Animal attacks can result in far more than physical pain. Disfigurement, a fear of rabies or other disease, and even a long-term fear of the type of animal that caused the injuries can result. A pet owner may be liable for such injuries when his or her animal bites or otherwise attacks another; he or she must compensate the injured party for the resulting damages.
Although animal-attack claims most commonly involve dog bites, many other types of domesticated animals, such as ferrets, cats, and even birds, can also bite humans, causing injury and potential liability for their masters. Even non-domesticated animals, such as large cats ordinarily found in the wild, can attack children and adults. The liability for all such attacks, if any, will vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. A lawyer experienced in dog bite and personal injury law is the best source for accurate advice and information in animal attack cases.
The Plaintiff’s Burden of Proof in Animal Attack Cases
To succeed in most animal attack cases, the plaintiff must prove that the animal that caused the injury was owned and kept by the defendant. In the past, the plaintiff was also required to show that the owner knew or should have known that the animal was dangerous, mischievous, vicious, or prone to such undesirable and potentially threatening behaviors. Under current law, however, when proof is established that an owner was somehow negligent, such as by not properly restraining or containing the animal, the plaintiff may often recover without making a showing of the animal’s viciousness.
An owner of an animal may be found negligent under any circumstances in which he or she had knowledge of the animal’s viciousness but failed to act in order to prevent injuries to others. Accordingly, if an animal exhibits vicious or uncontrolled behavior, the owner should take steps to ensure that the animal is secured from access to the public. For example, if an individual owns a pit bull with a propensity to attack and bite without provocation, the owner should probably keep the animal indoors and, while outside, within a contained yard with a fence that the animal cannot escape. If he or she does not adhere to these common-sense guidelines and the animal attacks, the injured party may be able to recover his or her damages.
Those who harbor animals that are generally considered to be wild, such as lions, bears, and monkeys, are often held strictly liable for the harm that results if the animals escape, regardless of whether the particular animal is known to be dangerous. Such animals are presumed to have a natural tendency to revert to their wild mannerisms no matter how well trained or allegedly domesticated they are. Strict liability may not apply if the animal injures someone while it is confined or restrained on its owner’s property, but this is a factually dependent argument that will not apply in every case.
In some states, it is not always necessary for the animal to actually bite or attack the victim in order to hold the owner liable for an injury. A pedestrian who is walking past a yard and who becomes frightened by a dog snapping and barking, and who in an attempt to get away trips and falls, breaking an ankle, may nonetheless be able to sue the dog’s owner successfully if he or she can show that the actions of the dog led to the injury.
Possible Defenses in Animal Attack Cases
Animal attack victims are not always entitled to recover their damages. If the plaintiff is found to have provoked the animal, for instance, recovery may be denied. Say, for example, that a pet owner informs a neighbor that his pet parrot is not friendly and that it should not be touched, but the neighbor does not heed this warning and is thereafter pecked or bitten, recovery may be denied. If the owner merely stated that the parrot was not always friendly, on the other hand, but still encouraged the neighbor to pet it, liability for the injury could likely still be found.
Trespassers are also generally unable to recover. In many states, in order to successfully bring suit under a dog bite statute, the plaintiff must show that he or she was lawfully in the place where the injury occurred. If it is found that the plaintiff was, instead, a trespasser at the time of the injury, liability will be avoidable on that ground. If, for example, someone jumps over a fence into an enclosed junkyard with “Beware of Dog” warnings posted and taunts the German shepherd guard dog with a stick, the junkyard owner may not be liable if the dog bites the trespasser.