The owner of an animal may be held liable for any resulting injuries that their animal causes when they attack another person. The standard of liability for an animal attack will primarily depend on three factors:
- The laws of the state in which the animal attack occurred;
- The type of animal that attacked; and
- The facts of each specific case.
An example of this would be how the owner of a domesticated pet, such as a dog or cat, may only be held liable based on a standard of negligence. In some states, a dog owner may be sued in civil court for negligence but could also face assault charges in criminal court. This can happen when a dog owner is aware that their dog is dangerous to other dogs or people, but fails to put them on a leash and the dog attacks someone.
Some states have gone so far as to enact statutes that are specifically designed to impose liability on owners of domesticated animals who are negligent in warning other persons about their pet’s potentially dangerous characteristics. This is especially true in terms of state laws associated with liability for dog bites or attacks. Such statutes may also include exceptions or defenses to animal attack liability.
One other standard of liability that is often associated with animal attacks involves a person as the owner of a wild or illegal animal. An example of this would be how if a person is the owner of a wild tiger. If they live in a jurisdiction in which it is illegal to keep a pet tiger, they could be held to a higher standard of strict liability if their tiger injures or attacks another person such as a neighbor.
When a person is held to a strict liability standard, it means that the person will become immediately responsible for the damages, regardless of whether the other party instigated the animal attack or not. Additionally, this remains true no matter how severe the injuries they suffered from the attack.
What Is Considered To Be An Exotic Animal?
The exact definition of an exotic or wild animal will primarily depend on the state in which a person resides. Generally speaking, however, an exotic animal is a type of animal that can be found in the wild and is not normally kept as a house pet.
This may include, but not be limited to:
- Some kinds of poisonous snakes;
- Some species of bats; and
The minority of states, as in only one or two, may allow some of the animals in this list to be kept as pets and not as part of a zoo or wildlife conservation effort. In the majority of cases involving exotic animal attacks, the animal’s owner will be held strictly liable for any resulting injuries.
What Are Some Animal Bite Statistics?
Animal bite accidents make up one of the most common types of personal injury claims in the United States. Every year, millions of bite accidents and animal attacks occur, mostly due to interactions with animals that other people keep as pets. Some of these involve very minor injuries, while others may result in serious or even fatal consequences.
In general, some animal bite statistics include:
- Three children have been killed by pet wolves in the past 30 years; and
- Reptile pets can also be fatal, with some injuries involving strangulation instead of bites as
- they are caused by reptiles such as boa constrictors and/or pythons.
While most people associate animal bites with dog bites, cat bites are also a very common phenomenon. Some cat bite statistics are as follows:
- There are an estimated 400,000 cat bites each year;
- An estimated 66,000 hospital emergency visits each year are due to cat bites; and
- In 2009, there were 81 rabies cases from dogs, but 300 rabies cases from cats. What this means is that cats were three times more likely to be rabid than dogs that year.
What Are Some Dog Bite Statistics?
According to a study from the Center For Disease Control (“CDC”), approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur in the United States each year, with 800,000 of those bites resulting in medical care. The U.S. population was approximately 328.2 million people in 2019; meaning, a dog bites 1 out of every 73 people.
Some recent dog bite statistics include:
- 81% of dog bites cause no injury at all, or only minor injuries that do not require medical attention;
- You have a 1 in 112,400 chance of dying from a dog bite or strike, which means you are at more risk of dying from:
- Cataclysmic storm: 1 in 66,335
- Contact with hornets, wasps and bees: 1 in 63,225
- Air and space transport incidents: 1 in 9,821
- Firearm discharge: 1 in 6,905
- Choking from inhalation and ingestion of food: 1 in 3,461
- Heart disease and cancer: 1 in 7.
- Most dog bites involve dogs who are not spayed or neutered;
- Fatal Dog Attacks states that 25% of fatal attacks were inflicted by chained dogs of many different breeds;
- The insurance industry paid more than $530 million in dog bite related claims in 2014;
- 5,714 U.S. Postal Service employees were attacked by a dog in 2018, which is 500 less than
- 2017 and 1,000 fewer since 2016; and
- Over 30 breeds and dog-types were associated with dog bite-related fatalities.
Some other quick facts about dog bites include:
- There are roughly 900 million dogs in the world;
- As many as 50% of children will be bitten by a dog in their childhood;
- 4.7 million dog bites occur in the U.S. every year;
- More males are dog bite victims than females; and
- 60,000 people die worldwide from rabies caused by dog bites.
What Else Should I Know About Liability For Animal Bite Accidents?
Dog bite liability depends largely on the state in which you reside. It can also depend on which city or county you live in. States such as California, Florida, and Massachusetts expose any dog owner to liability for the dog’s conduct. These are known as strict liability states, in which the dog owner is held strictly liable for the conduct of their dog.
There are some exceptions in which you are not liable for your dog’s conduct. An example of this would be if the bite victim is a criminal, and was bitten in the commission of a felony such as robbery. Another example would be if the victim provoked the dog. Additionally, you would not be liable to a trespasser on your property who is bitten by your dog.
Other states, such as New York, Texas, and Oregon, only hold the owner liable if the owner had reason to know or should have known the dog had aggressive propensities.
In terms of cats, the owner or keeper of a cat has a duty to know its normal habits and tendencies. Under specific circumstances, the owner must exercise reasonable care in order to prevent foreseeable harm. A cat owner may be liable for injuries caused by their cat under the following circumstances:
- Store owners who knew that their cat was prone to being aggressive have a duty to maintain a safe business environment;
- The owner knew of the cat’s violent behavior, and let the cat roam free without constraint, which resulted in the cat attacking someone on their property; and/or
- The cat attacked a dog without provocation and the dog’s owner was injured in the process.
Do I Need An Attorney For An Animal Bite Accident?
Whether you were the victim of an animal bite or the animal’s owner, you should consult with an experienced and local personal injury attorney. A local lawyer will be most knowledgeable in terms of your locality’s laws regarding animal bites and liability, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.