They dote on them, look after their well being, and acknowledge them as an important part of their life. Moreover, they care for them just as a parent would watch over a child. Whether it is their food, shelter, or visits to the vet, everything is taken care of by responsible pet owners.
This makes pets the personal property of their owners, which means that the owners can be held liable for any harm they cause to other people and/or their property.
Several jurisdictions have established a statute of limitations that spell out the liability of pet owners, especially of dog owners. But, you can be held responsible for any injury that your pet causes, even if there are no such statutes in your state.
You need to be particularly careful if your pet has violent or ferocious tendencies as you may have to compensate anyone injured by it. Also, you can be liable if it is found that you were negligent in handling/restraining such a pet.
A pet owner may be considered negligent under the following circumstances:
- You allow your pet to run without a leash even when there is a local leash law in your area, and he/she bites someone.
- You know your pet is ferocious and easily-provoked, but you do not take the necessary steps to protect others from him/her. You do not keep him/her restrained in any way.
- The restrains you have installed (a fence or leash) aren’t strong enough to hold your pet, and he/she breaks free and bites/injures someone.
Apart from harming an innocent third party, if your pet damages their property, you can be held responsible for his/her actions.
Mentioned ahead are a few key things that pet owners can be held responsible for.
1. Civil Liability
Pets are considered the owner’s personal property. As mentioned above, this makes them directly liable for any harm they cause to other people or property. Civil liability can be connected to the adverse consequences of a pet’s actions if it is proven that you were negligent in controlling or restraining your pet.
As per a renowned dog bite lawyer in Pennsylvania, "All Pennsylvania dog owners must control their dogs at all times. This means that a dog should either be safely confined on the dog owner’s property, secured by a leash or chain, or under the reasonable control of a person." You may want to get in touch with an experienced lawyer to know more about such a claim.
The amount of damage caused by a pet depends on the proven harm caused to the victim of the injury or the damaged property. This can include lost wages in case the victim is unable to attend work due to the pet attack.
In certain states, a victim in a pet injury case can receive compensation for his/her emotional distress. Other states allow the recovery of punitive damages against the pet owner, which can be awarded to victims harmed by pets with a track record of attacking other people. This also means that despite the record of attacks, the pets weren’t adequately controlled.
3. Special Category of Liability
This liability applies to owners of wild animals and pit bulls. Owners of wild animals such as lions, tigers or bears are liable for damages to property or injuries to other people, especially if the attack was reasonably foreseeable.
Further, several states classify pit bulls in the same category as wild animals. Pit bulls are known to be powerful animals with extraordinary jaw strength, brutal biting techniques, viciousness, and a high tolerance for pain. They are, therefore, considered high-risk animals for adults and children, alike.
Several municipalities and states such as Utah, Ohio, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and so on consider pit bulls as "inherently dangerous." If a pit bull attacks or injures another person, it places liability on its owner.
4. Criminal Liability
Being an owner of a pet that kills or mauls another person can mean a criminal liability for you. Such cases are rare, but not unheard of.
Defenses You Can Use
Here are a few defenses for injuries caused by pets:
This applies to cases wherein the victim encouraged or aggravated the pet, which led to the injuries.
b. Contributory Negligence
This applies in cases wherein the victim contributed to his/her own attack by being contributorily negligent. In such cases, you can be liable only to a certain extent of the injury for which your pet is responsible.
c. Assumption of Risk
This applies to cases wherein the victim knowingly and willingly participated in an unsafe situation. This means they had assumed the risk of injury, which is why pet owners are not considered liable for injuries to the victim.
Compensation to Victims
If your pet harms someone, you may have to compensate the victim for any medical treatment that he/she may have undergone/is undergoing to treat the injury. Certain states allow the victim to recover compensation for any emotional distress caused to them as well.
In some cases, you may even be required to compensate a person who is frightened by your dog, but not actually injured. Some states allow the recovery of punitive damages from the pet owner, especially if your pet has attacked people in the past.
If your pet injures another pet animal, most states mandate that a pet owner compensate the injured animal’s owner for its market value. While dogs and cats may not have a high market value, pets like horses and other exotic animals do.
Seeking Legal Help
If your pet has injured someone, you will do well to speak to a lawyer about it. If the injury caused is considerable, you will certainly need a good lawyer by your side. It is best to engage a skilled local attorney as he/she would be aware of the laws that apply in your state and be able to tell you exactly what you’re liable for. He/she can also help you come up with a concrete defense and win your case.
Being the owner of a pet comes with certain responsibilities that cannot be overlooked. If your pet is ferocious, it is likely that you will land in a legal soup. The above pointers can help understand the importance of controlling and restraining your pet, as well as the liabilities that apply to you in case they cause harm to people and property.