If a dog bites someone, the owner of the dog is almost always the one responsible for any medical bills that result from the bite.
Most homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies cover medical bills and/or property damage caused by dogs, up to the liability limit (which is usually between $100,000 and $300,000). Any claim that exceeds the limit must be covered by the dog owner.
Laws covering injuries caused by dogs vary from state to state, although in most cases, the law does not care whether the owner knew the dog was potentially violent and might bite someone – these are known as strict liability dog-bit laws. The dog owner is always responsible for any damage their dog causes to anyone. Some states do maintain the “one-bite rule,” in which the owner of the dog is liable for injuries caused by the dog only if the owner knew the dog was dangerous.
There are also negligence laws, in which the dog owner can be held responsible for failing to properly control or restrain the animal.
Most state laws apply to more than just dog bites – any time a dog injures someone, even if the dog was acting playfully, the owner is responsible. This can include things like the dog jumping on someone and knocking them over or chasing someone and causing them to fall and become injured. It doesn’t matter if the dog was trying to attack the person or merely acting playfully, as trying to prove the dog’s intention before a jury is nearly impossible.
However, if the dog owner can prove the dog was provoked, they might be able to escape liability. If the injured person was teasing or goading the dog immediately before they were injured, the dog owner may have a case that the injured person was provoking the dog, thereby releasing the owner from any liability for the injury.
By the same token, victims of dog bites have to prove, not only that they were injured by a dog and that the person they’re trying to sue for damages is the owner of the dog, but also that they did not provoke the dog and that they were acting peacefully in a place where they had a right to be, such as a park or any other public place. This includes the dog owner’s home, but other private properties might not be protected.
Some states have labeled certain breeds dangerous and have enacted laws that place certain restrictions on those breeds. Some insurance companies refuse to insure homeowners with certain dog breeds that have been categorized as dangerous, but some states maintain laws that forbid this kind of selective coverage.
Dogs can be great pets, but it’s important to remember they are still wild animals at heart. They will never be entirely predictable, and of course, you can’t control what other people will do around your dog, but you can take precautions. You can take your dog to classes that specifically work to eradicate any biting or violent behavior. You can keep them chained and/or muzzled when outside if you know they have a tendency to get aggressive, and always keep them on a short leash when passing strangers on your walks, for the safety of everyone involved – including the dog.