Our pets can be great sources of joy in our lives. However, some people forget that as a pet owner, you have a responsibility to care for your animal, as well as a legal obligation to look out for the safety of other people by properly socializing your pet and constraining it when need be. Failure to do so can result in a personal injury lawsuit in the event that an attack takes place.
On top of providing appropriate animal care and training, owners have a duty to avert a potentially deadly animal encounter by:
- Treating aggression early. If curbed early on, a dog that is prone to aggression towards other animals or people can sometimes be remedied by an experienced dog trainer through behavioral modification techniques. Behavioral training does not always work, but the earlier it is done the better the chance it will.
- Always leash your dog. In most cities throughout Colorado—including Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs—in addition to many other states, it is against the law for an owner to let their dog loose without a leash when not on their property.
- Update your dog's vaccinations. As required by the state, vaccinations for rabies and other diseases as specified by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment must be kept current, or the dog must be kept contained and not permitted to roam about freely.
- Keep your dog away from strangers. You can never predict how an animal will react to someone it doesn't know. Many dog attacks are first-time incidents in which the dog showed no indications of being aggressive prior to the confrontation.
- Put up warning signs. If your dog shows signs of aggression towards people coming onto your property, post "Beware of Dog" notices around the premises. Also, keep in mind that young children may not be able to read, so it is wise to put a lock on the gate too.
In addition to taking the necessary steps to prevent an attack, dog owners need to be familiar with local and state laws regarding their pet.
Liability for Dangerous Dog Owners
Liability for a dog attack varies by state. According to Colorado Dog Bite Law
, any person "who suffers serious bodily injury or death from being bitten by a dog while lawfully on public or private property shall be entitled to bring a civil action to recover economic damages against the dog owner regardless
of the viciousness or dangerous propensities of the dog or the dog owner's knowledge or lack of knowledge of the dog's viciousness or dangerous propensities."
This kind of cause of action is called "strict liability," and it means that even if an owner didn't know their dog was capable of attacking another person, they can still be sued for bodily injury. Negligence is not a requirement of strict liability cases.
In fact, Colorado's dog bite statute identifies only six circumstances where a dog owner will not
be held liable for injuries caused by their dog. These include:
- If the victim attacked was trespassing on private or public property;
- If the attack occurred while the victim was on the dog owner's property and the property was clearly marked with posted warning signs;
- If the dog was being used by a police officer or military personnel for official duties;
- If the victim knowingly provoked the dog;
- If the victim was a veterinarian, dog groomer, humane agency staff, professional dog trainer or dog show judge performing his or her respective duties;
- If the dog was working, hunting, herding, farming, or doing other jobs while on its owner's property.
How to Tell If You Have a Clear Case
Every successful dog bite case contains three elements: proof of liability
on the part of the owner, insurance coverage
, and serious injury
requiring costly medical treatment. Liability, the first element, is determined by certain guidelines that are established in each state, as previously mentioned.
The second issue is whether the dog's owner is insured. Insurance is significant because it means there is money available to pay for the victim's injuries. The dog owner's home or renters insurance, or insurance held by landlords and store owners, will typically cover the cost of injuries.
Lastly, the extent of the injury must be enough to support a claim. The amount of compensation awarded can depend on several factors, including medical treatment, loss of work wages, and other economic damages.
In addition to injuries that are economic in nature, victims of a dog attack may also seek compensation for non-economic damages if they can show that the owner knew or reasonably should have known of a dog's propensity to act aggressively. Non-economic damages can include the pain of the injury and treatment, mental suffering when confronted by other dogs as a result of the attack, emotional scars, pain and suffering, disability and other factors contributing to a loss in your quality of life.
There are only two types of people who can estimate the total compensation at stake in a dog attack claim:
- Insurance adjusters, who may try to keep their costs low by under-valuing your claim; and
- Personal injury attorneys.
For this reason, it is crucial for victims of an animal attack to consult with a lawyer specializing in dog bite cases to see what compensation they are fairly entitled to. Most of the time, these cases can be settled out of court, but you will need an experienced injury attorney to represent you.
As with all injury cases, you only have a limited time to file a claim, so take action immediately if you have been attacked by a dog and discuss your case with an attorney at Denver's Babcock Law Firm.
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