Dog parks are designated areas in neighborhoods, apartments, cities, or other associations in which dog owners can bring their dogs to run around freely within the area and interact with other dogs. Dog parks are usually fenced-in areas that are composed of dirt, grass, or other surfaces. Many dog parks also provide amenities to dog owners such as running water, drinking water bowls, obstacles, and dog toys.
In most cases, there will be signs at a dog park that state that dog owners assume certain risks by bringing their dog to the dog park. These signs also often cover rules regarding the interactions and play between dogs present at the park. As such, minor injuries to a dog might be reasonably expected in visiting a dog park. For example, scratches or minor abrasions from normal play in the dog park may occur.
However, there are many instances in which more serious incidents may occur in a dog park. For example, severe dog bites or dog attacks may occur and result in injury to a dog or a dog owner. These dog park attacks can then raise some legal issues. Dog park attacks that result in an injury to a person or property are covered by a set of written laws within the state known as personal injury laws.
What Is A Personal Injury Claim?
In a claim for personal injury, a person that has sustained an injury (i.e. a “plaintiff”) due to an act or failure to act by the defendant seeks compensation for the injury that they sustained. This injury can be either mental, physical, or a combination of both. If successful in their personal injury lawsuit, a court may award the plaintiff money damages for their personal injury.
Personal injuries may occur intentionally. For example, when a defendant deliberately injures a victim, or intends to commit an act that results in injury, such an injury would be deemed intentional. However, personal injuries may also occur unintentionally. If an unintentional injury is the result of someone’s negligence, the plaintiff may file a lawsuit based on the negligent behavior.
When it comes to dog park attacks, injuries suffered are most often caused by unintentional acts. For example, an owner may know that their dog is aggressive around other dogs, but still choose to bring their animal to a dog park. If such actions occur and their dog attacks and harms another dog, then the injured dog owner may be able to sue the owner of the attacking dog for the cost of the medical bills and injuries to their animal.
What Is The Standard Of Liability For Animal Attacks?
As mentioned above, dog owners who visit dog parks assume various risks when participating in normal activities at the dog park. As such, dog park owners or maintainers typically are not liable for dog attacks or bites. However, the owner of a dog that attacks a person or another dog can often be held liable for damages associated with their dog attacking another animal or person.
A dog owner may be held liable for any resulting injuries that their animal causes when they attack another person. The standard of liability for a dog attack will primarily depend on three factors:
- The laws of the state in which the dog attack occurred
- Local ordinances regarding muzzles, collars, leashes, and other similar pet implements may affect the liability of a dog owner whose pet harmed another person or animal. If the owner failed to follow the rules of the park or local ordinances, it will be easier to hold them liable for any resulting injuries;
- Whether the owner knew or should have known that their dog had a history of attacking people or other animals; and
- The facts of each specific case, such as the size, breed, and behavioral disposition of the dog.
As can be seen, a dog owner may typically only be held liable based on a standard of negligence. In most states, a dog owner may be sued in civil court for negligence, but could also simultaneously face assault charges in criminal court. Such scenarios often 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. Even greater civil liability and possible criminal charges can be imposed on a dog owner if the owner instructs or commands their dog to attack another dog or a person.
Some states have gone so far as to enact statutes that are specifically designed to impose liability on dog owners who are negligent in warning other persons about their pet’s potentially dangerous characteristics. As such there are numerous state specific laws that are associated with liability for dog bites or attacks. These dog attack statutes may also include exceptions or defenses to animal attack liability.
What Are Some Dog Bite Statistics?
According to a recent 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 the necessity of medical care. This means that in the United States 1 out of every 73 people will be affected by a dog bite at some point in their life.
Other examples of recent dog bite statistics include:
- 81% of dog bites result in either no injury at all or only minor injuries that do not require medical attention;
- There is a 1 in 112,400 chance of dying from a dog bite or attack;
- The majority of dog bites involve dogs that are not spayed or neutered;
- The insurance industry paid more than $530 million in dog bite related personal injury claims in 2014;
- As many as 50% of children will be bitten by a dog in their childhood;
- More males are dog bite victims than females; and
- 60,000 people die worldwide from rabies caused by dog bites.
What Are The Legal Remedies for a Dog Park Attack Incident?
Dog attacks may often result in serious injury to another person or dog. In fact, in rare cases a dog attack may even result in the death of a person or other dog. This is especially true if the dog attacks another person or dog that is smaller in stature. As such, it is especially important to monitor small dogs and children when they are present at a dog park.
Legal action may sometimes be required to remedy a dog attack that occurs at a dog park. In such cases, a monetary damages award may be issued to the plaintiff if they are able to prove that the other owner’s negligent actions resulted in them suffering a personal injury. These court awarded damages are awarded to a plaintiff to cover costs associated with the attack such as medical expenses, veterinarian bills, and other expenses.
As mentioned above, dog attack cases involving an intentionally commanded attack may also lead to criminal charges. Depending on the resulting injury, the owner of a dog commanded to attack may face felony criminal charges resulting in severe criminal fines, imprisonment or more than 1 year, or a combination of both. It is important to note that civil and criminal laws regarding dog attacks vary from state to state.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With a Dog Park Attack Claim?
If you are the victim of an animal bite or are the owner of a dog that committed an attack, you should consult with an experienced dog bite attorney. An experienced lawyer will be most knowledgeable regarding your state’s laws on animal bites and dog park attack liability.
An experienced attorney can provide you with legal guidance regarding your personal injury claim, and will help you to determine your best course of legal action. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.