Personal Injury Liability: Stores that Allow Pets

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 Is a Business Owner Liable for Injuries Caused by the Pet of a Patron?

In most situations, the pet must be the property of the business owner in order for the owner to be liable for personal injury caused by the pet. Whether a business owner is liable for injury caused by another person’s pet present on their business premises would depend on whether the business owner’s negligence was a direct cause of the injury.

What Must Be Shown to Prove a Business Owner Negligent?

Whether a business owner is liable for the animal attacks of the animals of other people depends on whether the business owner was in some way negligent with respect to the animal of the other person.

In some states, the owner of a dog is strictly liable for any injury the dog causes to other people. For example, in Michigan, dog owners are clearly responsible for any injury their dog causes, even if the dog has no history of aggressive behavior.

In these states, the theory of strict liability applies in the majority of dog bite cases, but there may be exceptions. If the dog bite occurred while the victim of the bite was trespassing or provoking the dog at the time of the attack, the owner would not be liable. This means the dog’s owner would also likely be liable for injuries caused if their dog bites someone in an office or other type of business.

Other states have the so-called “one-bite” rule. Per this rule, the owner of a dog that bites another person is only liable if it is the second time the dog has bitten someone. In New York state, a dog owner cannot be liable for injuries caused by their dog only if they knew or should have known that their dog could be dangerous. In Alabama, again, a dog owner is only liable if the owner knows that their dog has a dangerous or threatening character.

In all states, if the owner is liable, the victim can sue the owner or handler and receive an award of money damages to compensate them for their injuries and other losses.

In the case of a business owner in whose business a client or customer’s dog bites someone, the business owner would probably not be liable unless the victim could prove that the business owner was negligent in some regard with respect to the pet. Of course, if the dog belonged to the business owner, the law of the state would apply, whether strict liability or “one-bite” liability.

There may be some situations where the owner of a business could have some degree of responsibility for injuries caused by a dog attack. For example, employees might observe that a customer has brought a dog into a place of business and that it has immediately behaved aggressively.

If the employees do not take any measures to protect other customers, such as asking the person with the dog to remove it from the premises, the business may potentially have some degree of liability if the aggressive dog should bite another customer in the business.

In order to prove negligence on the part of the business owner, a court is likely to look at the following factors:

  • Whether the business owner noticed the pet’s character: Courts are not eager to force a business owner to inspect every pet that enters their business. This is even more so if the business owner does not know the pet is present at all;
  • Whether the business owner knew or had reason to know that the pet was dangerous: For example, a court would want to know if the pet had done anything in the presence of the owner that should have told the owner the pet might be dangerous;
  • If a pet was identified as dangerous, whether the business owner took reasonable precautions to remove the pet or prevent danger to other patrons: Courts are most likely to find store owners negligent for dangers they knew about but did not try to remedy or remove;
  • Whether the injured victim was in a restricted area of the store: Store owners are generally not responsible for the injuries of a customer who was in a non-public or “off-limit” area of the store when they suffered the injury;
  • Nature of the store or business itself: A court is likely to require more care against animal attacks from an animal supply store that expects a large volume of pets to be present on its premises as opposed to a local grocery store or coffee shop.

What Are the Elements of Negligence in a Dog Bite Case?

In addition to these factors that are specific to dog bites, or other animal attack situations, the victim would have to prove all of the elements of a civil case for negligence against the business owner, which are as follows:

  • Duty: The business owner had a duty to take reasonable actions to protect their customers and clients from harm;
  • Breach of Duty: The business owner failed to fulfill this duty by taking actions or failing to take actions that a reasonable person would take;
  • Causation: The failure of the owner to fulfill their duty of care was the direct result of injury and harm to the victim;
  • Loss: The victim suffered losses as a result of their injury.

Proof that a business owner had reason to know that an animal present on their premises posed a risk of injury to customers and clients but did nothing to remove the risk would address the element of breach of duty.

What if an Employee Is Bitten at Work?

Another possible variation in the situation would be if an employee of a business were to be injured by an animal, such as a dog, on the premises of the business. An employee would be able to turn to their state’s workers’ compensation system to recover compensation for their losses. This includes the costs of medical care and lost wages if they are unable to work.

A person who makes a claim for workers’ compensation does not have to prove negligence on anyone’s part, including that of the business owner. A state workers’ compensation system is a strict liability system, so the injured employee only needs to prove that they were injured while performing duties within the scope of their employment.

Another possible legal theory that might come into play is that of vicarious liability. If an employee’s dog bites a customer or client on the premises of the business by which they are employed, the employer would probably be liable for the customer’s damages.

A business is vicariously liable for its employee’s conduct if the employee was acting within the course and scope of their employment. Thus, any negligent conduct of the employee is attributed to the employer. If the state is a strict liability state, then arguably, the employer would be responsible for the strict liability of their employee.

How Can an Attorney Help Me?

If you were injured by another customer’s pet while in a store or other place of business, you should contact an animal attack lawyer immediately to assert your rights. can connect you to an experienced lawyer who can help determine whether the store owner was negligent in protecting your safety and clue you in on any other possible claims you may have against the pet owner and others.

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