Rhode Island Dog Law

Liability Statute

Rhode Island is a strict liability state - for any persons attacked when the dog is not on the owner's property in an enclosed area. If a victim is attacked by a dog that engaged in dangerous behavior previously (as dictated by the state), the victim can be compensated double for the damages. The dog bite law applies to anyone who is a "keeper" of the dog.

Common Law Liability

If a victim is attacked while the dog is on the owner's property in an enclosed area, common law liability applies. A person who was injured by a dog can recover damages from the dog’s owner if he or she proves that the dog owner’s negligence caused the injury.

Vicious Dog Statute

The Meaning of a “Vicious Dog”

A “vicious dog” is:

  • any dog that, when unprovoked, in a vicious or terrorizing manner, approaches any person in an apparent attitude of attack in any public place;
  • any dog with a known propensity, tendency, or disposition to attack unprovoked, to cause injury, or to otherwise endanger the safety of human beings or domestic animals;
  • any dog that bites, inflicts injury, assaults, or otherwise attacks a human being or domestic animal, without provocation, in any public or private place;
  • any dog owned for the purpose of dog fighting or any dog trained for dog fighting.
  • Under this statute, a dog is not vicious if the injury was sustained by a person who was committing a trespass or other tort on the owner’s property, or who was teasing, tormenting, provoking, abusing or assaulting the dog, or who was committing or attempting to commit a crime at the time of the injury. A dog may not be declared vicious if it was protecting or defending a person from an unjustified attack or assault, or if it injured another dog that was teasing, tormenting, abusing, or assaulting it.

Legal Responsibilities of Owners of Vicious Dogs

  • The owner of a vicious dog must maintain liability insurance of at least $100,000 for injuries that may be caused by the dog.
  • The owner must register the dog and have the dog’s registration identification number tattooed on its upper inner left rear thigh.
  • A vicious dog must be kept inside a fence or a structure that is at least 6 feet high and that prevents the entry of young children, as well as the escape of the dog. The enclosure must be locked and have secure sides, top, and bottom. Vicious dogs are not permitted outside the owner’s home or the dog’s enclosure, unless the dog must go to the vet, or is complying with the orders or directions of a dog officer, or is getting its vicious dog tattoo. When not confined, the dog must be securely muzzled and restrained with a chain having a minimum tensile strength of 300 pounds and not exceeding 3 feet in length. The dog must also be under the direct control and supervision of its owner or keeper.
  • The owner must display a sign on his or her property warning that there is a vicious dog on the premises. The sign must be visible and capable of being read from the public highway.
  • It is unlawful to leave a vicious dog in the care of someone under 16.
  • It is unlawful to sell or give away a vicious dog.
  • A dog must be spayed or neutered unless a licensed veterinarian states in writing that it would be life-threatening to the dog.
  • Owners must notify the police department or a dog officer within two hours if a vicious dog is loose, if it is unconfined, if it attacked another animal, if it attacked a human, or if it died.

Dog Owners Liability

  • If a vicious dog, when unprovoked, attacks, assaults, bites, or otherwise injures any human being while out of or within the dog’s enclosure or otherwise on or off the owner’s property, regardless of whether it was leashed and muzzled, the owner may be liable, without fault, for all damages sustained. Damages are recoverable in a civil action. It is not necessary for the injured person to prove that the owner or keeper knew that the dog had vicious propensities.
  • If the owner of a vicious dog is a minor, the child’s parent or guardian will be liable for all injuries caused by an unprovoked attack by the vicious dog.
  • In addition to civil liability, vicious dog owners must pay a $1,000 fine if a vicious dog, when unprovoked, injures or kills a person.

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