What Happens When You Adopt a Dangerous Dog?

ELI5: Negligence

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What happens when the dog you adopted wasn’t exactly what you thought he’d be? If you’re like most people, you probably weren’t looking to find the most aggressive dog that the shelter, or classifieds had to offer. But, if you unknowingly adopt an aggressive dog, and the dog injures yourself or another person, you may be wondering who would be liable for the injuries. Well, thankfully, Utah law makes dog bite cases pretty straightforward. However, if the injury occurred close to the time of the sale of the dog, figuring out who’s liable is going to be a bit more nuanced.


When it comes to dog bites, the owner is what’s called “strictly liable” under Utah law. Strict liability doesn’t give dog owners too much wiggle room when it comes to dog bites.  In fact, under strict liability, dog owners are almost always liable for the injuries their dog causes. Some states have a “one free bite rule” where the owner can avoid liability if the dog has never shown an aggressive disposition before. However, Utah does not have any such rule. Therefore, even if your dog has been the sweetest dog ever, for its entire life, you can still be liable for the injuries the dog causes if it bites someone. In Utah, the owner—or person keeping the dog (who may not necessarily be the owner)—is liable for any injuries the dog causes. This means that, if your dog bit someone else while in the care of another party, you could still be liable for any injuries your dog causes.


Product liability is the liability the makers of a product have. When products are unreasonably dangerous, the makers of that product can be liable for the injuries the product causes. “Makers” can refer to any party along the supply chain—it all depends on what caused the product to become unreasonably dangerous. There are three types of defects that can cause a product to become unreasonably dangerous: manufacturing defect, design defect, and marketing defect. Animals are considered to be property and also could be subject to product liability. In this case, the most likely claim would be a marketing defect. Marketing defects occur when a product does not come with adequate safety warnings or instructions. In this case, if the seller knew—or reasonably should have known—that the dog you adopted could bite someone, the seller could be liable, or at least partially liable, for any injuries the dog causes.


Mitigating factors can reduce liability. For example, reasonable precautions are mitigating factors. If you own a pool, you can take precautions such as using a pool cover and putting up a fence to ensure that children do not get in the pool and drown when nobody’s around. The more precautions you take, the less likely you are to be liable for injuries that result from negligence. If you are selling a dog, you need to make sure the owners are aware of any aggressive tendencies the dog may have. If your dog has a bite history, and you do not disclose this before selling the dog, you could be liable for injuries the dog causes. 


In Utah, liability can be apportioned. This means that multiple parties can share fault. So, if your dog bites someone, and the person who sold you the dog knew the dog had the propensity to bite another person, you and the seller may both be liable depending on the circumstances. If a judge determines that you’re 60% liable, and the seller is 40% liable, you will be ordered to pay a portion of the settlement proportionate to your liability. In this case, if the settlement is $100,000, you’d pay 60% of that and the seller would pay the remaining 40%.


Determining liability would likely depend heavily on the circumstances. A seller is more likely to be liable if they knew, or reasonably should have known, the dog was a bite risk. The purchaser of the dog may be more likely to be liable if the breed has a reputation for biting, or the purchaser has had the dog for a significant amount of time. It may also depend on how many precautions the purchaser took at the time of the incident. For example, if the dog was let loose without any restraint or supervision at the time of the attack, the purchaser is more likely to be liable.


You can prevent dog attacks by taking reasonable precautions with your dogs. No matter what your dog’s history is, do not let them roam around off leash. Dogs who are considered a bite risk should wear muzzles and have collars or leashes that say, “DO NOT PET.” For the most part, aggression in dogs is motivated by fear, and biting is a last resort. Be on the lookout for signs that your dog is scared. If a person is scaring your dog, allow the dog to get away from the person that’s scaring them. Do not force your dog to interact with someone they’re afraid of. Let the dog warm up to them on their own terms. When it comes to fear-based aggression, most dogs only bite in situations where they feel threatened and there’s no escape. And there are usually warning signs leading up to the bite. A dog may snarl, snap, bear its teeth, and growl before actually biting. If you see your dog doing any of these behaviors, the dog needs to be removed from the frightening stimulus immediately. If you have a rare dog that is naturally aggressive toward other people or dogs, you need to be especially careful.


If you have been injured, and you need help getting the compensation you deserve, contact Moxie Law Group today. At Moxie Law Group, our mission is to help everyone get the legal advice they need during uncertain times. That’s why we give all our clients a free consultation. This way, we can help them decide whether or not filing a claim could help them with their injury related expenses. If you’ve been injured contact Moxie Law Group today.

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