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Do You Own a Dog? What Happens When it Bites?

September 23, 2013


Dogs are often referred to as a man’s best friend.  Most dogs are waiting at the door to greet you, often wagging their tails and jumping up and down in anticipation of your arrival home.  Most of us have good thoughts when thinking of dogs, but statistics released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention may make you think differently.

  • 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year.
  • 1 in 5 of those bitten require medical attention.
  • In 2006, 31,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of a dog bite.
  • Dog bites account for 1/3 of all homeowners’ insurance liability claims.

A dog owner is not automatically legally liable for injuries caused by his dog biting someone, but the owner can be liable in certain situations.  Indiana law presumes in general that dogs are harmless, and therefore a dog owner cannot be liable unless there is proof that the owner was negligent in some way.  Indiana law says that if a dog has a known vicious propensity, then the owner can be liable for the dog biting someone and causing injuries.  This is sometimes mistakenly known as the “one bite rule,” meaning that until the dog bites someone there is no reason  for the owner to be concerned, and there is no liability until after the dog has bitten one time.  However, proof that a dog acted as if it wanted to bite a person, or otherwise exhibited aggressive behavior may be enough to prove the dog had a vicious propensity.  In addition, certain breeds are considered to have dangerous propensities as a matter of law and therefore the owner of such dog can be liable without other evidence of a vicious propensity.

Failure to restrain a dog can be a misdemeanor offense if and when the owner recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally fails to take reasonable steps to restrain the dog; the dog enters property other than the property of the dog’s owner; and as the result of the owner’s failure to restrain the dog, the dog bites or attacks another person without provocation, resulting in bodily injury to the other person.

Indiana also imposes strict liability on dog owners if their dog bites an authorized government employee (i.e. postal workers) who are required to enter onto the property as part of their official duty.  This means that even without evidence of any vicious propensity, the dog owner is automatically liable for the injuries inflicted upon the government employee by the dog.

Although dogs provide love, companionship, and a sense of security, an untrained dog can be a threat to your safety.

Here’s a list of important responsibilities for dog owners:

  • Keep dogs restrained.
  • Keeps dogs immunized.
  • Know if your pet has any dangerous propensities.
  • Keep your dog identified by a microchip or tag at all times.

Wilson Kehoe Winingham brings you this information with best regards for you and your family’s safety.


Bruce Kehoe                                                          Bill Winingham

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