What to Do If Your Dog Bites Someone
What happens when your beloved Fido bites someone? Are you liable? Will your pet have to be put down?
Dog bites happen every day—even dogs whose owners think they could never hurt a fly. If your dog bites someone, it’s important to know what can happen next.
Let’s talk about dog bites, including what you should do, whether you’re liable, and more.
Are You Liable for Fido’s Actions?
Ohio is a “strict liability” state when it comes to dog bites. That means the dog’s owner, harborer, or keeper is liable for injuries or damages caused by the dog.
The dog’s “owner” is the person who owns the dog, of course. The “harborer” is the person who controls the place where the dog lives. Often, the owner and the harborer are the same person; however, if you live with your sibling in the same house, for example, your sibling would also be a harborer of the dog. Finally, the “keeper” of the dog is a person who has control of the dog, even if the control is temporary. That would be someone like a dog walker or pet sitter.
There are a few exceptions to the liability rule. You wouldn’t be liable if:
- The dog bite victim was trespassing or attempting to trespass on your property. (For example: a burglar breaks into your house and your dog bites him.)
- The dog bite victim was committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense, other than a minor misdemeanor. (For example: your dog bites a person who physically attacks you.)
- Your dog was being teased, tormented, or abused, which provoked the dog to bite. (For example: the dog bite victim was hitting your dog immediately prior to the bite.)
Being strictly liable for your dog means that you may be held liable whether or not you were negligent—even if your dog bites someone “out of nowhere.” Legally, it doesn’t matter if you had no idea that your dog could be aggressive and Fido had never bitten anyone before.
You may be sued and held financially liable for the damages (like the victim’s medical bills, loss of property, and lost wages from missed work) resulting from the bite. The victim has six years from the date of the incident to file a personal injury claim against you.
What to Do after Your Dog Bites Someone
When your dog bites someone, you’re very likely shocked and upset. However, don’t panic.
We recommend taking the following steps if your dog bites someone:
- Stay calm; don’t escalate the situation.
- Remove the dog from the scene. (This might mean putting them in a crate, in another room, or leashed away from the victim.)
- Aid the victim. Depending on the severity of the bite, the victim might need an ambulance. Regardless of how bad the bite is, the victim should seek medical care. Even dog bites that don’t “look bad” can become seriously quickly, since dog’s mouths have a lot of bacteria.
- Help the victim wash the bite with soapy water to reduce the chances of infection.
- Avoid assigning blame or getting defensive. Be kind and courteous. (However, this doesn’t mean you need to admit fault. Remember that what you say could be used against you later if a legal or civil action is taken.)
- Exchange contact information with the victim. Also, get the contact information of any witnesses to the incident.
- If the dog bite happened on your property, contact your homeowner’s insurance policy to report the incident and determine if your insurance will cover any damages.
- Locate and preserve your dog’s medical records, including vaccination dates.
Following a dog bite, you also have several duties under the law.
You are required to notify local health authorities of the incident. Also, you must quarantine your dog for a period of 10 days. This is required so that your dog can be observed for rabies. During this quarantine period, you aren’t allowed to move the dog from the county. If your dog does have rabies, the dog bite victim would need to be notified right away, so they can get treated for rabies as soon as possible.
What Can Happen to Your Dog After It Bites Someone
In Ohio, dogs who have menaced, injured, or killed a person (or another dog) can be designated as a nuisance, dangerous, or vicious:
- Nuisance: A dog that has approached a person in a menacing way (with an attitude to attack), without provocation. (“Menacing” here means that a reasonable person would believe the dog would physically harm them.)
- Dangerous: A dog that has killed another dog, has caused (non-fatal, non-serious) injury to a person, or has committed three nuisance violations.
- Vicious: A dog that has caused serious injury or killed a person, on or off the owner’s property.
If this is the first time your dog has bitten someone, there will be a hearing to determine if your dog is designated dangerous or vicious. If your dog is deemed dangerous or vicious, you will be required to:
- Properly confine your dog (by a leash, tether, adequate fence, supervision, or secure enclosure to prevent escape).
- Get a dangerous dog registration certificate and dog tags from the county, and display the dog tag on the collar.
- If your dog is “vicious,” maintain a $100,000 liability insurance policy on your dog.
It’s not very common for dogs to be put down after biting someone. However, depending on the circumstances (for example, if the dog bite victim was killed), it is possible. Also, a dog that has rabies, sadly, would need to be put down.
Do You Face Criminal Penalties for a Dog Bite?
In many cases, the owner (or harborer or keeper) of the dog that bit someone might face only fines or a minor misdemeanor, if anything (in addition to any civil liabilities). This is often the case when the owner wasn’t negligent, the dog had never bitten anyone before, and the bite wasn’t serious.
However, you may face steeper criminal penalties if your dog was previously designated a nuisance, dangerous, or vicious dog.
- Failing to properly confine a nuisance dog is a minor misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $150. After the first offense, new offenses are a fourth degree misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $250 and 30 days imprisonment.
- Failing to properly confine and control a dangerous dog is a fourth degree misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $250 and 30 days imprisonment. Second and later offenses are considered a third degree misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $500 and 60 days imprisonment.
- Finally, failing to properly confine and control a vicious dog is a first degree misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $1,000 and 180 days imprisonment. If the person was killed, the charge is a fourth degree felony with a maximum fine of $5,000 and 18 months imprisonment.
Call Casper & Casper Today
Worried about what can happen to you and your dog after a dog bite?
Contact Casper & Casper today to speak to a knowledgeable, experienced attorney about your situation. We’re here to answer your questions and help you through your options.