Responsibilities of Pet Owners for Injuries Caused by Their Pets

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Responsibilities of Pet Owners for Injuries Caused by Their Pets

Pets are personal property, which means that their owners could be liable for any harm they may cause to another individual or their property.

Am I Responsible for Injuries Caused by My Pet?

A pet owner may be liable for all injuries caused by their animal to another person.  In many jurisdictions, the liability of pet owners, and particularly of dog owners, is established by statute.  Even if your area does not have such a law, you could still be responsible for any injuries your pet causes. 

If your cat or dog has violent or vicious tendencies that you already know about, you could have to compensate a person who is injured by your pet.  Alternatively, you might be liable if you were negligent in controlling or restraining your pet.

What Type of Compensation Will I Have To Pay to Someone Injured by My Pet?

If the pet you own causes harm to another person, you will likely have to compensate her for any medical treatment required as a result of the injury.  Some states also allow a person injured by a pet to recover for their emotional distress caused by the incident.  In extreme cases, you may be required to compensate a person who is merely frightened by your dog but is not actually injured.  Other states permit recovery of punitive damages against the pet owner, which are more likely to be allowed if your cat or dog had previously attacked someone.

Are Any Defenses Available to Me?

Some possible defenses for the injury caused by your pet are provocation, contributory negligence, and assumption of risk.  If successful, these defenses will limit or possibly negate your liability.

What if My Pet Injured Another Animal?

Most states require that a pet owner compensate the owner of the injured animal for its market value.  States have not awarded any money for emotional damages caused by the loss of a pet.  A dog or cat is not likely to have a high market value, although cattle or horses do.

Should I Contact a Lawyer If My Pet Injured Someone?

You may want to speak with a lawyer depending on the extent of the injury your pet caused.  If the injury caused substantial medical damage, you should certainly contact a lawyer.  A qualified attorney will know the local laws of your area and be able to find out if you are liable for emotional distress or punitive damages, as well as whether any defenses can help you.

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Last Modified: 03-12-2014 04:35 PM PDT

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