With summer months quickly approaching, the Colorado personal injury law firm of Bowman & Chamberlain, LLC, wanted to discuss dog bite laws. In Colorado, dog bites are governed by two doctrines: the “One Bite” Doctrine and Strict Liability. It is important to understand the differences between the two doctrines because dog owners can be held liable under both.
Strict Liability is the theory a person could be held liable if certain events occur, regardless of whether that person could have done anything to prevent it. The State Legislature enacted C.R.S. § 13-21-124 in 2004, imposing strict liability on a dog owner whose dog causes serious bodily injury or death to a person lawfully on public or private property regardless of the viciousness or dangerous propensities of the dog. “Serious bodily injury” is defined as any physical injury that results in severe bruising, muscle tears, or skin lacerations requiring professional medical treatment or any physical injury that requires corrective or cosmetic surgery.
Unfortunately, there is no definition of “viciousness or dangerous propensities,” thus leaving the definition open to interpretation. While prior attacks clearly demonstrate viciousness and dangerous propensities, the line becomes blurred beyond that. Courts have attempted to clarify things by holding “viciousness or dangerous propensities” can include growling, barking, lunging at people or objects. Moreover, in some municipalities, a dog’s breed is enough to label the dog as having “viciousness or dangerous propensities.” Aurora, Castle Rock, Commerce City, Denver, Fort Lupton, Lone Tree, Louisville and Simla have banned pit bull breeds, including American Put Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terries and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.
Denver Ordinance § 8-55 broadened the ban by including “pit bull type” dogs. “Pit bull type” dogs are those dogs that display the majority of physical traits with any pit bull breed or any dog exhibiting distinguishing (physical) characteristics which substantially confirm to the standards established by American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club.
Dog owners should be aware of any characteristics or aggressive acts that could trigger “viciousness or dangerous propensities.”
One Bite Doctrine
The One Bite Doctrine is the common law remedy for dog bites predating the strict liability statute for dog owners codified by C.R.S. § 13-21-124. This doctrine only allowed for liability imposed on a dog owner for harm caused if the owner had reason to believe the dog might bite. In other words, the dog owner could only be held liable if the dog had bitten before. However, after 2004 this doctrine has become somewhat of an illusion. While C.R.S. § 13-21-124 did eliminate the requisite “first bite” requirement for a dog owner to be liable, it did not absolve the One Bite Doctrine. Depending on injuries, a dog owner may be held liable for the injuries caused by a dog under both Strict Liability and the One Bite Doctrine.
There are limited circumstances in which a dog owner may not be liable for its dog’s bite. Those circumstances include:
- If the person was unlawfully on public or private property;
- If the person is on the dog owner’s property and the property is clearly and conspicuously marked with “No Trespassing” or “Beware of Dog” signs;
- While the dog is being used by a peace officer or military personnel while the peace officer or military personnel are performing their duties;
- If the person is a veterinary health care worker, dog groomer, humane agency staff person, profession dog handlers, trainer, or dog show judge acting in the performance of his or her respective duties; or
- The dog is working as a hunting dog, herding, dog, farm or ranch fog, or predator control dog on the property of or under the control of the dog’s owner
Know The Law and Your Dog
Dog owners are presumed to know the laws pertaining to their responsibilities for their dog. However, knowing the law is not the only preventative measure dog owners should take. Dog owners should take steps to alert others to potential aggressive behavior including but not limiting to the following:
- Warn against trespassing and the existence of a dog at the property
- Keep your dog away from strangers
- Confine the dog to an escape-proof enclosure
- Leash your dog
- Maintain up-to-date records of vaccinations
- Treat aggression early
According to the American Humane Association, more than 4.7 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs on an annual basis and every 6 bites is serious enough to warrant medical attention. This translates to 3 bites per 1,000 people per year. Recent data from a national telephone survey, however, provided an estimate of 18 bites per 1,000 people per year. Moreover, the literature also reveals (1) there is a substantially greater injury and fatality rate for children when compared with adults; (2) male children are injured and killed more often than female children; and (3) there is a preponderance of owned family dogs involved in bites and fatalities.
Colorado Personal Injury Law Firm
Dog bite injuries are frequently covered by homeowner’s insurance coverage. Following a dog bite, therefore, an insurance company will begin investigating by gathering witness statements and photographing the scene as well as any alleged injuries. Some insurance companies will try to resolve a claim by offering a quick settlement. Insurance adjusters take this approach to avoid paying for future medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages.
The Colorado personal injury law firm of Bowman & Chamberlain, LLC, have handled countless dog bite cases. In the event you or someone you love has been injured by a dog bite, contact our experienced Colorado personal injury law firm today by calling us at 720.863.6904 or feel free to email us to schedule your free consultation.