According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, approximately 37% of American households – over 43 million – own a dog. Most dog-owners (myself included) believe that our pets are harmless and would never bite anyone or anything. However, that is not always the case. I have represented many Ohioans who have been seriously injured by vicious attacks of a family dog. Those who are fortunate, walk away with scratches or small puncture wounds. Others’ injuries are more serious: permanent scarring, nerve damage, broken bones, loss of muscle tissue, or even loss of limbs.
In Ohio, a person injured by a dog bite may present two different types of theories of liability: common-law negligence and statutory liability. Under a negligence theory, a plaintiff is essentially claiming that the defendant was negligent in keeping the dog in the first place. As such, the injured party must establish: (1) the defendant owned or harbored the dog; (2) the dog was vicious; (3) the defendant knew of the dog's viciousness; and (4) the defendant was negligent in keeping the dog. To establish liability, the plaintiff is usually required to show that the dog previously bit or attacked another individual. This is known as the “one-bite rule.” As you can imagine, this theory of liability can be difficult to establish.
The second theory of liability is under Revised Code § 955.28(B). This statute imposes strict liability upon an “owner, keeper, or harborer of a dog” for injuries to individuals. Strict liability requires no specific culpability on the part of the owner – i.e. negligence, recklessness, or knowledge. Instead, and as one Ohio court noted, R.C. § 955.28(B) “imposes an absolute liability on the owner or keeper of a dog for any damage or injury caused by that dog.” Specifically, R.C. § 955.28(B) provides, in relevant part, as follows:
The owner, keeper, or harborer of a dog is liable in damages for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the dog, unless the injury, death, or loss was caused to the person or property of an individual who, at the time, . . . was teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog on the owner’s, keeper’s, or harborer’s property.
Accordingly, in order to maintain a strict liability action under R.C. § 955.28(B), an individual must establish: (1) that the defendant is the owner, keeper, or harborer of the dog; (2) that the injury was proximately caused by the dog's actions; and (3) the monetary amount of the damages. Unlike the negligence theory of liability, a strict liability action under R.C. § 955.28(B) is much easier to prove, however, that does not mean it is indefensible.
Under R.C. § 955.28(B), an individual may not recover for injuries they sustained from a dog bite if: (1) s/he was trespassing; (2) s/he was committing a criminal offense; or (3) s/he was teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog. Likewise, an individual cannot recover for injures sustained by their own dog.
If you have sustained an injury as a result of a dog bite, please contact Scott for a no cost, no obligation consultation and case evaluation.