Cleveland Dog Bites: The Basics

Man's best friend turned into your worst nightmare in a split second. You were enjoying a stroll through Lincoln Park with your child when he stumbled across an unleashed dog. Your child's joy turns into horror when his toothy smile is returned with an equally toothy dog bite. You fight the dog away and visit a hospital, but now you want to assert your rights to be compensated for the injuries. Dog bite law is more complicated than one might think, which is why FindLaw has created this general informational guide to a Cleveland dog bite case.

First Steps

If you suffered a dog bite, seek immediate medical attention. Report the animal bite to the Division of Kennels at (216) 664-3069 with the following information:

  • Name of animal owner (if known);
  • Address/location of animal;
  • Type of animal (dog, cat, etc.); and
  • Date of bite.

Strict Liability

In Ohio there are two theories under which a plaintiff may recover for injuries caused by a dog bite. The first uses the Ohio dog bite statute, which provides that the "owner, keeper, or harborer" of an animal are strictly liable for any injuries caused by that animal. This statute eliminates the necessity of pleading and proving the owner's knowledge of the dog's viciousness, as required in a common law claim: in Ohio a dog does not get "one free bite." Likewise, an action under the statute establishes liability without regard to fault or negligence of the owner, keeper, or harborer of the dog. In other words, you could have the nicest dog in the world and be the most responsible owner too, but neither matters under a statutory claim.

As you can tell, the defendant does not need to own the dog for this claim to be successful. A "keeper" is someone who maintains physical control over the animal, and a "harborer" is someone who controls the property that the animal resides on. A victim hurt by a dog must prove three elements to recover under this statute:

  • the defendant was the owner, keeper, or harborer of the dog;
  • the dog's actions proximately caused the injury claimed; and
  • damages.

The three exceptions to this strict liability rule are when the injured person was teasing or tormenting the dog, trespassing, or committing a criminal offense on the owner's property.

Negligence

The second method for recovering for dog bite injuries is a lawsuit under negligence theory. However, to recover compensation on the ground of negligence in Ohio, the plaintiff must satisfy the one bite rule: that the dog had the propensity to bite people without justification, and that the owner, harborer or keeper knew about these dangerous propensities. For example, if an owner brought his dog to a school and the dog mauls a child, the dog owner may not be liable under a negligence claim unless the plaintiff can prove that the dog had previously demonstrated a dangerous propensity to bite people.

Since the negligence claim has more elements to prove it is generally easier for plaintiffs to rely on the strict liability statute. However, a successful negligence claim allows for punitive damages to be awarded, and nothing prevents someone from pursuing both this and a strict liability claim simultaneously.

A defendant may also be liable for battery if he or she orders a dog with known dangerous propensities to attack someone without justification. In rare circumstances, a person can be criminally prosecuted for this, too.

Statute of Limitations

In Ohio, a dog bite victim has two years from the date of the bite to file a lawsuit against the dog's owner, harborer, or keeper.

Dangerous or Vicious Dogs

Ohio has a separate statute regulating dangerous or vicious dogs. No specific breeds are declared dangerous per se, though Cleveland has a specific ordinance that label pit bulls as inherently dangerous. Usually a dog is defined as dangerous if it has killed or injured someone or another dog. Check out all the Cleveland ordinances related to animal ownership here.

Generally, the process of having a dog declared dangerous is set in motion by a formal complaint from Cleveland Animal Control or someone who has been threatened or injured by the dog and filed a complaint with that agency. A hearing follows, at which a judge hears evidence and determines whether or not the dog is dangerous under the terms of the law. In extreme circumstances the judge may order the animal euthanized.

Owners of dangerous dogs have additional responsibilities beyond just maintaining physical control of the animal. They must maintain a liability insurance policy providing coverage of at least $100,000 for injuries that may be caused by the dog. Then they must obtain a dangerous dog registration certificate from the county auditor and affix a tag that identifies the dog as a dangerous dog to the dog's collar.

Tips to Prevent Dog Bites

Check out the Human Society's website for some quick tips about how to protect yourself from a dog attack. If you sense a dog is about to attack you, do not turn your back to it. Instead, remain calm and motionless until the dog loses interest, and then slowly back away. If the dog attacks, try "feeding" it your jacket or purse to slip away.

A dog bite can be very serious and dog bite, negligence, and other laws exist to provide an avenue for victims to recover from their injuries. A local attorney specializing in animal or dog attacks may be able to help anyone who has been unfortunate enough to suffer from an attack.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

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