Breed-Specific Legislation

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 What Is Breed-Specific Legislation?

BSLs are laws and statutes that regulate the ownership and keeping of different breeds of dogs. These are passed in response to data that shows that certain dogs are more liable to dog bites and animal attacks than others. There is sometimes evidence to suggest that certain dog breeds have higher bite statistics than others, but this data can be controversial.

Certain breeds and mixes of those breeds may be prohibited under BSL statutes in certain cities or areas. It is usually prohibited based solely on the breed of the dog rather than on the dog’s behavioral history. That is, the owner of a prohibited dog may face penalties regardless of whether the dog actually had a history of attacks.

What Types of Breeds are Commonly Included Under BSL Laws?

BSL laws usually cover dogs that are considered dangerous. These include:

  • Pit bulls (American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Pit Bull Terriers)
  • Rottweilers
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Bulldogs
  • Other dogs used in dog fighting

A mixed breed dog can also be confiscated if it meets the distinguishing characteristics used by Kennel Club Societies to identify pit bull breeds or other breeds. However, some prohibit only unlicensed or untrained dogs, depending on the city or town.

What Are Some Common BSL Violations?

Some common BSL violations include:

  • Owning a breed that has been prohibited
  • Selling or distributing dogs or puppies that have been prohibited
  • Breeding dogs in violation of BSL standards
  • Failing to meet licensing requirements for certain dog breeds

Typically, expert testimony is required to determine whether a dog falls into a BSL category. Fines, confiscation of the dog, and legal liability may be imposed for BSL violations. Criminal penalties can also be imposed in severe cases.

Is a Pet Owner Liable for Injuries and Damage Caused by their Pets?

Yes. Owners own their pets as personal property. As a result, their owners can be liable for any injuries they cause to others or property. Animal injuries are typically associated with dogs (dog bites), but any injury or property damage caused by your pet can expose you to liability, whether it’s a dog, cat, snake, rabbit, bird, etc.

Pet owners, particularly dog owners, are generally liable under state law.

What’s the Liability of a Dog Owner?

Depending on what state you live in, as well as what city or county you live in, you may be liable for dog bites. Dog owners in states such as California, Florida, and Massachusetts are liable for their dogs’ behavior. These are known as strict liability states, where the dog owner is strictly liable for their dog’s conduct.

Your dog’s behavior isn’t always your responsibility. If the victim is a criminal and was bitten in the commission of a felony (such as robbing a bank), or if the victim provoked the dog, then you would not be liable. Your dog would not be liable for biting a trespasser on your property.

New York, Texas, and Oregon only hold the owner liable if they knew or should have known the dog was aggressive.

How Can Animal Owners Protect Themselves from Liability?

You can protect yourself from liability as a pet owner by doing a couple of things.

First, consider obtaining homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, especially if you live in a state where you are considered responsible for your dog’s attacks unless there are extraneous circumstances. Make sure you check your policy to see if dog bites on your property are covered. Some insurance companies do not cover pit bulls, which are considered more dangerous and aggressive dogs.

The second principle is that knowledge is power. Check your state, county, and city’s dog ownership ordinances. As mentioned above, some states have “strict liability” statutes. As the animal owner, you are legally responsible for any injuries caused by your dog.

What are the Defenses to Dog Bite Claims?

The following defenses may be pleaded if your dog bites another person:

  • Provocation: If the person injured provoked or aggravated the dog, you might not be liable for the resulting injury.
  • Contributory negligence: In states that adopt a contributory negligence standard, you may be liable only for the percentage by which a court finds you liable as the dog owner. Your liability may be limited if the victim contributed to the attack.
  • Assumption of the risk: If you gave plenty of warning to others about your dog’s aggressive tendencies and the victim willingly entered the situation knowing it may not be safe, they have assumed the risk of the injury.

Can Veterinarians Sue Pet Owners for their Injuries?

Pet owners cannot sue veterinarians if their pets bite during a vet visit. By virtue of their profession, veterinarians assume a certain amount of risk when working with animals. In addition, veterinarians sometimes poke and prod animals, causing them to react involuntarily. Lastly, some courts hold that veterinarians become the dog’s temporary owner after they receive custody, thereby removing the pet owner’s liability when the pet is under their care.

There are a few exceptions. Even if the owner fails to warn the veterinarian about an unusually ill-tempered pet, the owner can still be held responsible. Employees of a vet can also sue their employer for failing to protect them from unnecessary risks posed by the animal.

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

An animal attack occurs when an animal attacks a human, causing injury and sometimes death. Owners may be held liable for injuries caused by animal attacks under laws related to animal attacks. Thus, such actions’ definitions and legal consequences will vary from state to state.

For example, a dog owner may face criminal assault charges in some states if their dog assaults another person. A dog can become dangerous if its owner fails to reasonably restrain (e.g., leash) their dog despite knowing that it is dangerous despite its traits that meet the definition of “vicious” or “dangerous” provided in the state statute.

If an individual’s animal bites or attacks someone, there are several steps they can take to diffuse the situation, including:

  • Remaining calm and collected;
  • Being as kind and accommodating as the situation will allow;
  • Ensuring that the victim seeks medical attention if the incident calls for it;
  • Obtaining the names, addresses, and phone numbers of any witnesses;
  • Refraining from making statements or posting on social media about the matter; and
  • Locating and preserving copies of the animal’s medical records, including those showing proper animal care (e.g., proof of rabies shots, other relevant vaccinations, etc.).

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with Breed-Specific Legislation Issues?

The laws governing animals vary widely from state to state, county to county, and city to city. You may wish to hire a lawyer if you need assistance with your local animal control laws. There aren’t BSL rules in every place. If you need assistance understanding how BSL statutes may affect you, you may want to hire a lawyer. If you need to appear in court, your attorney can provide legal advice and represent you.

Owners of animals and those injured by them can suffer serious consequences from animal attacks. 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.

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