When a dog bites or attacks someone, the door of liability opens. In recent years, several companies offering dog walking and sitting services have become popular and widespread. Some pet owners prefer hiring a dog walker or sitter that they know through friends or neighbors. Regardless, anyone who is in control of an animal may be held liable for injuries if the animal harms someone while under their care.
Simply giving a dog commands does not usually qualify as having control over the animal. For instance, a woman was visiting her son in New York, and her son’s dog bit someone. The court found that even though she let the dog in and out of the house and called to the animal, she was not its keeper because she did not have “dominion and control” over the dog. (Zwinge v. Love, 37 A.D.2d 874 (N.Y. App. Div. 1971).
Legally, dog owners are usually liable for any injuries their pet may cause. However, caretakers of the animal may also be liable. The laws concerning dog bites vary amongst states, and local laws also come into play. Local ordinances may define the term, “dog owner” more broadly than state laws, so be sure to check the rules and regulations in your jurisdiction.
In addition to owners being liable for their dogs, the following situations may create liability for other parties:
- Parents or guardians of a dog owner who is under the age of 18 years;
- An individual who is not the owner, and who had control of the dog, or is the caretaker of the dog;
- This includes dog walkers, dog sitters, dog groomers, and kennel owners.
- Vet technicians;
- Shelter employees;
- Property owners who allow stray dogs to live on their property;
- Employers who allow dogs onto the premises; and/or
- Landlords who knew the dog was dangerous but failed to act accordingly.
Of course, like mentioned above, it completely depends on the situation. A vet technician will probably not be held liable if they are holding the leash of a dog that bites, if their owner is right next to them. Ultimately, it is hard to determine if you would be held liable, until the law of your area is applied to the facts of the case.
Common law rules hold owners liable for their dogs. Additionally, many states have strict liability dog bite statutes that hold owners financially responsible for injuries associated with a bite or attack. These statutes also define “owner” as anyone who is keeping the animal. Harboring an animal may also be included in the definition of who is responsible, and may be a separate statute from those that hold owners liable.
Local laws may define a dog keeper or dog sitter more broadly than the laws of the state. In some cities, a dog owner is considered to be anyone who has custody of an animal, keeps the animal, harbors the animal, maintains or cares for the animal. In Arizona, a person “harbors” a dog if they have kept the dog for more than six consecutive days.
Courts in other states have varying rulings on who is considered a dog keeper and a dog sitter. Courts in Indiana and Connecticut have ruled that people who walk someone’s dog as a favor are not necessarily that dog’s keeper. The person who is liable for injuries will very often depend on the circumstances of the situation, the state, and of course, the court.
Dog owners are very often held liable for the harm that their pets cause others. However, when someone takes on the responsibility of keeping or harboring the animal, they too, may be held liable for the cost of the injuries and other incidentals associated with the injuries.
Plaintiffs may go after the person who had control of the dog, especially in cases involving an owner who is not financially stable. Another source of compensation may be the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy. Injuries and property damage caused by dogs are usually covered by the owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy. It may even be possible that the policy covers injuries that occurred away from the home.
In recent years, insurance companies have begun to exclude certain breeds that are deemed dangerous from homeowner’s insurance coverage. If the policy does not cover the bite or attack, the plaintiff will have to go after the dog’s owner or sitter directly.
If you are a dog sitter and are in a situation involving dog bite liability, you should contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced dog bite lawyer will review your case and help you assemble a viable defense to shift liability to the dog’s owner.