Many pet owners view their furry companions as if they were their own children. These devoted “pet parents” often shower their dogs with love and affection, while quickly forgiving any minor behavioral mishaps. However, if their beloved dog bites an unsuspecting victim, the situation can suddenly become extremely serious. Not only does a dog bite pose physical harm and emotional distress to the person involved, but it also carries a myriad of legal implications for the pet owner. In such cases, it’s crucial that dog owners are well-informed and prepared to deal with the aftermath of such an unfortunate
First and foremost, dog owners must understand the potential legal consequences that could arise from a dog bite. Depending on the specific circumstances of the incident, pet owners might face both civil and criminal liability.
Civil Liability (Strict Liability)
In Colorado, if the bite causes serious bodily injury (or death), the owner can be held strictly liable for only economic damages caused by the bite. This means that owners can be sued even if they were unaware that the dog was aggressive or prone to bite. Under Colorado’s strict liability statute, the owner can be sued if the victim was legally on the property where the bite occurred and the bite resulted in serious bodily injury. In Colorado, serious bodily injury contains:
- Broken bones/fractures in the second or third degree
- A high risk of permanent disfigurement
- A high risk of death at the time of death or in the future
- A high risk of protracted loss of the function of any part or organ
Civil Liability (Negligence)
Alternatively, if the bite causes less serious injuries (i.e., does not qualify as a serious bodily injury), the victim can sue under negligence. To succeed under a negligence lawsuit, the victim must show that the owner failed to use reasonable care in the control of their dog and that, as a result, injuries occurred. Under negligence, victims of dog bites can sue for both economic and non-economic damages. These damages include medical costs, lost wages, and even compensation for emotional trauma.
In Colorado, it is a crime to own a “dangerous dog.” Most dangerous dog crimes are misdemeanors;
however, in cases where the dog causes death or serious bodily injury, the owner can be charged with a
felony. Misdemeanor offenses can also be raised to a felony if the owner has been previously convicted
of dangerous dog ownership. A dangerous dog is defined as any dog that meets one of the following
- Inflicts bodily injury on a person or domestic animal
- Demonstrates tendencies that would cause a reasonable person to believe that the dog may inflict bodily injury on a person or domestic animal
- Engages in or is trained for animal fighting.
What to do after your dog bites someone
In the wake of a dog bite, there are several steps that responsible pet owners should take to minimize potential ramifications. Most importantly, the owner should immediately secure the dog to prevent further harm and express genuine concern for the welfare of the person bitten. If necessary, they must facilitate and provide the appropriate contact information for any medical treatment or follow-up care needed.
To prevent any legal disputes from escalating, it is also advisable to openly communicate with the injured party while avoiding any kind of admission of guilt or liability. Cooperation, empathy, and understanding can go a long way in defusing the situation and fostering amicable resolutions.
Moreover, dog owners should familiarize themselves with the relevant laws and regulations in their jurisdiction to ensure they are in compliance. This could include specific requirements for leashing, muzzling, or even registration of their pet. Knowledge of local ordinances and statutes can help prevent future incidents and provide a better understanding of the potential consequences should a dog bite occur.
Ultimately, the onus falls on pet owners to prioritize responsible pet-parenting and provide appropriate training and socialization for their furry companions. By doing so, they’ll not only cultivate a strong bond with their beloved pets but also minimize the risk of such a serious incident occurring.
A dog bite can carry significant legal and personal ramifications for both the dog owner and the victim. It is essential for pet owners to understand the weight of these consequences, as well as the necessary steps to take in the event of a bite. By engaging in responsible pet ownership practices and staying informed of local regulations, dog owners can effectively safeguard themselves against any potential legal threats, while ensuring the safety and well-being of their cherished pets and those around them.