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Dog Bites Landscaper! (What should you do?)

Categories: Employment, Real Estate, Article

legal liability with dog bites

If a customer's dog bites you, a landscaper, pest control operator, utility worker or other worker that has a legitmate and legal reason to access someone's property, the first thing to do is seek medical attention! After receiving medical care, you might want to think about this: who should pay for medical care? In most cases, the dog's owner will be liable for damages, but that will depend upon a couple of factors.

Factors to Determine Liability

The owner of a dog which bites a person when the person is in or on a public place or lawfully in or on a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, is liable for damages suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of its viciousness. A.R.S. §11-1025.

Under this law a dog owner is "strictly liable" for his dog's attacks or bites, whether the dog is in its own yard or running wild in the neighborhood, so, in most cases, the dog owner will be liable for dog bites. However, "strict liability" does not mean that the dog owner is liable no matter what. The dog owner has "defenses" if you are trespassing when bitten (i.e. not "lawfully" on private land), or if you somehow "provoked" the dog into attacking you. So, if you kick a sleeping dog while you are trespassing on private land, the owner probably won't be liable for damages, but the owner cannot escape liability by arguing that you were careless about getting too close to the dog (negligent) or that you "assumed the risk" because a sign that said "Beware of Dog." Keep in mind, you may need witnesses or photographs of the scene to prove that you were not trespassing and that you did not provoke the dog.

Witnesses Can Help

What if no-one will admit to being the dog's owner? In that case, it is important to have witnesses from the neighborhood who can answer the question "Who let the dogs out?!" Another part of the state law says that the "person responsible for the dog" is liable for "injury to person" or property damaged caused "by a dog while at large." This strict liability statute may apply to anyone who has been feeding and caring for the dog.

Keep in mind, because these laws are part of the state code, you would have to file a lawsuit within one year of the dog bite. If you wait any longer than that, the court probably will not let you use the "strict liability" law.

Common Law Weighs In

There is an older law about dog bites, which is part of the "common law" established by judges instead of by the State Legislature. It is a bit more complicated, but a person can file a lawsuit within two-years from the date of the attack to recover damages, as opposed to the 1-year statute of limitations for the "strict liability" law. Under the common law, a dog owner must know that his dog is "vicious" before that owner is legally responsible for the dog's attack or bite. As a practical matter, under the common law, every dog gets "one free bite" before the owner becomes liable to the dog's victims. A person who is bitten must prove that the dog bit someone at least one time before, and that the owner knew about it, before the bite victim can force the owner to pay for medical costs or pain and suffering resulting from the bite. However, if an owner keeps a dog after the dog attacks or bites a person, the owner might have to pay extra damages, called punitive damages, to the victim of a second bite. That owner might be forced to pay several times more than medical costs and pain and suffering. Of course, it is much harder to prove that a dog has already taken "one free bite" out of a person, so it is usually better to make claims under the strict liability statute within one year of the bite.

Got Insurance?

Most homeowner's insurance policies provide some coverage for dog bite damages. Because of that, there is a good chance that, if a landscaper or some other service worker is bitten, a homeowner's policy will be required to pay for medical costs and pain and suffering. However, insurance companies are likely to argue about whether medical bills are real and reasonable. It would be a good idea to make sure that the treating doctor takes specific and substantive notes about the injury and the required treatment. Pictures of the injury also help prove damages, and so do receipts for medical treatment, medicine, and records of lost work time.

Finally, the county animal control department is very interested in knowing about dog attacks. In an effort to track and prevent a rabies outbreak in the Valley, the law requires that all dog bites be reported. If you seek medical attention upon being bitten, the provider should report the incident to the Maricopa County Rabies and Animal Control, if you do not seek medical help, you must call and report the incident yourself at (602) 506-PETS.


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