Alabama has a statute that makes dog owners liable for damages when their dog bites or injures a person, so long as the injured person is lawfully on the dog owner's property at the time of the injury. The statute also applies to cases where the injured person was lawfully on the dog owner's property, but, because the dog chased the person, the injury actually occurred off the owner's property. A person is lawfully on the owner's property when he or she is invited there. For example, those people who the owner invites on the property, such as a friend or a repair person, are "lawfully" on the owner's property. On the other hand, trespassers are not lawful guests of the owner. The only exception to this rule is in cases where the injured person provoked the dog and that provocation caused the dog to attack. Finally, the statute permits a dog owner to defend the case by proving that he or she had no knowledge that the dog was vicious, dangerous, or mischievous. If the owner proves lack of knowledge, damages are limited to actual expenses incurred by the injured person. Actual expenses do not include pain and suffering.
When a dog bite occurs off the owner's property, the injured person's right to recover damages is governed by negligence principles under the common law. In that case, the injured person must prove that the owner knew, or had reason to know, that the dog had a dangerous propensity. If the owner can prove that he had no knowledge of this, the owner will still be liable to pay for the actual expenses incurred by the injured person. Actual expenses do not include pain and suffering damages.
When the owner of a vicious or dangerous dog carelessly manages the animal or allows it to run free, and another person, without fault on his part, is bitten or injured, the owner or the dog's keeper at the time of the injury will be liable for damages. Under Alabama law, all dog owners are bound to take notice of the general propensities of the breed of the dog that they own, even if their dog has never displayed vicious behavior. For example, a pit bull is a breed that is unpredictable and can be vicious and dangerous. If a pit bull owner fails to exercise reasonable care to guard against and prevent injuries that should reasonably be anticipated by the breed, the dog owner will be liable for injuries caused by the dog.
Alabama has a rabid dog statute. Under this statute, if a dog owner knows the dog has rabies, and the dog bites a person, the owner is liable to twice the damages suffered by the injured person.
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