What You Need to Know About Dog Bite Laws and Compensation Claims

July 18th, 2019

Dogs have lived with people for thousands of years and hold the storied title of “man’s best friend.” Still, as friendly as dogs can be, a dog who feels threatened or is in an unfamiliar or stressful situation may react by biting. Also, some dogs may have a propensity towards biting because they have been abused and/or were never properly socialized. Because any dog can bite, it is important for both dog owners and their neighbors to know the risks.

According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 5 people bitten by a dog will require medical attention. Children are at the highest risk for dog bites, and small children should never be allowed to play with dogs unsupervised. Dog bite injuries can puncture the skin causing bleeding and leaving unsightly scars. The initial medical treatment may require shots for rabies and tetanus.

Depending on the severity and location of the wound, the victim may need reconstructive and cosmetic surgery. In addition to the physical pain, many victims report feeling continued stress and emotional trauma following the bite. These feelings may be triggered when the victim sees another dog.

Still, with proper love, training, and supervision, most dog bites can be avoided. Louisiana law establishes that the dog’s owner is liable for the injuries caused by their dog. A dog’s owner has a basic duty to prevent the dog from biting other people.

To prove this case, the victim must show that the defendant owned the dog and that the victim did not provoke the dog. Louisiana courts have also held that the victim must prove the dog presented an unreasonable risk of harm, such as past violent behavior or a failure of the dog’s owner to have the dog contained or on a leash.

Louisiana Civil Code article 2321 establishes that the owner of an animal is answerable for the damage caused by the animal. However, he or she is answerable for the damage only upon showing that he or she knew or, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known that his or her animal’s behavior would cause damage, that the damage could have been prevented by the exercise of reasonable care, and that he or she failed to exercise such reasonable care. 

Nonetheless, the owner of a dog is strictly liable for damages for injuries to persons or property caused by the dog which the owner could have prevented and which did not result from the injured person’s provocation of the dog.

It sounds like an injury case involving a dog bite should be cut and dry, right? Not always. Things get complicated when the dog’s owner is not the homeowner. In this common scenario, there may be no insurance coverage and the bite victim can only sue the dog’s owner personally. Collecting a personal judgment can be more complicated and time consuming, and you may not be able to collect everything that is due. 

But victims may have another route to recovery in the courtroom. That is because a landlord or property owner may have separate liability to the victim for a dog bite, even though the property owner or landlord did not own the animal. This is a different theory than the strict liability against the dog’s owner.

In order to pursue a claim against a landlord for injuries caused by her tenant’s animal, the victim must show that the landlord knew or should have known that the tenant was harboring an animal with vicious propensities. Additionally, the landlord may be responsible for some defect in the property which allowed the dog to escape, such as a broken fence.

A dog bite victim may benefit from a lawyer who can discover the available insurance coverage and uncover facts revealing additional parties responsible for the injury.