Mesa AZ | Dog bites and persona injury claims

Q: I go for a short run through my neighborhood every morning. About a week ago I was running by a neighbor’s house, and I noticed the gate that leads to his backyard was open. I didn’t think anything of it, but as I passed his house his dog came running out of his backyard and attacked me. I was running in the street at the time. The neighbor, Jack, came out and grabbed the dog, but before he could do so the dog did some pretty serious damage to my right leg. I was just released from the hospital. Jack and I are friends, but I need to pay my medical bills, and I feel he should be responsible for leaving that gate open so his dog could get out. What can I do?

A: You can bring a claim for damages against Jack. Importantly, what Jack did or did not do to let the dog get out will not be relevant to your claim. In Arizona, dog bites are a matter of strict liability. In order to bring your claim successfully, it is important to understand how strict liability works in the context of dog bites.

Strict liability is very different than liability based on negligence. If you had to bring a personal injury claim based on negligence against Jack, you would have to prove not only that the dog bite happened, but also that Jack should be responsible for it because he breached a duty to you – he had a duty to care for the dog in a certain way and he failed to comply with that duty. Then, you would have to prove that Jack’s breach caused your injury.

By contrast, strict liability essentially means that if an injury happened, somebody is liable for it. It is not necessary to prove negligence. Strict liability is typically imposed by statute, meaning that it will vary state by state. Arizona is one of the many states that impose strict liability for dog bites on the owner of the dog. Here is the relevant part of Arizona’s dog bite liability statute:

The owner of a dog which bites a person when the person is in or on a public place or lawfully in or on a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, is liable for damages suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of its viciousness.

You can see how the statute imposes strict liability. It makes no mention of what the owner of the dog did or did not do, and specifically indicates that whether the owner knew the dog was vicious doesn’t matter. All you have to prove is that Jack was the owner of the dog when the dog bit you, and that you were in a public place or lawfully on private property at the time of the incident. If that is proved, Jack will be liable for your injuries from the bite.

There is one statutory defense to a dog bite claim in Arizona that you should be aware of. It reads like this:

Proof of provocation of the attack by the person injured shall be a defense to the action for damages. The issue of provocation shall be determined by whether a reasonable person would expect that the conduct or circumstances would be likely to provoke a dog.

This does not appear to apply to your case based on the content of your question, but if you recall doing anything to provoke Jack’s dog you should prepare for Jack to raise this defense.

Finally, you should also know that because dog bite liability is created by statute, there is a one-year statute of limitations imposed by Arizona law. This means that you must bring your claim against Jack “within one year after the cause of action accrues;” in other words within one year of date of the dog bite.

Hopefully this information has been helpful. Even though dog bites are a matter of strict liability, there is still a lot more to know if you want your claim to be successful. If you wish to seek the assistance of a personal injury attorney who is experienced in this area, please give us a call.

This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you or someone you know wishes to seek the help of an experienced personal injury attorney regarding Mesa AZ|Dog Bite or other personal injury matters, call 480.461.5300.