Missouri Dog Bite Attorneys are dealing with an increasing number of cases, as irresponsible dog owners fail to properly socialize and train their dogs.
Missouri dog bite law follows the theory of strict liability, meaning the victim need only prove they were actually physically bitten by the dog causing injury and in a public place or was not trespassing on private property. The actions of the dog’s owner are inconsequential to the case.
Anyone legally on a property, including delivery personnel, city inspectors, repairmen, and other guests, whether the owner of the property was home or not, can be the victim of dog bites.
Military and police (K9 or canine) dogs are exempt from dog bite litigation, if they were serving their intending purpose and acting under the command of their carer.
Dog owners who fail to control their dogs in public or social environments, and the dog causes injury via other means without biting the victim, can be sued under Missouri negligence laws.
Under Missouri dog bite law, owners of dogs with a history of biting must take steps to prevent additional incidents. If not, the owner can be held liable in both civil and criminal court.
Many insurance companies provide dog bite coverage as part of their homeowner’s insurance policies. Victims of dog bites should consult with experiences dog bite lawyers to guarantee their rights and compensation are being fairly represented before signing any settlement.
Dog bites in Missouri are an, unfortunately, common aspect of life. Irresponsible dog owners may improperly socialize dogs, may fail to adequately train dogs to be around other humans, or may simply be unable to handle or be aware of their dog’s propensity to bite. Many dogs that might otherwise be calm can become aggressive when exposed to unfamiliar situations, or when interacting with other dogs.
Dog bites can lead to serious physical and emotional damages, even including, in the case of children or the elderly, death. Understanding your legal rights with regards to dog bites and their related injuries in Missouri is an important first step towards obtaining a just and adequate compensation for your injuries.
Proving Your Case
Because of the dangerous nature of dog bites, Missouri law imposes a theory known as “strict liability” towards dog bites. This is a statutory imposition and means that the victim of a dog bite need not show that the owner of the dog did anything wrong in particular. In order to prevail, a victim need only show that he or she was injured as a result of a dog bite, that the injured person was on public property or was lawfully on private property (that is, that the injured person was not trespassing), and that the injured person did not provoke the dog to bite.
This statutory regime is therefore an incredibly powerful tool for victims of dog bites to recover for their injuries, and is unlike many other causes of actions, which, generally, require a victim to prove that the perpetrator did something wrong (for example, was legally negligent). Under this theory of strict liability, a dog owner can still be held liable even if they did everything in their ability to prevent the bite. For example, the dog owner could have posted signs throughout the property, could have restrained or caged the dog, and could have verbally warned about the dog’s behavior yet, if the dog still, did, actually bite, the owner is still liable for all physical and emotional injuries that flow from the incident. This statutory regime also applies even if the dog had never displayed any aggressive behavior whatsoever before. For example, if the dog was always known to be quiet and calm, but chose to bite a social guest, the owner will still be liable under a theory of strict liability flowing from the bite.
What if someone was tresspassing?
The statute is also quite broad in the range of potential victims that it covers. For example, anyone who is lawfully on private property can take advantage of the liability imposed. This includes not only social guests of the dog owner, but also people such as delivery personnel, city inspectors, repairmen, people working for the utility company, and more—even if the homeowner was not home at the time of the incident, or was not otherwise aware that the individuals would be present on the property at the time they were. So long as these individuals were not illegally trespassing on the property, they will likely be entitled to sue under this theory of strict liability. Moreover, Missouri law imposes a statutory fine of up to $1,000, in addition to any other remedies (such as those obtainable via a lawsuit).
Police Dog Bites
One important caveat to this statute is the case of military of police dogs serving their intended purpose. For example, if you have been bitten by a police dog during the course of an arrest, or as a result of provoking the dog causing the dog to defend itself, you will be unable to sue under the Missouri dog bite statute (depending on the context of the bite, it is possible that other legal remedies may be available, but not, specifically, the strict liability scheme discussed here). If, however, you were bitten be a police dog after being invited over to the home of a policeman, you will still likely be able to recover under the strict liability theory.
Negligent Dog Owners
Dog bites that don’t actually injure someone physically—for example, if a dog bites a bicycle wheel, or chases a bicyclist leading to an accident—are not evaluated under this strict liability standard. The same is true for incidents with dogs in which a bite is not involved (for example, if the dog scratches someone causing injury, or jumps on someone causing them to fall on the ground, but does not actually bite). This does not mean, however, that the injured party is entirely without compensation. On the contrary, these incidents are evaluated under a negligence standard, as with other premises liability cases, requiring a more difficult legal process, but still likely resulting in recovery.
Under a negligence theory, the victim must prove four interrelated elements: that the dog owner had a duty of care, that the owner violated this duty of care, that the violation of the duty of care was a cause of the injuries, and that the injuries sustained were physical (or at least that there was a physical component to the injuries). If a victim proves each of these elements, the dog owner will be considered legally negligent, and will be obligated to compensate for all injuries flowing from the incident.
As to duty, Missouri law imposes a duty on all dog owners to prevent their dogs from harming another person. This duty is subject to a “reasonable care” standard, which means that a dog owner must act with the care that a reasonable dog owner would apply in a similar situation. For example, it is probably reasonable for a dog owner to keep their dog on a leash when walking outdoors, even if this is not a statutory requirement (although this, in fact, is a statutory requirement in many municipalities in Missouri). If a dog owner fails to do this, and the dog injures another either via scratching or a bite that does not physically come into contact with the victim, the victim may have a strong case for negligence. In contrast, it probably is not reasonable for a dog owner to prevent his or her dog from attacking someone who is attempting to mug the owner on the street. For example, if a dog attacks a mugger, injuring the mugger with its claws, the mugger cannot claim that the owner was negligent by failing to take care of the dog.
The second element of a negligence action under Missouri law for dog bite cases is a showing that the perpetrator breached his or her duty. A breach of a duty would mean, for example, that the owner had a duty to keep his or her dog leashed while outside but failed to do so, or had a duty to warn others that the dog had a history of violence, but failed to do so.
The third element is a showing of causation: that the breach of the duty actually caused the injuries alleged. For example, the victim must show that, because the dog owner failed to leash his or her dog, the dog bit the victim’s bicycle tire, causing the victim to cash their bicycle and fracture their arm. If, in contrast, the victim’s bicycle tire was already deflated, or the victim subsequently ran over a pothole flinging the victim from his or her bicycle which would have occurred regardless of the presence of a dog, a court would likely find that there is insufficient causation, even if the victim was actually being chased by a dog (or the dog had actually bitten the victim’s bicycle tire).
The final element to prove a negligence action is that actual, physical injuries occurred. Although many other injuries might flow from a dog bite (such as emotional damage from being chased by a large dog), at least some portion of the injuries sustained must be physical in nature. This can include, for example, physical damage to yourself or physical damage to property, like a bicycle.
Dog Bite Repeat Offenders
Missouri has additional laws for dealing with so-called “dangerous” dogs. These are dogs that have previously bitten a person or domestic animal (without provocation) and the dog bites any person on a subsequent occasion. Keeping a dangerous dog is a misdemeanor under Missouri law, unless previous attacks have resulted in serious injuries to any person, or the death of any person. In such cases, keeping a dangerous dog can be classified as a felony.
In extreme cases, the dog owner could, him or herself, be held criminally liable for the actions of the dog, whether the dog is defined as “dangerous” or not under Missouri law. For example, if the dog owner actually knew that the dog was prone to bad behavior and failed to keep the dog under control (for example, if the dog had a previously aggressive incident), and the dog actually harmed someone, the dog owner could be held criminally liable for the acts, as though the owner him or herself had committed the acts.
Dog Bite Insurance
Quite frequently, dog bite cases are dealt with via insurance companies. Most homeowners, commercial, and residential tenants hold home or renter’s insurance with specific language regarding dog bites. In fact, according to some sources, nearly a third of all homeowner insurance liability claims paid out in any given year are as a result of dog-related related injuries paid to guests who have been injured by the owner or tenant’s animals.
Insurance companies, as in the case of car accidents in Missouri, are notoriously stingy and complex in their means of compensation. If you have bene injured as a result of a dog bite in someone else’s home, you will likely be forced to deal with that homeowner’s home insurance company, which will evaluate your claim and offer you a settlement in exchange for your promise not to sue the homeowner. The settlement will be based on the insurance company’s assessment of the value of your claim: for example, your hospital bills (if any), lost wages (if any), emotional damage, and so on. It is extremely important to realize that the insurance company’s offer is merely an offer: a proposal for you to consider. If you, your doctor, and your attorney, believe that this offer does not adequately compensate you for your physical and emotional damages, you are entitled to simply reject or ignore this settlement offer, and pursue litigation directly against the homeowner. Insurance companies are incentivized to make money, meaning that they will explore ever legal opportunity to deny you the maximum compensation you may be entitled to for your claim.
Despite insurance companies being aware of Missouri law regarding strict liability for dog bites, it is not uncommon for insurance companies to attempt to offer lower settlements under the rationale that the dog was not known to be dangerous, or had not otherwise bitten anyone in the past. It is therefore extremely important to realize that Missouri’s strict liability law for dog bites does not impose different damages for dogs that have or have not been aggressive in the past. This means that your claim for injuries retains the same value regardless of whether the dog had attack someone in the past.
The complexities of dog bite or dog injury litigation in Missouri mandate that an experienced Missouri attorney guide you through the complexities of fighting for your rights. Dog bites can leave both physical and literal scars, and obtaining financial compensation, fighting against insurance companies, and obtaining justice for your injuries is of the upmost importance.
Thompson Law Office represents victims of dog bite injuries. If you or someone you know has been injured by a dog, please contact our office for a free consultation to discuss your options and see if you have a case. Get the compensation you deserve to cover your associated medical expenses and pain and suffering.