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Injuries Caused By Police Dogs

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Can Law Enforcement Legally Use Dogs?

The police and military use dogs for patrol and making arrests.  State statutes give police and military officers special protection when their dogs inflict injuries on people under certain circumstances.  However, there is no protection for unreasonable force, civil rights violations, or injuries caused outside the scope of proper law enforcement activities.  Generally, police are forbidden from using excessive force when making an arrest.

Can I Sue For Injuries Caused By A Police Dog?

Claims for injuries caused by police dogs are usually brought under the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Generally, police are forbidden from using unreasonable force when making an arrest. If they do, then they may be required to compensate the victim. In some cases, the officers might be punished, including having to pay punitive damages to the victim.  Also, the federal law can possibly give victims some advantages, including an award of attorneys fees and costs and a longer statute of limitations to file their lawsuit.

Courts have held that officers can use dogs to bite and hold a person suspected of commiting a crime, but only when it is reasonable to do so. In one case, the court held that it was unreasonable because the officers did not give the suspect a chance to surrender prior to using the dog.  Another man who was bitten by a police dog successfully sued the city that employed the officers after he had been stopped for a traffic violation. He ran away from his car, and officers pursued him with a police dog which had been trained to bite a suspect and hold him until officers commanded otherwise. The man's upper leg was bitten, and his femoral artery was severed. 

What Happens If the Dog Bites Someone Other Than The Suspect?

Police dogs that bite people outside of its “work” subjects its owners, the police, to civil liability suits. In many states, the dog bite statutes that govern private citizens, which normally do not affect police dogs, would become applicable.

Is It Better To Sue in Federal Or State Courts For My Police Dog Injuries?

Claims for injuries caused by police dogs are usually brought under the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.  If they do, then they may be required to compensate the victim. In some cases, the officers might be punished, including having to pay punitive damages to the victim. 

Also, the federal law can possibly give victims some advantages, including an award of attorneys fees and costs and a longer statute of limitations to file their lawsuit.

What Factors May Decide a Police Dog Injury Case?

Excessive force is the governing factor when dogs are used as extensions of police power. Excessive force is measured by the actual attack and the resulting injury against the government interest in effecting an arrest or narcotics search. Other factors affecting the outcome may include, but are not limited to:

  • What was the nature of the suspect’s crime? Misdemeanor or felony?
  • Was the suspect armed and/or dangerous to the police or the general public?
  • Was the suspect hiding or fleeing?
  • Did the suspect surrender or did the suspect fight the dog?
  • Did the dog bite once or multiple times?
  • Was the dog under the officer’s complete control?
  • Could the officer(s) have used less violent methods to arrest the suspect?

Should I Consult An Attorney About Injuries Caused By Police Dogs?

If you have been injured by a police dog you should contact an attorney immediately.  A personal injury attorney can help evaluate your case and assert your rights so that you can recover damages for your injuries.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 11-29-2017 01:04 AM PST

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