Fido loves walking through Seaside Park, but today something is different. He is clearly agitated and won't stop barking at strangers. Just a moment's distraction and Fido has ripped the leash out of your hand and is charging at a group of children. You yell a warning but it is too late, just in time to see crying children, screaming adults and enough red to know Fido has inflicted injuries. Now what? Dog bite law is more complicated than you'd think, which is why FindLaw has created this guide to your Bridgeport dog bite case.
Dog Bite Statute
Connecticut's dog bite statute imposes strict liability on a dog's owner or keeper. This means that the victim does not need to prove that the dog's owner or keeper knew that the dog was vicious or was otherwise negligent. Bridgeport dogs do not get one "free" bite, unlike dogs in some other places.
Under this law a dog's owner is liable for any injury or property damage caused by his or her dog, unless the damage was sustained while the injured person was committing a trespass or teasing, abusing, or tormenting the dog. The law presumes that anyone under the age of seven was not committing a trespass or teasing the dog, unless the dog's owner can prove otherwise.
Connecticut's Supreme Court has limited the use of the trespass exception, saying it takes more than a mere technical trespass and must include some sort of actions that would naturally arouse a dog to protect its family or their property. Courts also limit the use of the "tease or torment" exception, finding, for example, that a two-and-a-half year-old girl who threw a rubber bone for a dog to fetch was not teasing the dog.
If damage was caused by two or more dogs at the same time, and the dogs are kept by more than one person, the dogs' owners or keepers are jointly and severally liable for the damage. In other words, each owner is responsible for the entire amount of the damages, although he or she may be able to sue the other owner to recover a portion of the damages he or she had to pay.
A dog bite victim can also proceed under a common law negligence theory. To succeed in a negligence action, the injured person must prove that the defendant knew or should have known that the dog was vicious. This is called the one-bite rule, under which the dog's keeper is liable for damages it causes only when the owner is aware of the animal's viciousness.
These types of cases are harder to prove because the plaintiff must show that the defendant was aware of the dog's vicious tendencies. However, there are other advantages: unlike cases brought under the dog bite statute, someone other than a dog's owner or keeper can be held liable. For example, in one important case, the Connecticut Supreme Court found that a landlord could be liable for a bite by a tenant's dog if the landlord was aware of the dog's vicious tendencies and did not adequately alleviate the known danger.
Leash Laws, Breaking the Law, and Negligence Per Se
In Connecticut you are presumed to have acted negligently whenever you violate a law and caused an injury that the statute was designed to prevent. This "negligence per se" doctrine comes into play in dog bite cases when someone violates animal control laws.
This is significant in Connecticut because a dog's owner or keeper must not allow his or her dog to roam on another person's land or on a public highway, including sidewalks, if it is not under his or her control (i.e. on a leash). Furthermore, an owner or keeper of a vicious dog who recklessly allows the dog to roam and the dog physically injures another person who was not teasing, tormenting, or abusing it, is subject to a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment for up to six months, or both (but only if dog's owner was convicted in the preceding year of allowing the dog to roam).
It is usually good practice to plead negligence per se in addition to a claim under the dog bite statute in case the statute doesn't apply for some unforeseen reason, for example the defendant is not the dog's owner or keeper.
It may also be possible to pursue a case for injuries suffered as a result of what is called "dog fright," where the threatening attitude of a dog scares the plaintiff and causes a fall or other injuries.
Connecticut law requires an animal control officer to quarantine any dog that has bitten someone off of its owner's property for 14 days to assure the animal does not have rabies and to examine the dog's demeanor. The owner must pay all fees associated with quarantining the animal. The officer may quarantine the dog on the owner's premises if it has bitten someone on its owner's property.
Time Limit to File a Case
Under Connecticut law, there is a three-year statute of limitation for dog bite cases. This means that if you have been bitten by a dog, you need to file suit within three years of the incident or else risk losing any potential recovery.
A personal injury attorney may be able to help with this and other procedural hurdles, as well as pursue your case, generally. Lawyers in this field almost universally work on a contingency fee basis, which means they are paid a percentage of your eventual recovery. You can also check out more information about dog bite laws or Bridgeport personal injury cases, generally.
Contact a qualified attorney.