Dear Labby, Can I be sued if my dog bites someone?

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Dear Labby_old

Dear Labby,

We have a dog who can be aggressive in certain circumstances. We work hard on her training and have made great strides, but she is still very protective of her home and her yard. I worry about someone entering the yard unexpectedly and being bitten by her. We have posted several “Beware of Dog” signs and I wonder if that protects us from being sued if she hurts someone. We warned them, shouldn’t that protect us?

Don’t Sue me Sue.


Dear Sue,

This is really a tricky question and since we are not lawyers and don’t play one on TV, I hesitate to answer. I will however point you to some resources I found that might give you a bit more guidance.

The website has some very good information and the most pertinent quote I lifted from there relative to signage is as follow:

The same goes for warning signs. Someone who ignores a prominent “Beware of Dog” sign is probably not going to be able to blame the dog’s owner for any injuries. For example, a Maryland delivery man ignored a “Guard Dog on Duty” sign at a warehouse and was bitten by a German shepherd that most definitely was on duty. He sued but lost. A court concluded that he knowingly risked injury. (Benton v. Aquarium, Inc., 489 A.2d 549 (Md. App. 1985).)

From my research I learned there is no Federal ruling around dog bites, so each state has their own laws relative to liability. They seem to fall into two categories:

  1. One ‘free bite” meaning the owner cannot be held liable for the first bite as there was no expectation that the dog may harm someone and so they can’t be held liable. That’s assuming the owner wasn’t negligent and that there truly was no expectation, meaning the dog was not overtly aggressive, did not regularly snap at people, etc. After that first bite though, the owner is liable.
  2. Strict liability, where the owner is liable no matter what, the fact of ownership assigns the liability. There are a few protections in these cases, such as if your dog bites a trespasser, or if the dog was provoked.

Another good resource is the Animal Law & Historical Center which has a large section on dog bites and the law.

They make this point: Nearly all states have some laws that govern what can be termed “dangerous dog” or “vicious dog” laws.  These laws outline what constitutes a “dangerous dog” or even a “potentially dangerous dog” and under what circumstances an owner will be liable for the actions of such dogs.  Moreover, some states impose what is called “strict liability” on dog owners for any injury resulting from a dog deemed dangerous regardless of any knowledge of the dog’s tendencies.  These strict liability laws may also limit the ability of the owner to claim a defense to the action.  In other words, the law may state that the owner is liable regardless of whether the person who was bitten was trespassing on the owner’s property or whether the owner knew the dog was vicious.

It’s important to understand the regulations and laws of your state and they provide some good insights here: laws by state.

The bottom line is that if you have a potentially dangerous dog, you need to be an educated and proactive owner and you should take every precaution that you can to protect the people your dog comes into contact with. An not just to protect yourself from a lawsuit, but to protect that innocent person or child who may be injured.

Dog Bite Statistics

Good luck and keep us posted.



A little of “that” for This ‘N That Thursday. In case you didn’t see it, I created a list of all the Pet Blog Hops and Special Event Hops in an effort to keep myself organized (a New Year’s Resolution). I’ve shared it here, so feel free. If I’ve missed anything or if you are planning a new Hop, please let me know and I will try to keep this up to date.



We’re linking up to the This ‘N That Thursday Blog Hop with a little of this and a little of that, sponsored by 2 Brown Dawgs and Ruckus the Eskie!



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  1. This is a very interesting post :), you are welcome to join us on twitter SlimDoggy
    YourSpecialDog recently posted…Shetland sheepdog sheltieMy Profile

  2. That list of the hops is a good one. There are so many it is hard to keep track and you had some on the list we hadn’t heard about.
    emma recently posted…Stuff to Howl About | GBGV | This n That ThursdayMy Profile

  3. Thanks so much for joining TNT.

    The law of dog bites varies state by state as you say, but unfortunately any one can sue anybody. The problem usually is that your insurance company will usually drop you after a dog bite claim unless you get rid of the dog. Sad but true in many cases. It doesn’t even matter if you eventually win the case. That is the big problem as I see it. I believe there are riders you can buy for your policy in some states, but off the top of my head, I don’t know any really good ones.

  4. Great advice to send these people to They have the best, plain-English legal information out there.

    If this person is a homeowner, they should also be worried about losing their homeowner’s insurance. And losing homeowner’s insurance puts someone in default of their mortgage. If you don’t mind, here’s a link to a piece I wrote about the issues involved:

    I hope this family is getting help from a professional behaviorist or trainer skilled in humane, positive training. Perhaps there are some ways to tone down their dog’s protectiveness that makes everyone feel a little bit better.
    Pamela recently posted…Make Dog Chores More FunMy Profile

  5. Interesting!
    Luckily Canada is far less litigious than the US and even if your dog bit someone, it would be rare for a civil suit to come of it – most people would just defer to the local dangerous dog laws, I believe.
    Though, I remember reading somewhere that if you have a Beware of Dog sign (one not mandated by some dangerous dog bylaw), that the sign itself is your own acknowledgement of risk in your dog and assumption of liability (provided something didn’t happen as a result of intruding or the other party’s wilful misconduct/negligence). But then again, I think that varies by jurisdiction – I can also see how it would make the dog owner far less liable since there’s been warning (like a Caution: Hot on a coffee cup, or Don’t Stop With Hand on a chainsaw). I could mull about this sort of thing for hours (I work in legal).

    In any case, if your dog is property under the law and causes damage to someone else or their property, you’ve probably got some responsibility regardless.

    That’s the position I take – so with giant dogs I make sure I control all dog/people interactions and keep them safe and close – for their safety and everyone elses, too.
    Jen K recently posted…Bringing Toys to the Dog Park – A Good or Bad Idea?My Profile

  6. Interesting post! Love the Q and A!
    Happy TNT!!!
    ((Husky hugz))
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…A little of this….My Profile

  7. Oh wow. I hope I never need to pop back and read this again, but it’s good to know. Thanks.
    Flea recently posted…Brain Dump – Who Has a Spare Couch? And a ReviewMy Profile

  8. This is a great topic. I always wonder that would you protect yourself if your dog acts up. Even if you are very proactive, sometimes accidents and incidents happen. 🙁 Thanks for sharing this on This ‘N That Thursday blog hop!
    Ruckus the Eskie recently posted…Bugsy’s Box Review and Giveaway! (ends 1/28) @BugsysBoxMy Profile

  9. Great post and I love “Dear Labby.” I bookmarked your list of hops, thanks for sharing.
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…This ‘N That Thursday ConfessionalMy Profile

  10. Good post! And all the feedback is great information. I’m also glad for the list of hops! I do some with my other blog too and am finding I need to pick and choose each week. I want to make sure whenever I do a hop, I actually hop! lol
    Two Cats and a Cattledog recently posted…Buffy’s Haiku Thursday: Autumn LeavesMy Profile

  11. I thought this was a very interesting topic. I’m not really sure what the laws are in my area, but it’s something I should be familiar with since I do work with a lot of dogs. I was bitten in the leg by a dog last February, enough to warrant a visit to the hospital, but I chose not to report the dog’s owners to law enforcement. I’m not sure what would’ve happened if I had, but I had no plans to sue them.
    Lindsay recently posted…Dog Shaming (10 photos)My Profile

  12. Great post today with great information. Dog bites are a sticky situation that I hope no one has to go though.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…This ‘N That ThursdayMy Profile

  13. This post is really interesting for me because we do have a dog that I think has that potential. If she felt that someone were threatening her pack or property, game on. She would do what she felt she had to. I’ve heard that posting “beware of dog” signs is actually not good because it implies that you know the dog’s potential. Our particular dog is in a crate any time that we can’t be there to supervise her for her protection as much as ours.

    We has an experience this summer where someone began approaching our house to try to sell us DirecTV while my husband was out on the porch with this dog, relaxing and looking at his computer. This man started up the sidewalk and she started barking. My husband told him that no, we weren’t interested three times before he got to the bottom of the steps. By then, the dog was like the Tasmanian Devil. My husband said “Do you want to get bit? Because if your foot comes onto that step, that’s what’s going to happen and I’m going to let her go!” Finally, the idiot left, but it made me doubt the sanity and wisdom of a lot of people.
    houndstooth recently posted…Not Gonna Do It!My Profile

    • Some people are certainly oblivious. I would check the laws of your state and see if having the sign is better – or worse – or even your insurance company might give you some advice.
      mkob recently posted…Pet Blogger Challenge 2014My Profile

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