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Who’s Liable in a Dog Attack?

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When you adopt a cute little puppy, you never imagine your furry friend could bite or attack someone. If you see a friendly-looking dog at the park and try to pet it, you don’t expect it to bite you. You’ve dog-sat for your neighbor’s pooch countless times and almost love the dog like your own…until one day it bites your toddler in your neighbor’s backyard while they’re playing.

Dogs are known as “man’s best friend”, so many people are surprised when they or a loved one gets attacked by one. But dog bites happen more often than you think. In 2018, Indiana ranked number 17 out of all 50 states with the most dog bite insurance claims, with a total of 368. And that’s just the number of incidents that were recorded by insurers.

When dog bites happen, it can be confusing to know whose fault it is. Assigning negligence depends on several factors, like where the incident happens or the dog’s history of aggressive behavior. Whether you are a dog-lover or not, you should have a basic grasp on Indiana’s dog-bite laws.

Indiana’s one-bite rule

Indiana has a one-bite rule when it comes to dog attacks. The rule keeps dog-owners from being liable if their dog bites someone else if the owner can prove they had no prior knowledge of their dog exhibiting violent or aggressive behavior. In other words, if it’s the first time the owner’s dog has bitten anyone and they can prove it, they’re not liable.

The one-bite rule does not apply if the dog bites a government official who is carrying out their duties, such as a postal carrier or local police officer. In this case, the owner is liable for all damages.

Is dog bite reporting mandatory in Indiana?

All incidents involving an animal biting a person in Indiana must be reported to the local health department where the victim lives. If you see a physician for an animal bite, they are legally required to report it as well.

You can fill out an animal bite report form with the Indiana Department of Health and look up your local health department at this directory.

Do Indiana landlords have liability for dog bites?

In Indiana, a landlord may be liable for a dog attack on their property if the dog’s owner is one of their tenants. Landlord liability for dog bites is based on two factors:

  1. Whether the landlord retains some form of control over the property where the dog is kept
  2. Whether the landlord had knowledge of the dog’s predisposition to aggressive behavior at the time of the injury caused by the dog

If you’re bitten by a dog on leased property and you can’t prove liability on the part of the dog’s owner, you may be able to hold the property owner liable.

How to prove negligence if you were attacked by a dog in Indiana

If you’ve sustained injuries from a dog bite, you may sue the dog’s owner for damages, such as medical bills, lost income, or pain and suffering. To do so you must prove negligence by the dog owner — which is where the one-bite rule comes in. You must be able to show that the owner failed to use reasonable care to prevent the dog from injuring you.

A dog owner might claim they had no prior knowledge of a dog’s aggressive behavior, thereby invoking the one bite rule. But you can argue against this claim with witness testimonies showing the dog had previously bitten other people or fought with other dogs in public.

Keep in mind that if the dog owner can prove that you were trespassing or provoking the dog when the dog attack occurred, you most likely will not be able to hold them liable for your injuries.

Examples of proving negligence for dog bite attacks

There are several ways to prove negligence by a dog owner if you have been injured by a dog attack. Here are a few scenarios:

  • A dog bit you when it was off-leash in a leash-only area.
  • Your neighbor’s dog bit you on your property because your neighbor allowed the dog to get through the fence.
  • A dog bites you on the dog owner’s property because it was unleashed or not fenced in and you live in a municipality where dogs are required to be “under restraint” on their owners’ property (Plesha v. Edmonds, 717 NE 2d 981 (1999))

Proving liability in a dog attack

Many people enjoy having dogs around, but it’s important to remember that they’re still animals, and they could become aggressive. You should be especially careful interacting with dogs that aren’t yours or who don’t know you well. And if exercising caution isn’t enough to prevent a bad dog bite, then you can contact a personal injury attorney to help you recover some of the damages after the fact.

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