How to Limit Your Liability If Your Dog Bites

Be Aware of New Theories of Liability

Some dog owners believe that they don’t really have too much to worry about if their dog has an inclination to bite. For example, if the dog is a small breed, they may not think anybody could be injured very much by his tiny little chompers. Some owners don’t worry because their dog never bites people, though she does tend to be aggressive toward other dogs and cats.

Here is a bit of important legal news for such “pet owners in denial”: New legislation and court decisions have broadly expanded the liability of owners of biting dogs. Some courts also have been awarding noneconomic damages to dog bite victims, (so-called “pain and suffering” awards) which can go well beyond the payment of lost wages and medical care attributable to the bite.

More recently, some courts and legislatures are allowing legal claims by spouses of injured victims for bite-related expenses such as days taken off from work to drive a wife to doctor visits. There are even courts that are considering claims by pet owners for pain suffered by their pets when they are bitten by a dog belonging to someone else. Finally, some states are allowing owners of pets maimed or killed by somebody else’s dog to recover for the pet owner’s sadness, angst and emotional distress allegedly resulting from injuries or death of their beloved pet.

Remember: Limit Your Liability

Trust me, as a practicing lawyer and veterinarian for over 25 years, I can tell you that jury verdicts based on these sorts of legal theories have the potential to add up to much more than your homeowner’s policy or your rainy-day fund can pay. Do everything you can to keep your pet from being in a situation where he could bite someone else or another pet. If the worst does happen, take all necessary steps to do the right thing as well as to limit your potential liability.

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