Articles Posted in Dog Bites

Dogs are among the most common pets in the United States because they can provide owners with both companionship and security. However, each year there are hundreds of Indiana dog bite cases. Under Indiana law, these cases, for the most part, are governed by the common law theory of negligence.

Dog Bite Liability Generally

As a general matter, there are several different types of liability when it comes to dog bite cases. Many states employ a strict liability standard. Under a strict liability analysis, an animal’s owner is liable for the injuries caused by their dog regardless of the owner’s negligence or knowledge of the dog’s history of aggression or past level of violence.

Other states apply the common law theory of negligence to dog bite cases. The legal term “negligence” is very broad, and as a result places a significant amount of discretion in the hands of judges and juries. To succeed in a negligence action, a plaintiff’s claim must establish that the defendant dog owner violated a duty of care that was owed to the plaintiff and that this violation was the cause of their injuries.

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Under Indiana law, the owners of dogs can be held liable for injuries caused by their pets. It is important to understand the type of Indiana dog bite claim that is being brought because the requirements vary depending on several factors.

Indiana Code section 15-20-1-3 discusses a situation in which a mail carrier, police officer, or other person carrying out official business is bitten by a dog. Under section 15-20-1-3, the owner of a dog can be held strictly liable, meaning that there does not need to be a showing that they were in any way negligent. However, strict liability will not be appropriate if the victim provoked the dog or if they were in a place where they were not required to be in order to perform their legal duties.

While section 15-20-1-3 applies in some cases, situations are more common when an ordinary citizen is bitten by a dog, not necessarily while they are in the performance of official duties. In these situations, a dog bite victim may still be able to recover compensation for their injuries under a common-law theory of negligence. In Indiana, most dog bite cases rely on the one-bite rule, which allows for a dog bite victim to hold an animal’s owner liable for injuries caused by the dog when the victim can establish that the owner knew or should have known that the animal was dangerous.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving a plaintiff who was mauled by a pack of four or five dogs. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss whether the state imposes strict liability on the owners of dogs and, if so, whether the doctrine of comparative fault should be applied to take into account the plaintiff’s own negligence.

The case is important for Indiana dog bite victims to understand because it shows the type of analysis that courts conduct when viewing these types of claims. However, it is important to keep in mind that Indiana’s dog bite law is somewhat different from the law discussed in this case.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and her friend were walking along a path on the friend’s property while hunting for squirrels. At some point, a pack of several dogs approached the plaintiff and attacked her. A passing motorcyclist saw the plaintiff was being attacked and intervened. As a result of the attack, the plaintiff sustained serious injuries and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the owner of the dogs.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in West Virginia issued an interesting opinion involving the potential liability of a government entity in a dog bite case. The case required the court to determine if a city may be held liable for a plaintiff’s injuries sustained after being attacked by a dog when the plaintiff had made the city aware of the dog and the dangers it posed. The court ultimately decided that a jury should be able to decide if the city should be held liable.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s husband was viciously attacked by several dogs and later passed away due to his injuries. The dogs were not in any way owned or managed by the city. However, the plaintiff filed a wrongful death claim against the city’s dog warden, claiming that the warden was reckless in failing to address the dangerous animals.

Evidently, the plaintiff had called 911 to report the dogs on at least one prior occasion. In response to her calls, the dog warden told the plaintiff that “the county would take care of it.” The plaintiff also presented evidence that the dog warden knew of the dogs’ dangerous temperament. Specifically, the dog warden had been out to the owners’ home, and one of the dogs that attacked the plaintiff’s deceased husband jumped on the warden’s car. The warden later issued the owner a citation for failing to keep the dog caged or chained.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a dog bite case requiring the court to determine if the lower court was proper to dismiss the case based on a lack of evidence of the defendant’s knowledge that the dog that bit the plaintiff was dangerous. Ultimately, the court determined that the lower court should not have dismissed the case because there was sufficient evidence to show that the dog’s owners may have had knowledge of the dog’s aggressive and dangerous nature.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were neighbors with the defendants and would routinely visit over at each other’s homes. About a week prior to the incident giving rise to this case, the defendants’ son moved back into their home, and they allowed him to bring his dog, Rocks. During Rocks’ first week with the defendants, he snapped at one of the defendants once while she was feeding him. Rocks also snapped once at the plaintiff’s husband while he was over visiting the defendants.

A few days later, the plaintiff came to visit the defendants. She entered through the backyard gate and saw the defendants’ son had Rocks on a leash. The plaintiff approached Rocks and extended her arm gently, and Rocks lunged at her. Rocks latched onto the plaintiff’s arm. The plaintiff attempted to run away, but Rocks then latched onto her leg. Eventually, the plaintiff was able to get away, but she sustained serious injuries as a result of the attack.

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Dog owners have to be vigilant with their dogs. That is because if a dog bites another person, owners are often liable for damages. One court recently found that an owner may be liable even if a dog never touches the other person.

In a recent case, Grammer v. Lucking, a court considered whether or not a dog owner could be held liable when an owner’s dogs ran toward a pedestrian who then fell over and was injured. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiffs were walking near the defendants’ home when the defendants’ dogs ran toward the plaintiffs, barking and growling. One dog was on a chain, and the other was free. In backing away from the dogs, one of the plaintiffs stumbled and fell. However, neither of the dogs ever touched either of the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs sued the dog owners for damages relating to the victim’s injuries. The applicable law made owners liable for damages caused by their dogs “killing, wounding, injuring, worrying, or chasing any person or persons.” The plaintiffs argued that the owners were liable for damages caused by their dog “chasing” or “injuring” the pedestrian. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants. However, that state’s supreme court reversed the trial court’s decision because it said that the trial court had to consider every relevant definition of the words “chase” and injure.”

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Earlier this month in Carroll County, two women were mauled within an inch of their lives when they were attacked by a group of four pit-bulls. According to one local news source, the two young women, who were cousins, were finishing up a two-mile jog when they encountered the dogs.

Evidently, the women were wrapping up their evening jog when the dogs approached them. The women attempted to avoid the dogs, but the pack persisted in following them. Ultimately, the women tried to run home across a field, but the dogs caught up to them. When a passer-by noticed the two women, they were on the ground fighting for their lives. At this point, the dogs’ owner was also present, but he was unable to help on his own.

The passer-by may have saved the women’s lives by pulling them into her truck. It is believed that the women fought off the dogs for about half an hour before help arrived. Ultimately, both women were hospitalized in serious and critical condition. One woman had 75% of her scalp removed by the dogs. Doctors told her that her hair will never grow back.

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A 12-year-old Indianapolis boy was hospitalized this month after suffering a vicious dog attack. On July 5, neighbors witnessed the pit bull attacking the child and attempted to stop the mauling. According to eye witnesses, the dog seized the boy’s arm and would not let go.The neighbors, upon intervening, stabbed the pit bull in the eye and tried to beat the dog off with a curtain rod. The dog eventually stopped after one neighbor fired six gun shots in the air and other shots at the dog.

The dog’s owner has been given five citations and civil claims are likely to be filed. Authorities seem to believe that the owner will not likely face criminal charges despite have received previous citations for his dog.

Similarly, in 2010, a Middleton man faced criminal charges after his two pit bulls attacked his 23-year-old neighbor. The neighbor survived but nearly lost both ears. One of the dogs involved in the attack was adopted from the Humane Society, and the owner was warned that the dog should be given obedience training. The Humane Society further alleged that the owner failed to disclose he owned another pit bull during the adoption process. The Humane Society claims they would have denied the adoption had they known.

In this instance, a Metro Officer intervened and killed one of the pit bulls and wounded the other, who fled from the scene. The surviving dog was eventually located and subsequently put down. The two criminal charges the owner faces are for a dog bite that caused serious bodily injury and for having non-immunized dogs.

Dog bite laws vary from state to state so it is important to find an experienced Indiana attorney who is familiar with the relevant laws. Indiana laws are considered to be quite strict compared to other state laws of a similar nature. Strict liability governs the category of civil claims that dog owners face when their animal is involved in an attack on a mail carrier or an individual carrying out legal duties. Strict liability makes the causal connection quite simple to prove in court, and the case will typically proceed right to the award of damages. For any other individual attacked, the one bite rule applies. The one bite rule operates along the lines of negligence and would necessitate proving that the dog in question had a propensity for violent behavior. An example would be proving that the dog had previously bitten a person. The dog’s owner must also have failed to take reasonable steps to protect society.

The Center for Disease Controls reports that 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year. Dog bites can easily spread disease, as many untrained dogs being negligently cared for are also unlikely to have their statutorily required immunizations.
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