Columbus Dog Bites: The Basics

Taking Scruffy to the Wheeler Memorial Dog Park sounds like the perfect way to spend a Sunday, but ol' Scruff was acting quirky and kept nipping at the other dogs. You are about to get up and calm him down when you hear a tiny dog in a scuffle around where you saw Scruffy last. When you arrive, it's too late. People are crowded around a mother and her kid fending off your very own Scruffy while nursing a bite to the kid's arm. You know vaguely there a must be legal consequences, but you need straight answers, so we've put together some general information about Columbus dog bite cases.

First Steps

If injuries are serious, immediately call 911. Otherwise, scrub dog bite wounds with soapy water and then seek immediate medical attention to ensure you haven't been infected with rabies. Report the bite to Columbus Animal Protection by calling (614) 645-7288. If possible, try to learn the name of dog's owner and the address or location at which the dog is being kept.

Dog Bite Statute

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 a dog's owner, keeper, or harborer is strictly liable for any injuries caused by his or her dog. This statute is good news for plaintiffs because it eliminates the need to prove the owner's knowledge of the dog's viciousness, as would be required in a traditional claim: Ohio dogs do not get "one free bite." In other words, you could have the nicest dog in the world and be the most responsible owner too, but neither of those details matter if Scruffy bites someone.

As you can tell, the defendant does not need to own the dog to be subject to the law. The defendant could also be the keeper or harborer, which are generally people who control the dog or the property on which the dog resides. A victim hurt by a dog must simply 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 only 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.

Common Law Claim

The traditional common law claim is generally harder to prove because the plaintiff must satisfy the one bite rule. This requires someone to demonstrate that the dog had the propensity (tendency or disposition) to bite people without justification, and that the owner, harborer, or keeper knew about these dangerous propensities. Since the common law action requires proof of the owner's knowledge, it is much easier for plaintiffs to rely on the strict liability statute. However, common law allows for extra, punitive damages while the dog bite statute does not. Since nothing prevents someone from pursuing both claims simultaneously, there's probably little reason not to do just that.

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. Usually a dog is defined as dangerous if it has killed or injured someone or another dog. No breeds are labeled per se dangerous, and Columbus has no ordinance declaring and breeds per se dangerous. Check out all the Columbus ordinances related to animal ownership by clicking on Title 23 "General Offenses" and then Chapter 2327 "Animals."

Generally, the process of having a dog declared dangerous is set in motion by a formal complaint from Columbus Animal Control or from someone who has been threatened or injured by the dog who has 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, and 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.

A personal injury attorney can help provide more information about specific cases, and may be able to help with the process. Many offer free consultations, too. In the meantime, find out more about animal attack law or general Ohio personal injury cases today.

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