Dog Bite Laws in the United States
If you've been attacked and injured by a dangerous dog, it's in your best interest to contact a lawyer as soon as possible. When you get a lawyer quickly, more evidence may be gathered to prove your case and the dangerous dog can be stopped before it has the chance to hurt anyone else.
Learn about the dog bite laws in your state regarding injury claims. Find your state on the map and click on it, or use the links below:
Every state has different laws regarding a dog owner's liability for dog bites. Some states follow their common law. Other states have enacted statutory law in the form of Dog Bite Statutes. Most often, a Dog Bite Statute abolishes the common law, because, unlike the common law, these statutes don't require a dog bite victim to prove that a dog owner was at fault for an injury. In some states, however, people who have been injured by a dog are able to recover money damages under both the common law and their state's Dog Bite Statute. The following guide outlines state dog bite laws.
Important Dog Attack & Dog Bite Information:
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Note: Our attorneys are licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia. This information is not intended to solicit clients for matters outside of the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia, although if you are injured in an accident, we have relationships with other personal injury attorneys and lawyers throughout the United States.
Ohio Dog Law
The owner or keeper of a dog is strictly liable in damages for any injury, death, or personal loss caused by the dog, unless, at the time of the injury, the victim was committing or attempting to commit a trespass or other criminal offense on the property of the owner or keeper, or unless the injured person was committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense against any person, or was teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog on the owner's or keeper's property.
Dangerous Dog Statute
Meaning of a “Dangerous Dog”
A dangerous dog is a dog that, without provocation, has done any of the following:
- caused injury, other than killing or serious injury, to any person
- killed another dog
- a dog whose owner has previously been cited for failing to sufficiently restrain the dog from escape or failed to keep the dog under control
Meaning of a “Vicious Dog”
A “vicious dog” is a dog that, without provocation, has killed or caused serious injury to any person.
The owner of a dog who bites a person without being provoked may be subject to criminal prosecution.
Ordinances or resolutions to control dogs include the restraint of dogs, except that such ordinances or resolutions shall not prohibit the use of any dog which is lawfully engaged in hunting or training for the purpose of hunting while accompanied by a licensed hunter.
Pennsylvania Dog Law
Confinement of Dogs Statute
Pennsylvania's Dog Law requires owners and keepers to have reasonable control over their dogs at all times. The law also requires owners to confine their dogs on their premises, and restrain their dogs with a collar, chain, or other device to prevent straying. Dog bite victims who prove that a dog owner violated Pennsylvania's confinement statute, may recover under a theory of negligence per se.
Common Law Liability
Pennsylvania law states that an owner is liable for all damages when a person is severely attacked, or if the person is attacked and the dog previously has been considered dangerous. Victims can recover full compensation if the dog owner was negligent or fails to comply with the state dog laws. If the dog hasn't bitten before, two things can happen. If the victim's injuries are severe (physical injury that results in broken bones, disfiguring lacerations, or injury that requires cosmetic surgery), he or she can make a claim against the dog owner for medical expenses, as well as other losses and legal damages. A victim not severely injured can make a dog claim for medical expenses.
Dangerous Dog Statute
The Meaning of a "Dangerous Dog"
A "dangerous dog" is:
(1) a dog that has done one or more of the following:
- a dog that has inflicted severe injury on a person without provocation. "Severe injury" is any physical injury that results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery.
- a dog that has killed or inflicted severe injury on a domestic animal, without provocation, while off the owner's property.
- a dog that has attacked a person without provocation;
- a dog that has been used in the commission of a crime.
(2) a dog that has either or both of the following:
- a history of attacking people and/or domestic animals without provocation;
- a propensity to attack people and/or domestic animals without provocation. A propensity to attack can be proven by a single incident of the conduct described in (1), above.
Legal Responsibilities of Owners With Dangerous Dog Owners
- Dog owners must register their dogs as dangerous.
- Dangerous dog owners must maintain liability insurance coverage of at least $50,000 insuring the owner for any personal injuries inflicted by the dangerous dog.
- A dangerous dog owner must maintain a proper enclosure to confine the dog. The owner must also post the premises with a clearly visible warning sign that there is a dangerous dog on the property, and conspicuously display a sign with a warning symbol that informs children of the presence of a dangerous dog.
- When the dangerous dog is outside of its owner's house or outside of its enclosure, the dog must be muzzled and restrained by a substantial chain or leash and under the physical restraint of a responsible person.
- Dangerous dog owners must notify the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, the State Dog Warden, and the local police department if the dangerous dog is on the loose, is unconfined, has attacked another animal, has attacked a person, has died, or has been sold or given away. If the dangerous dog was sold or given away, the owner must provide the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement and the State Dog Warden with the name, address, and telephone number of the new owner.
Liability of Owners with Dangerous Dogs
- If a dangerous dog, through the intentional, reckless, or negligent conduct of its owner, attacks a person or domestic animal, the owner is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, and faces up to two years in prison.
- If a dangerous dog, through the intentional, reckless, or negligent conduct of its owner, aggressively attacks and causes severe injury or death of a person, the owner is guilty of a misdemeanor in the first degree, and faces up to five years in prison.
- If a dangerous dog is owned by a minor, the minor's parent or guardian will be liable for injuries and property damage caused by an unprovoked attack.
Virginia Dog Law
Virginia does not have a Dog Bite Statute.
Common Law Liability
An injured person can recover damages for injuries caused by a dog against its owner if the plaintiff proves the owner’s negligence caused the injury.
Dangerous Dog Statute
In Virginia, the governing body of any county, city, or town is free to enact a local dangerous and vicious dog ordinances. If a county chooses to enact such laws, the state requires, at a minimum, the following:
The Meaning of a “Dangerous Dog”
A "dangerous dog" is a dog that has bitten, attacked, or inflicted injury on a person or a companion animal (other than a dog) or one that has killed a companion animal. When a dog bites or attacks another dog or cat, the attacking dog will not be deemed dangerous if no serious physical injury, as determined by a veterinarian, has occurred; if both dogs are owned by the same person, if such attack occurs on the property of the attacking or biting dog's owner or custodian; or for other good cause as determined by the court; or if the attack occurred while the dogs were hunting or participating in an organized lawful dog handling event.
The Meaning of a “Vicious Dog”
A "vicious dog" means a dog that has killed a person, has inflicted serious injury on a person, including multiple bites, serious disfigurement, serious impairment of health, or serious impairment of a bodily function; or has continued to exhibit the behavior which resulted in a previous finding by a court that it is a dangerous dog.
Legal Responsibilities of Dangerous Dog Owners
- Owners must obtain a dangerous dog registration certificate from the local animal control officer for a fee ranging from $50 to $150.
- A dangerous dog must wear a “dangerous dog” identification tag. In addition, the dog must be identified by means of electronic implantation.
- Owners must post their property with clearly-visible signs warning both minors and adults of the presence of a dangerous dog.
- While on its owner’s property, the dog must be confined indoors or confined outdoors in a securely enclosed and locked structure to prevent its escape and direct contact with or entry by minors, adults, or other animals. When off its owner’s property, the dangerous dog must be kept on a leash and muzzled to prevent it from biting a person or another animal.
- Dangerous dog owners must maintain liability insurance coverage of at least $100,000 that covers animal bites.
Dog Owner's Liability
- Owners who violate a Dangerous Dog Ordinance will be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
- Owners of a dangerous dog who bites or attacks a human being causing injury will be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
- If the owner of a dangerous dog is a minor, the child’s parent or legal guardian is responsible for complying with all laws.
West Virginia Dog Law
Any owner or keeper of a dog who permits it to run at large is liable for any damages it inflicts. If the dog is running at large at the time of the injury, the owner’s negligence need not be proven.
Common Law Liability
When a dog injures a person when it is not running at large, the owner is subject to liability for damages if the injured person proves the owner’s negligence caused the injury. Negligence will not attach unless injured party can demonstrate, with particular emphasis on animal's past behavior and characteristics, that the injury could reasonably and foreseeably have been anticipated by the owner or keeper of the domestic animal. In cases where the plaintiff can show that the owner had knowledge that the dog had a dangerous or vicious propensity, the owner will be strictly liable.
Vicious Dog Statute
A person is not permitted to keep a dog if he or she knows it is vicious, dangerous, or in the habit of biting or attacking other people, regardless of whether the dog wears a tag or muzzle. Once a dog is proven to be vicious, dangerous, or in the habit of biting or attacking people, a judge may authorize it to be destroyed.
Dogs Generally Considered to be Vicious
Any person who keeps a dog that is generally considered to be vicious, for the purpose of protection, must acquire a special license from the county assessor.
Legal Responsibilities of Dog Owners
The owner must secure the dog in a way that prevents it from injuring people who lawfully enter the owner’s property.
Liability of Dog Owners
The owner of a dog generally considered to be vicious is strictly liable for any injuries it causes. This vicious dog law, however, does not abolish defenses to personal injury actions.