Dog Owners Can Be Liable for Dog Bites Even if Dog Not Previously Aggressive

by Jeffrey D. Gautreaux, Attorney at Law, Musgrove Drutz Kack & Flack, PC

It is a common and welcome sight in Prescott: people walking their dogs in our beautiful neighborhoods, on our scenic trails or around our historic Courthouse Plaza. While most dogs are friendly, situations can arise in which an otherwise friendly dog may bite someone.

In Arizona, as in most states, there are special rules for lawsuits regarding dog bites that are different than a standard personal injury negligence case, such as a motor vehicle collision.

The first significant difference is the statute of limitations – the period in which such a claim can be brought – for a dog bite is only one year (A.R.S. § 12-541(5)). As a result, if you or someone you know is bitten by a dog, it is important to contact a lawyer without delay to ensure your claim is not time-barred.

The second significant difference is that Arizona imposes strict liability in dog bite cases. That means the dog owner is liable for the dog bite even if the dog has not previously shown any propensity to bite people (A.R.S. § 11-1025). This strict liability attaches if the bite occurs in a public place or even if the person who was bitten was lawfully in a private place, such as when the person was a guest on the property of the dog owner.

The strict liability framework also applies to any damage to persons or property caused by a dog that is at large, which means the dog is running free outside its owner’s property without a leash  (A.R.S. § 11-1020).

A dog owner’s only real defense in a dog bite case is that the victim provoked the dog. The issue of provocation is determined by whether a reasonable person would expect that the conduct or circumstances under which the dog bite occurred would be likely to provoke a dog (A.R.S. § 11-1027). 

An understanding of dog-bite law is important not only for those who have been bitten by a dog, but it is also important for dog owners. Contrary to popular belief, a dog in Arizona does not get “one free bite.”

That first bite – even if the dog has never shown any vicious propensity and may be a generally calm breed – can still create liability for the dog owner.  Because of this strict liability framework, it is important to keep your dog on a leash when in public and to always be mindful of the actions of others when with your dog. 

If you find yourself the victim of a dog bite or dog attack, it is important to seek legal representation quickly so your counsel can pursue your claim and recover the monetary damages allowed under Arizona law.

Jeffrey D. Gautreaux focuses his practice in the areas of criminal law (including DUI defense), personal injury and general civil litigation. Musgrove Drutz Kack & Flack, PC is a full-service law firm serving our community for more than 30 years. For more information about the firm, go to mdkflaw.com.

DISCLAIMER: The materials in this article are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain legal advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the individual author.