Stories of vicious dog bites and attacks abound the world over. For example;
- In Denver, Colorado an Argentine Mastiff bit veteran anchorwoman Kyle Dyer on the face during a segment being filmed for the morning news requiring a trip to the hospital.
- In Oak Grove, Kentucky a 6-year-old boy was mauled to death by a service dog, a German Shepherd, on January 31, 2012. The boy was a guest in the home of a soldier living at Fort Campbell.
- Recently, a Pit Bull brutally killed a poodle at a dog show in front of 35,000 people in attendance in Dubai.
- A 30-year summary of dog attack deaths and maimings in the U.S. & Canada from September 1982 to December 26, 2011 shows that fatal or disfiguring attacks by pit bulls are increasing exponentially. The author, Merritt Clifton, concludes that the pit bull problem “has slipped out of any semblance of control.”
It is clear that dog bites are a fact of life. What happens if you become a victim of such an assault? The law does provide remedies for those injured by animals, mostly dogs, due to their owners carelessness and negligence.
Basis for Liability
In general, there are three types of laws that form the basis for a claim for a dog or animal attack: 1) Strict Liability, 2) “One Bite” Laws, and 3) Negligence. Most jurisdictions have chosen to treat dog and animal bites and attacks under a “strict liability” theory of recovery. Under such a theory, the victim of a dog bite or animal attack may recover regardless of that owner’s fault. Similarly, under “One Bite” jurisdiction rules, a dog owner may be held strictly liable for his/her dog’s attack where the dog had previously attacked a person and the owner had knowledge or should have known of such attack.
Nevada, however, subscribes to neither strict liability nor “One Bite” rule; rather, in Nevada a dog owner will be held liable where a Plaintiff proves that owner’s negligence in handling his animal. In Nevada, dog bite victims must show the general elements of a negligence claim to recover, that is: 1) Duty, 2) Breach, 3) Causation, and 4) Damages.
Under a negligence theory of recovery, state and local rules and ordinances may provide a basis for recovery where a dog or animal owner fails to abide by those rules and ordinances and his/her dog injures a person as a result. For example, Nevada Revised Statute 202.500 provides penalties for unlawful acts committed by “dangerous dogs”. Pursuant to that statute, a “dangerous dog” is a dog that without provocation, on two separate occasions within 18 months, behaves menacingly to a degree that would lead a reasonable person to defend him or herself against substantial bodily harm, when the dog is either off the premises of its owner or keeper or not confined in a cage or pen.
Furthermore, a dog becomes “vicious” when, without being provoked, it kills or inflicts substantial bodily harm upon a human being. If substantial bodily harm results from an attack by a dog known to be vicious, its owner or keeper is guilty of a category D felony. Under the statute, a dog may not be declared dangerous if it attacks as a defensive act against a person who was committing or attempting to commit a crime or who provoked the dog to protect its owner or premises.
Similar rules can be found in local ordinances, such as Las Vegas Municipal Code 7.04.010-7.46.020, Title 7 of the Henderson Municipal Code, and Title 6 of the North Las Vegas Municipal Code. These codes mirror NRS 202.500 and add additional penalties for doing such things as failing to keep your dog or animal leashed when in public or failing to provide proper fencing sufficient to restrain the dog within the owner’s property.
In Nevada, a conviction or citation for violation of any of these State Rules or Local Ordinances may provide a Plaintiff with proof of the duty and breach elements of negligence under a theory of negligence per say; that is, under such a theory violation of a rule meant to protect Plaintiff’s from the very harm they suffered is evidence of duty and breach. For example, leash laws are enacted for the sole purpose of protecting the public from dog attacks. Hence, when an attack occurs and the dog was running amok sans leash, the owner’s duty and breach of that duty is predetermined and all that is left is to figure out is damages.
Another issue that recurs in dog bite cases is landlord liability for dog bites that occur of their premises by dogs that belong to those landlord’s tenants. For example, the issue may arise where a dog escapes from a backyard because the fencing is inadequate or in a state of disrepair and the dog attacks a child on the street. Another common occurrence is where children attempt to pet or tease an animal that is restrained within inadequate fencing and that dog subsequently bites the victim.
In Nevada, land owner’s liability for injuries occurring off the premises or on by dogs belonging to their tenants do not turn on their status as land owners. Rather, land owners and landlords are required to conform to normal standards of reasonableness under general principles of tort law. In general, according to such principles, a landlord does not have a duty to protect third parties from injuries occurring off the premises if the landlord simply has knowledge of a dangerous condition or passively permits the condition to persist.
Damages for dog bites can range from the mild bruise to a full-blown mauling that leaves a victim permanently disabled and disfigured. Consequently, dog bite litigation can be a serious matter that takes an experienced and dedicated attorney to handle. If you’re reading this article you’ve found that attorney.