owners financially responsible for dog bites and other injuries in some states regardless of any carelessness or the dog’s history.
  • The victim can prove that the owner knew the dog had a habit of causing that kind of injury. In states without dog-bite laws, dog owners could be responsible under a principle called the “one-bite rule,” which makes dog owners responsible for injuries if they knew or should’ve known that their dogs could hurt someone.

Dog owners may avoid some or all their responsibility for the victims’ injuries if they can prove one of the legal defenses for dog bites and other injuries. Even in states with harsh liability dog-bite statutes, these laws typically don’t apply if the victim goaded the dog or was trespassing at the time of the injury. Moreover, state laws usually lessen or limit the owner’s liability if a dog-bite victim is partly at fault.