Phoenix Dog Bites: The Basics

It was a playful day at Roosevelt Park with your kids, but you became nervous the moment you saw a dog and owner in the nearby grass. Before you can tell your youngest not to go chasing the overgrown "puppy," she approaches the beast with an innocence soon to be lost. The dog snaps at her hand, and you hear a scream.

If you (or your child) have suffered a dog bite, you naturally want to be compensated for the trauma. You also want to be sure that no one else goes through that experience. FindLaw presents this guide to help figure out the laws covering dog bites in Phoenix.

Must I Report the Incident?

State law requires any person with "direct knowledge" to immediately report a dog bite to a county enforcement agent. This means that owners too, not only victims and witnesses, must notify authorities of they see a bite happen. Report dog bites to Animal Care and Control by calling (602) 506-PETS (7387) or by filling out an online report.

What Happens to the Dog?

Quarantine: When a dog bites a person in Arizona, the dog must be quarantined.

Unvaccinated dogs must be confined and quarantined at either the pound or a veterinary hospital. The canine must be kept for ten days beginning with the date of the bite, if known. If the date of the bite is unknown, the ten days will begin to run at the time of confinement. The owner is responsible for all costs of confinement.

Vaccinated dogs may be confined and quarantined, upon request of the owner, in the owner's home or another county-approved site. For more information, contact Maricopa County Animal Care and Control.

Release: A dog that has been impounded may only be released upon certain conditions.

In Phoenix, one of the following must apply in your case in order to have your animal released:

  1. The dog was licensed when impounded;
  2. The dog has already been spayed/neutered and received a microchip;
  3. A veterinarian determines that surgery on the dog must be postponed;
  4. The bite happens on the owner's premises, and the victim is a member of the owner's household; or
  5. The owner pays all required fees.

It is important to remember that these are the minimum requirements for release. A court official may decide to not release the dog if it is "vicious" or shows "clear clinical signs of rabies." A vicious dog is one that tends to attack, injure, or endanger humans without first being provoked. A dog may be declared to be "vicious" by a court.

Viciousness Determination

When a person has "reasonable grounds" to think that a dog is vicious, the person may petition a court for an official determination that the animal is, in fact, vicious. If the animal appears to threaten public safety, the court may then have the dog impounded until a determination can be made. See City Code section 8-16.01 for more information.

If a court does find that a dog is vicious, the court may order a range of solutions to the problem of a dangerous creature. The possible solutions range from the fairly lenient -- requiring that the owner display a warning sign where he/she keeps the animal -- to the severe -- having the animal "destroyed." See City Code Section 8-16.02 for a list of potential court orders.

Civil Liability

General Liability for Dog Bites and Defenses:

State law makes dog owners generally liable when their dog bites a victim who is in a public place or when the victim is lawfully present on the owner's private property. It does not matter whether the dog has previously bitten or attacked another person or animal.

When an owner is sued, he/she has one potential defense: the owner may show that the dog was provoked. In deciding liability, a judge or jury must decide "whether a reasonable person would expect that the conduct or circumstances would be likely to provoke a dog." Note: the law is not asking whether the dog acted reasonably, but rather, whether a person should've predicted the dog's reaction.

Dogs at Large

An Arizona statute makes an owner or other responsible person (sitter, keeper, walker, etc.) automatically liable to a bite victim for injuries and property damage resulting from a dog "at large." A dog is only "at large," however, if it is neither confined nor restrained by a leash. Therefore, if a bite happens when a dog is confined or leashed, the responsible person may still be liable to the victim, but it isn't a clear case covered by the law.

An owner may be cited if his/her dog is wearing a collar or harness, but nevertheless goes unconfined and unrestrained. Leashes must be no more than 6 ft. long. You can expect a fine of up to $250 if you fail to properly confine and restrain your pet.

Criminal Liability

Unintentional Bites

The law requires owners to take "reasonable care" of "aggressive dogs." The definition of "reasonable care" is a little murky, but generally speaking, the owner must keep it in an enclosure while at its residence. When traveling, the owner must maintain control of the dog to prevent it from attacking. An "aggressive dog" is defined as one that has attacked a person or another domestic animal without provocation. Failure to abide by this section is a misdemeanor criminal offense. Be aware, however, that the same conduct may also constitute a felony.

The City's code makes it a misdemeanor in some cases to have a dog at large without a collar or harness, and without regard for whether it has previously attacked. Owners who allow their dogs to go free can expect increasing fines for repeated violations within a two year span. If the dog has already been determined under City law to be vicious, the criminal penalty for allowing a dog to run loose includes a minimum of 5 days in jail and a fine of at least $500.

Intentional Attacks

The above paragraphs all assume that the dog bite was an accident. A prosecutor may charge the owner with a class 3 felony if it appears that he/she either: (a) intended the dog to bite someone or (b) knew that the dog would attack and allowed it to happen. Offenders face a minimum sentence of 2.5 years in prison.

Liability to a Victim after Conviction

If a dog's owner is convicted of a crime related to a dog bite, victims may request restitution (repayment) for their expenses caused by the incident. An owner may have to cover medical bills, property damage, and lost wages. If a dog bite victim intends to recover additional amounts for pain and suffering or for amounts not supportable with a receipt, the victim will likely have to pursue a personal injury claim. See FindLaw's materials on personal injuries in Phoenix for more on that topic.

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