Owner Liability for Dog Bites

Man’s best friend can sometimes be unfriendly. With the popularity of television shows such as Cesar Milan’s “The Dog Whisperer,” who preaches rules boundaries and limitations for canine pets, proper dog training and behavior is near the top of the public agenda. Maintaining a dog in Indiana imposes on a dog owner the duty of reasonable care even when the dog owner is unaware of the dog’s vicious or dangerous tendencies. Indiana law requires dog owners to exercise reasonable care in restraining and maintaining their dog on a leash or on their premises. If a dog owner fails to properly restrain or maintain the dog, the owner could be liable in negligence for money damages to the person who gets bitten by a dog in an unprovoked attack. There are also criminal penalties on the books. Note that Indiana law defines owner to include possessor, keeper, or harborer of a dog, not just the official owner. In Indiana, physicians are considered “mandatory reporters” when it comes to dog bites. That is, any physician who treats a patient for dog bite injuries must file a report with the Indiana Department of Health within 72-hours after the incident.

Indiana law no longer accepts the so-called one-bite rule. That is, it used to be that if a dog had never bitten anyone before, then there would be no dog-bite liability because the owner would lack knowledge of the animal’s vicious propensities (dogs are presumed by the law to harmless). The victim used to have to prove knowledge of prior bites; now if you prove that the dog is of a breed that is known to have vicious propensities or there is other evidence that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious propensities, then the dog owner may be responsible for the injuries caused by the dog. There is also a special statute for postal workers; dog owners are strictly (i.e., automatically) liable to them for dog bites. County and local ordinances in Indiana may impose additional responsibilities on dog owners.

A dog attack can inflict serious injuries on the victim, including physical and emotional trauma. If you or a loved one have been victimized by a dog attack, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Young and Young in Indianapolis for a free consultation.

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