Are You Liable if Your Dog Bites Someone?

Let’s talk dog bites. I’m a huge dog lover, so I firmly believe there are no bad dogs, just an occasional irresponsible dog owner. I’m talking about dog bites; we’re not talking about just a dog nipping your heels or legs.

I’m talking about those severe bites that cause permanent scarring and disfigurement, and usually, they occur around the faces of children, but not always.

Dogs that attack and do damage to someone’s face leave long-lasting injuries and scarring, some of which can never be removed.

Dog Owner Liability: Understanding Responsibility for Dog Bites

Let’s start with a simple question of whether or not a dog owner is automatically responsible when their dog bites someone. The answer is no.

They’re not necessarily automatically responsible. For example, if you have a trespasser on your property and the dog bites them, you’re not responsible for that dog bite. Why? Because the person is the trespasser, they should not have been on your property.

Exceptions to Dog Owner Liability: Provocation and Self-Defense

Is the dog owner responsible if the dog bites someone after being provoked or taunted? Not likely.

Another instance is if someone’s trying to break up two dogs that are fighting each other, and one bites the person who’s trying to break up that fight, that doesn’t make the dog owner responsible. It may have been the dog that was getting attacked.

So there are some circumstances where dog owners are not responsible for their dog biting somebody else.

Who Pays for Care when Someone Is Bitten

When a dog bites you, and you have serious injuries from that dog bite, the owner of the dog’s homeowner insurance should pay for that. There are some rare occurrences where the insurance company will exclude certain breeds of dogs, but that doesn’t happen very often.

No One-Bite Rule in West Virginia

In many states, for a dog owner to be on notice that their dog has the propensity to bite people, they get by with a dog biting someone the first time with the argument that they had no idea the dog would bite people.

But in West Virginia, if your dog bites someone, you can be responsible for the harm that that dog bite has caused, even if it’s the first time it did it. Unlike other states, there’s no one-bite rule.

What if Your Dog Bites the Mail Carrier

So if your dog bites the mail carrier or some other delivery person from something you ordered or a meter reader, then you will be responsible in West Virginia for any damage or harm your dog does to that person.

In those cases, you are presumed to have notice that those people are likely going to be coming onto your property.

You have implicitly, if not expressly in the contract for your utility companies, permitted them to come on your property.

As a homeowner, to protect yourself, you can call and give them advanced notice of your dog’s propensities, so they can stay off your property or make alternative arrangements for delivery.

If you have a real concern about your dog biting a delivery person, whether it’s the US mail carrier, UPS, Federal Express, or any other type of carrier that would deliver packages to your home.

Putting up a beware of the dog sign is a suggestion, if not an overt representation to the public, that you better be aware of my dogs because they’re prone to bite you.

Having a Beware of the Dog sign Might Backfire

Quite frankly, putting up beware of the dog signs might backfire on you. If it’s a trespasser, not only are they trespassing on your property, but in addition to that, they see your beware of dog sign; they have no claim against you if your dog bites them.

But others you know or should know will be coming to your property are now notified that you have a dog.

And so, ultimately, it’s going to come down to whether that sign is sufficient notice to absolve you of any liability.

But, the reality is it’s likely going to come down to where you knew they were coming on your property to make a delivery, to read your meter, whether or not you have a beware of dog sign, you’re likely still going to be liable.

Walking a Dog in Public on a Leash

What happens if you have your dog off your property because you’re taking it for a walk or taking it to a dog park and it’s on a leash, and another kid or another adult comes up maybe wanting to pet it, and your dog bites or nips at that other person.

You’re going to be responsible because even though you had your dog on a leash and someone else approached your dog to cause your dog to react and bite this person and do harm.

You still, number one, didn’t have your dogs secured enough, and number two, when you took your dog out to this public place, you knew or should have known that it was foreseeable that other people would be there.

Other people might be close to you and your dog, and therefore your dog might be subject to biting them if they get too close.

Author Bio

Tim Miley is the Founder of Miley Legal, a West Virginia personal injury law firm he formed in 2006. With more than 30 years of experience in personal injury law, he is dedicated to representing clients in a wide range of personal injury cases, including car accidents, trucking accidents, motorcycle accidents, brain injuries, wrongful death, and other personal injury matters.

Tim received his Juris Doctor from Duquesne University and is a member of the West Virginia State Bar and the Harrison County Bar Association. He has helped his clients win more than $10 million in personal injury verdicts and settlements and has further served the people of West Virginia by filling legislative roles in the state’s government since 2004.

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