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Who is Liable for Dog Bites?

While many dogs are loyal and loveable companions, some dogs can be vicious and cause injury or even death. When a dog attacks a person, a careful evaluation of the situation should be done to determine who may potentially be liable.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that out of 4.5 million Americans who suffer from dog bites every year, only 20 percent require medical attention.  Children and postal workers seem to be the most susceptible to such attacks.

Although some dogs appear to be more vicious by nature, such as pit bulls, German shepherds and Rottweilers, there are an increased number of dog bites involving dogs less known for a violent nature. These breeds include huskies, chow chows, boxers, Dalmatians, Alaskan malamutes and Doberman pinschers.  If provoked, however, any dog can attack.

Most incidents of dog bites occur in the home, and many victims are family members, friends or neighbors. Dog bites make up about 25 percent of all homeowner’s insurance claims and represent about one billion dollars per year in insurance claim settlements. As a result, many homeowner’s insurance policies have stopped covering dog bite claims due to the potential expense.

Under New Hampshire’s “strict liability” dog bite law, dog owners are held responsible for injuries their dogs inflict in a wide range of situations.  New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated (R.S.A.), §466:19, is the statute often called the “dog bite law” which allows people who suffer personal injury and/or property damage caused by a dog to hold the dog’s owner or keeper liable. If the injured person was trespassing or committing a wrongful act at the time of the injury, the statute may not apply.

R.S.A. §466:19 can also apply to all types of injuries and property damage caused by dogs, not just to dog bites, and even indirect injuries inflicted by dogs are covered. For example, in Bohan v. Ritzo, 141 N.H. 210, 218 (1996), the New Hampshire Supreme Court held that a dog owner was liable for injuries suffered when the owner’s dog scared a bicyclist and caused the bicyclist to crash.

If a dog causes injury due to the negligence of another person other than the dog’s owner, the the strict liability statute may not apply. However, the person may be able to bring an injury claim under New Hampshire’s negligence laws under certain circumstances. For instance, if a landlord of an apartment complex is aware that a stranger’s vicious dog regularly strays onto the common area of the complex, but fails to do anything about it, and it results in an attack, the landlord may be liable under a negligence theory for failing to take proper precautions.

If you have been bitten by a dog, you may be entitled to compensation. But, many victims of dog bites often make critical mistakes that place their legal claim in jeopardy. Listed below are some of these common mistakes, and if you have any questions, or were injured and need assistance, call Kenison Law at (603) 471-3550 or contact us through our website:

  1. Believing the dog bite is not that serious and not seek medical treatment immediately. Dog bite victims cannot be certain that the dog does not have rabies, or that a dog’s mouth could contain bacteria that can cause serious infections.
  2. Failing to report the incident to animal control or the local police. Reporting the incident to the authorities, allows the incident to be well-documented.
  3. Providing a statement to an insurance adjuster that could later be used against them to try and justify a denial.
  4. Not photographing the dog bite injuries. Photos of the injuries can help show how serious the bite was and how much pain it caused, and photos of the healing process can also give a jury and/or insurance adjuster a better idea of how long it took to heal.
  5. Not getting competent legal representation. Insurance companies often pressure victims into quick settlement before the full extent of injuries and other damages are realized, which can cause the victim to settle for an amount less than what is fair and just compensation.


Dog-Bite-Related Fatalities -- United States, 1995-1996

U.S. Postal Service Releases Annual Dog Attack City Rankings

Remedies and Penalties for Injuries Done by Dogs


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