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A Walk in the Park: What Do I Do If My Dog Bites Someone?

Updated: May 16, 2020

With the way COVID-19 has been affecting people’s ability to get outdoors, many people have been feeling cooped up and have been trying to get outdoors. I don’t blame them. Without fresh air to breathe, clear sunlight, I don’t think we can remain sane for very long. And let’s be honest, we need a sane population. Especially now. So when the sun was shining yesterday, I decided a walk with my dogs Winston and Lola would be a great opportunity to stretch our collective legs and get some fresh air.

Clearly, I was not alone in my thoughts, as it looked like everyone in town also decided to take their dogs out for a stroll. The sheer number of humans and canines was just insane. The people were doing their best to keep a respectable social distance, but unfortunately, the same could not be said for the dogs. Since coming to town, I have been trying to find ways to keep the community informed on pertinent issues, and so it made sense after yesterday’s excursion to provide some basic information on a concern most dog owner’s have: What if my dog bites someone?

While everyone would like to speculate that their dog is best of the best when it comes to its training, yesterday provided me proof positive that some may have little more learning to do. Dogs, as they say, are the best friend of all humankind. However, sometimes they are ill-tempered or poorly trained and can pose a serious danger to humans or other animals. Every year, the CDC estimates that there are more than 4.5 million Americans attacked by dogs, and about 800,000 of those attacks result in the need for medical care. Victims may face medical bills, time off work, pain and emotional distress, but the dog owners may be liable for those costs. So, what exactly is the dog bite law in Ohio?

Ohio has strict statutory liability for dog bites. In other words, Ohio law explicitly makes dog

owners liable for every bite, including the first one. No freebies here.

Dangerous Dogs

In Ohio, a dog that has bitten or otherwise attacked or harmed another person must be registered as a “dangerous dog.” Ohio Rev. Code § 955.22. Dangerous dogs are subject to severe restrictions. They must always be on a leash shorter than 6 feet (except while hunting) and they must be kept in a locked cage or locked yard. Dangerous dogs must be registered with the county auditor and must always wear a tag designating them as dangerous. If you sell a dangerous dog, you must notify the purchaser of the dog’s status and inform the county auditor within 10 days of the sale. Ohio Rev. Code § 955.

If you’re convicted of failing to control your dangerous dog three (3) times, you will be required to get liability insurance to cover the chance that the dog will hurt someone. Ohio Rev. Code § 955(e)(1). It’s also illegal to debark or surgically silence a dangerous dog in Ohio and convicted felons may not own dangerous dogs.

Dog Bite Quarantine

If your dog bites anyone in Ohio, you’ll need to quarantine it for at least 10 days before removing it from the county. Ohio Rev. Code § 955.261(A). That’s to allow you to observe the dog to determine if it has rabies. If so, the bite victim will need to be treated for rabies as soon as possible.

Dog Bite Penalties

If your dog bites a person or if you fail to adequately register and restrain your dog, you may be charged with a misdemeanor. However, if you fail to follow all the regulations pertaining to dangerous dogs and your dangerous dog kills someone, you’re likely to be charged with a fourth-degree felony and the court will order that your dog be put down. If you haven’t followed all the regulations and your dog seriously injures someone, the State can charge you with a first-degree misdemeanor and the court may choose to have your dog put down. Finally, you may have to pay fines to the county in addition to whatever damages you’re required to pay to the injured person. Ohio Rev. Code § 955.99.

Reporting a Dog Bite in Ohio

Anyone who has knowledge of a dog bite, whether it is the person bitten or the owner of the dog, needs to file a bite incident report to the health commissioner in the local health jurisdiction where the bite occurred within 24 hours. Ohio Administrative Code 3701-3-28. A rabies exposure risk assessment will be completed, and the dog will be quarantined.

Who is Liable for a Dog’s Behavior?

Three different parties may be responsible for the behavior of the dog. The first, obviously, is the owner. However, a harborer or keeper of the dog may also be liable. A harborer is a person who controls the dog’s home. The most common example is that of a dog owned by a person who lives with her parents; the parents are harborers of the dog. In general, landlords are not considered harborers and are not responsible for the behavior of tenants’ dogs. However, landlords may be held responsible if the bite or attack happens in a common area.

A keeper is a person with temporary control over the dog. That may be a hired dog-walker or just a friend holding the dog’s leash. If the dog breaks free of the control of the keeper and hurts someone, the keeper may be legally responsible for the injuries that occur.

Dog Bite Compensation

If you’re bitten by a dog in Ohio, you’re generally entitled to compensation from the owner. Ohio Rev. Code § 955.28(B). That compensation should cover any medical expenses you incur as a result of the dog bite as well as any property damage. If the bite was so severe that you were forced to miss work, you may be entitled to compensation for your lost wages. You may also be entitled to compensation for “non-economic” losses, such as scarring, pain and suffering, and psychological damage.

Pursuing a Dog Bite Claim

If you’re injured by a dog in Ohio, you may be able to claim compensation directly from the dog owner’s insurance. Homeowner’s insurance is typically the type that covers dog bites. If the dog owner doesn’t have insurance or if you can’t get your compensation through their insurance, you’ll likely need to file a suit in court. An attorney can help you decide whether to pursue your claim under the common law, the Ohio dog bite statute, or both and can help you put together the best possible case to get the most possible compensation.

An experienced attorney can also help you decide who you should file suit against: the owner, a harborer, or a keeper? The success of your suit may depend on correctly assigning the legal blame for your injuries.

If you want more information on dog bites, dog laws in Ohio, or any other legal matter, please feel free to shoot me an email, and I’ll try to help you in any manner that I can. Visit your local Coshocton Attorney Facebook for further updates and to find a criminal defense attorney near me.

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