Animal owners may be held liable for injuries which result from actions of their animal, especially if they attach another individual. The standard of liability for animal attacks will typically depend upon three factors:
- The laws of the state where the animal attack occurred;
- The type of animal that attacked; and
- The facts of each specific case.
For example, the owner of a domesticated pet, such as a dog or cat, may be held liable based on the standard of negligence. In certain cases, a dog owner may be sued in civil court for negligence and may also face assault charges in criminal court.
This may occur if a dog owner is aware that their animal is dangerous to other individuals or animals but they fail to put them on a leash and the dog attacks someone.
Certain states have enacted statutes which are designed to impose liability on an owner of a domesticated animal who is negligent in warning other individuals regarding the dangers of their pet. This applies especially in terms of state laws that are associated with liability for dog bites or attacks.
These statutes may include exceptions of defenses to liability for an animal attack. Another standard of liability which is typically associated with animal attacks involves individuals who own wild or illegal animals.
For example, if an individual owns a wild tiger, they may be held to a higher standard of strict liability if the tiger injures or attacks another individual. If an individual is held to a strict liability standard, it means they will be responsible for the damages that occur, regardless of whether the other party instigated the animal’s attack or not.
This applies regardless of the severity of the injuries the individuals suffered from the attack.
What is the Definition of Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is a legal term for a statute that specifies that amount of time which a plaintiff has to file a civil lawsuit or the amount of time which a prosecutor has to file criminal charges against a defendant. If the time limit has passed, or the statute of limitations has run, the plaintiff or prosecutor is barred from bringing their case.
The deadline for filing a lawsuit will depend upon the type of lawsuit that is being filed as well as the applicable state statute where a plaintiff is filing a lawsuit.
Why Do States Have Statutes of Limitations?
As previously noted, one of the purposes of a statute of limitations is to protect a defendant from untimely litigation. These statutes allow a plaintiff to pursue a valid claim against a defendant, but only when a plaintiff exercises due diligence in timely filing their claim.
What is considered a timely filing of a claim depends upon the state in which the claim is filed as well as the type of claim, as noted above. For example, in Texas, the statute of limitations for a plaintiff to file their lawsuit is 2 years from the date of the incident.
There are three main reasons why enacts statutes of limitations are enacted, including:
- The statute forces a plaintiff with a valid cause of action to bring the claim in a timely manner;
- Bringing an untimely claim can result in loss of evidence necessary for a defendant to defend themselves against the claim; and
- Litigation of a long-dormant claim can result in more cruelty than justice.
When Does Time Begin to Run on a Statute of Limitations?
The United States Supreme Court has held that the statute of limitations begins to run when a “plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action.” It typically begins when the crime or injury occurred or when the plaintiff discovers their injury, such as in fraud cases.
If a lawsuit is filed after the statute of limitations has run, it will likely be dismissed by the court after a motion from the defendant. In some cases, however, the clock may have been paused, known as tolling the limitations.
For example, in a criminal case where a defendant commits a crime and flees, making them a fugitive of the state, the state will pause the statute of limitations for the time that the fugitive is on the run. This means that, once the fugitive is caught, the prosecution can bring criminal charges.
In cases where the plaintiff is a minor, or under the age of 18 in most states, the state may allow tolling of the statute of limitations until the plaintiff reaches the age of majority. In addition, it may be possible in a private civil case for the statute of limitations to be shortened or lengthened by agreement of the parties.
Where Can I Find the Statute of Limitations?
Statutes of limitations are statutes, meaning that they are laws. This means they are typically found in the state statute for the claim the individual is seeking to file and can usually be found online.
For example, if an individual is seeking to file a negligence claim related to a car accident, an individual should review the common law negligence statute in the state. In this statute, there will be a section entitled statute of limitations that will contain the amount of time a plaintiff will have to file their claim.
It will typically be notated in terms of years, for example, 2 years or 4 years. A statute may also provide when the statute of limitations will begin to run.
This may be useful in determining whether the statute of limitations has run or if the plaintiff still has time to file their claim due to the tolling of the statute.
How Long Do I Have to Sue After Being Bit by a Dog or Other Animal?
How long an individual has to sue after being bit by an animal will depend upon how long the statute of limitations for injuries is in the state where the incident occurred. In general, the shortest statute of limitations for dog bite injuries are 6 months, with the longest being 3 years.
It may be helpful to consult with a personal injury attorney in the state to determine the time limit that applies to the case.
What if the Defendant is a Government Employee or Agency?
If a defendant is a government employee or agency, the statute of limitations may be shorter than for other types of defendants. In California, for example, a victim only has 6 months to bring a case against a government employee or agency for an injury such as a dog bite.
What if the Victim is a Child or Another Animal?
In many states, including California, if the victim is a child, they may sue at any time prior to turning 19 years of age. For animal victims, many states hold that the owner of the injured animal can bring a lawsuit against a non-government defendant for up to 3 years.
Due to the fact that every state has different rules, it is important to review the laws of the state.
Do I Need a Lawyer for My Dog Bite Issue?
If you or your child has been bitten by a dog and you are contemplating suing the owner, it may be helpful to consult with a dog bite lawyer. Your attorney can advise you of the applicable statute of limitations, advise you of your rights, and assist you throughout the lawsuit process.