Animal Attack Laws

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 When Can the Owner of an Animal Be Sued for an Animal Attack?

Animal attacks can cause injuries and sometimes death to a human being. Laws related to animal attacks will establish when an owner may be liable for resulting injuries. The legal consequences related to animal attacks vary by state.
For example, some states label certain dogs “vicious” or “dangerous.” If the owner knows the dog is dangerous and fails to reasonably restrain the dog (e.g., put a leash on the dog), if that dog bites or attacks somebody, the owner may face criminal assault charges.

In addition to criminal penalties, the animal’s owner can be sued in civil court for “negligence,” which means failure to act the way other reasonable people would act in a given situation.

Some states, such as California, have enacted laws making attacks by any wild animal or illegal animal subject to “strict liability.” Strict liability means that the defendant (here, the owner) is held responsible for anything the animal does.

For instance, suppose a person keeps a wild tiger in their apartment in a jurisdiction that recognizes strict liability laws, and the tiger injures or attacks a neighbor. The owner of the tiger will immediately be held liable for damages regardless of the circumstances, including regardless of whether the neighbor instigated the attack.

A victim’s immediate family members may bring a wrongful death suit against an owner whose animal caused death to a loved one. Damages for these cases typically involve some kind of monetary or compensatory damages award if successful.

Finally, a person can be sued for their animal’s actions if they fail to keep others reasonably safe from harm. These actions are based on the legal theory of negligence and can arise in various situations, such as if the owner failed to warn victims of the animal’s potentially dangerous personality. For instance, the owner can be sued for failing to post a warning sign near their house (like on a fence) if they own a specific type of dog breed that is notoriously known for having certain dangerous traits.

Who is Liable for Animal Attacks?

As discussed above, there are many legal consequences that an owner can face if their animal causes harm or injury to another human being. Other parties that may be held responsible include:

  • People in possession of the animal who are not the owners (e.g., pet sitters)
  • Employers whose businesses involve animals (e.g., pet shop owners, animal shelters, zoos, kennels. etc.) or allow animals on the property (e.g., cafes that permit dogs)
  • Breeders
  • Keepers of stables
  • Animal instructors or trainers

Depending on state statutes and the facts surrounding a specific incident, different rules will apply if a pet or domestic animal carried out the attack versus a dangerous or wild animal. As mentioned above, people who own wild animals are automatically liable for any injuries caused by their animals.

Generally, the most common way that other persons aside from an owner can be held responsible for a pet or domestic animal’s actions will be based on a theory of negligence.

What Should the Victims of Dog Bites or Animal Attacks Do?

If a person is bitten or attacked by an animal, they should take the following steps which can help them to preserve a claim against the owner:

  • Identify the animal that caused the injury.
  • Seek medical attention when necessary.
  • Keep track of medical records, treatments, and related costs.
  • Obtain the name, address, telephone number, and other contact information of the animal’s owner, as well as the contact information of any people who witnessed the attack.
  • Record or take pictures of the wound.
  • Gather any other relevant evidence that may seem potentially helpful in proving the attack.

Retaining a dog attack lawyer can be a valuable resource in animal attack cases since they will be able to determine what type of claim the individual should file, can explain how local and state statutes may affect the case, and can assist the person in gathering evidence to support a claim.

What Recovery is Possible for Victims of Dog Bites or Animal Attacks?

The most common type of damages that a victim will recover in these types of cases are compensatory or monetary damage awards. These damages are meant to reimburse the victim for any costs they may have incurred. Examples include:

  • Medical costs (e.g., treatments, procedures, and medications)
  • The cost of any future medical treatment that will be needed (e.g., cosmetic surgery to repair a bite to the face)
  • Expenses for psychological counseling for mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder
  • If the victim had to take days off from work due to the injury, the cost of lost wages

Some states also allow the victim to claim damages due to the pain and suffering they went through. The award amount for compensatory damages is predictable – it is the summing up of all out-of-pocket expenses. Damages for pain and suffering are harder to estimate since they are not tied to any material event or damage.

In extreme cases, punitive damages in extreme cases. These are meant to punish the owner and can be very large if the jury or judge believes the defendant needs to suffer a serious financial penalty

Can I Purchase Insurance to Protect against a Dog Bite or Animal Attack Liability?

Obtaining an insurance policy can help protect against an owner’s liability for a dog bite or animal attack. Some homeowner or renters insurance policies will cover damages for injuries caused by an animal. Other policies may not offer such coverage, or it may depend on the type of animal that caused the harm.

Especially when the owner suspects that the animal may be dangerous (perhaps it has bitten someone before), an owner must review the policy terms before choosing which insurance to purchase.

Victims who receive a serious injury from an animal attack should consider hiring a lawyer to help ensure that they receive the maximum amount of damages for their injuries and suffering.

What Is the Animal Owner’s Legal Responsibility for A Dog Attack?

As discussed above, an animal owner can be held liable for the consequences if their animal attacks someone. Depending on the details of the event, the consequences to the owner may be:

  • Payment to the victim for all expenses and costs they suffered
  • Surrender their animal to the authorities. This is most likely to be the case if the animal is known to have attacked or bitten before or if it is an animal that it is illegal to possess (e.g., certain breeds of snakes)
  • Jail time

In addition to pet owners, a commercial animal owner can be held legally responsible for injuries from an animal attack. This will normally happen when the business owner or one of their employees does not take proper precautions in warning customers or restraining the animals (e.g. if a zookeeper did not lock the cages).

One primary difference between commercial owners and the average pet owner is that if properly proven, pet owners are typically held responsible for the actions of their pets no matter what. On the other hand, some state statutes require that the commercial owner is a privately owned establishment before a lawsuit can be brought against them. For instance, California does not allow victims to sue in-state zoos funded by the government using the theory of strict liability. However, they may sue based on negligence if they can prove that the public zoo did not properly restrain their animals.

How Can Animal Owner Liability Be Mitigated?

Certain factors may mitigate (i.e., lessen) the animal owner’s liability, such as:

  • If the owner has an insurance policy that will pay for some of the damages
  • Whether the animal owner provided adequate warning about the animal’s traits or potential risks of being near the animal
  • If the injured person assumed the risk of or provoked the attack
  • How foreseeable the attack was (e.g., a person who intentionally trespasses on the owner’s property despite ample warnings may receive reduced or no damages if attacked)
  • If the incident in question took place and is being heard by a court in a state that recognizes contributory negligence theory (this is where damages are awarded based on the percentage of fault each party had)

What Do You Do If Your Animal Bites or Attacks Someone?

If your animal bites or attacks someone, there are several steps you can take that may help to diffuse the situation, such as:

  • Remain calm
  • Be as kind and accommodating as the situation will allow
  • Ensure that the victim gets medical attention if the incident calls for it (e.g., call an ambulance)
  • Obtain the names, addresses, and phone numbers of any witnesses
  • Refrain from making statements or posting on social media about the matter
  • Locate and preserve copies of the animal’s medical records, including those that show proper care of the animal (e.g., proof of rabies shots, other relevant vaccinations, etc.)

Do I Need an Injury Lawyer for Help with an Animal Attack?

Animal attacks can lead to serious consequences for both the owners of the animals and the people injured by them. Thus, whether you are the victim of an animal attack or your animal is responsible for injuring another individual, you should consider contacting a local dog bite lawyer for further legal guidance.

An experienced personal injury lawyer can discuss the state laws that apply to your case, assist you with preparing and filing a lawsuit or defending one, handle negotiations for a settlement, and represent you in court if necessary.

Save Time and Money - Speak With a Lawyer Right Away

  • Buy one 30-minute consultation call or subscribe for unlimited calls
  • Subscription includes access to unlimited consultation calls at a reduced price
  • Receive quick expert feedback or review your DIY legal documents
  • Have peace of mind without a long wait or industry standard retainer
  • Get the right guidance - Schedule a call with a lawyer today!

16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer