In a legal context, dog owners are generally civilly and criminally liable for any injuries that their dog inflicts on another person. Although the exact criminal laws associated with dog bites vary from state to state, every state typically has a criminal law associated with dog attacks. Further, there may also be local ordinances in place concerning dog attacks.
As far as civil liability, a dog owner may typically be sued by a person that was attacked by their dog for the injuries that the person suffered. In fact, many states have strict liability dog bite statutes in place that hold dog owners financially responsible for injuries associated with a bite or attack by their dog.
These strict liability statutes go on to define “owner” as anyone who is currently keeping the animal. This means that liability for a dog attack can extend from the actual dog owner to someone who has custody of the animal at the time of the attack.
In addition to civil liability statutes, every state has some criminal dog bite laws. Under criminal dog bite laws, a dog owner may be subject to criminal penalties, including criminal fines and jail time, if their dog injures someone. However, dog bite laws typically provide legal defenses for the owner if the owner was unaware of the vicious or dangerous nature of their dog, if their dog was provoked, or if the individual that was injured was a trespasser on their property.
As such, it is important to consult your local laws regarding dog bite laws if your dog has allegedly injured someone. A dog attack lawyer is a lawyer that will be aware of all of the dog bite laws, as well as the criminal elements that must be proven by the state prosecution in order to hold the dog owner criminally liable for injuries inflicted by their dog.
For example, in the state of California, a dog owner may only be held criminally liable for their dog attacking someone else if all of the following criminal elements are proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the state prosecution:
- That the dog owner, or person in custody of the dog, attacked a person;
- That the dog owner was aware of the dog’s aggressive nature, such as by the dog attacking or biting another person in the past without provocation;
- That the attack happened to a person that was not trespassing on the dog owner’s property;
- That the attack by the dog resulted in injury or death to another person; and/or
- That the dog is a breed that has been designated by the local authority as being dangerous and the owner failed to follow the regulations related to keeping a dangerous animal.
When Can a Dog Owner Face Criminal Assault Charges?
Once again, the criminal charges for dog bites will vary by jurisdiction. However, dog owners may typically face criminal assault charges if the dog owner’s:
- Intentionally cause their dog to bite someone, whether by command or inaction;
- That the dog owner knew or should have known that their dog may bite or injure another without provocation and the owner did not reasonably restrain their dog, which resulted in another person being harmed; or
- The dog was declared to be dangerous or vicious in accordance with local laws, and the owner failed to reasonably restrain the dog, which then harmed another.
Commanding an animal to attack another person will typically result in more severe criminal charges then the other two criminal assault charges. This is because in that scenario the individual was knowingly performing an action that they knew would result in harm to another person. In the other two scenarios, the individual will typically be seen as being criminally negligent.
Examples of common criminal charges for dog bites may include restitution damages being paid to the person injured, jail time from one week to up to life in prison based on the severity of the injuries inflicted and the specific nature of the dog attack, and/or criminal fines.
Can a Dog Owner Face Homicide Charges?
As mentioned above, the criminal penalties associated with dog attacks range from minor penalties, to severe penalties, such as substantial time in prison. As such, a dog owner in some cases may face severe criminal charges. For example, in rare cases, a dog owner may be charged with murder or manslaughter if another person died as a result of their dog attacking them.
The following is a list of homicide charges that a dog owner may face:
- Manslaughter: In some jurisdictions, a dog owner may be charged with manslaughter, or a similar criminal charge if they:
- Knew or should have known their dog was dangerous based on previous attacks or the dog acting aggressively in the
- Failed to take reasonable steps to protect the public from their dangerous dog, such as negligently or recklessly
- allowing their dog to be unrestrained in a public area; and
- The dog attacked and caused the death of another person.
- Murder: A dog owner may also face a murder charge in some jurisdictions if they:
- Intentionally directed their dog to attack another person, which resulted in the death of that person; or
- If their dog was classified as a dangerous animal, and the dog owner’s negligent or reckless acts caused the dog to kill another person.
- It is important to note that criminal elements necessary to charge a dog owner with murder and to charge a dog owner with manslaughter are similar, but the murder charge has the additional element of the dog being ruled as a dangerous weapon.
- The dog being ruled as a dangerous element is thus an aggravating factor that allows a dog owner to receive a murder charge if their dog has been trained to inflict injury or attack on command, or is classified as a dangerous breed based on the laws of that jurisdiction.
Are There Other Relevant Criminal Charges Involving Dogs?
As mentioned above, there are many criminal charges that an individual can face regarding dog attacks. For example, owner liability for dog bites may also extend to the following persons:
- Parents or guardians of a dog owner that is under the age of 18 years;
- A person that is not the actual dog owner, but who has control of the dog, or is the caretaker of the dog, including:
- Dog walkers, dog sitters, dog groomers, and kennel owners;
- Vet technicians;
- Dog shelter owners and employees;
- Property owners who allow stray dogs to live on their property, and who are aware that the dog may be dangerous;
- Employers who allow dogs onto their premises; and/or
- Landlords who are aware of the fact that a dog lives on their property, is dangerous, but fails to act accordingly, such as not allowing the dog to remain on the property.
Should I Contact an Attorney If My Dog Attacked Someone?
As can be seen, there are numerous criminal penalties that a dog owner may face for a dog attack. As such, if your dog has attacked another person, and that person has been injured as a result of the dog attack, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced dog bite attorney in your area.
An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to help you assert your best legal defense, as well as assert any applicable legal defenses that may be available to lessen the charges brought against you, or have the charges dropped altogether. Additionally, a criminal defense attorney will also be able to represent you at any in person criminal proceedings.