Phoenix Dog Bite Lawyers
While dogs are colloquially known as the best friends of humans, they can also be dangerous to people of all ages. Dogs may attack both familiar people and strangers, and dog bites can result in devastating injuries or fatalities. If you or your loved one have been bitten by a dog, you may be able to hold the dog’s owner liable to pay for your losses. The Phoenix dog bite attorneys at Lamber Goodnow may help you to recover compensation in an amount that fairly compensates you for your losses.
Strict liability for dog bites in Arizona
While some states require that dog bite victims prove that an owner was negligent, Arizona provides strict liability for dog owners when their dogs bite others in the state’s statutes. Under A.R.S. § 11-1025, dog owners are legally liable to pay damages to victims if they are legally on a public or private property, including the dog owner’s property. People who are bitten by police or military dogs when the dogs are engaged in the following will not be able to recover damages under the strict liability statute:
- Police or military dog bites in response to provocation or while defending itself
- Police or military dog bites while helping to apprehend a suspect
- If the bite occurs during the investigation of a crime
- If the dog bites while a warrant is being served
- If the dog bites to defend another person or a police officer
The strict liability statute only applies to dog owners and not to others who may be in possession or control of the dog when the attack happens, according to the decision in Johnson v. Svidergol. There are other potential causes of action that may be available against people who are non-owners but who are in control or possession of the dogs, which are further explained later in this article.
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What is strict liability, and what does that mean in Arizona?
Strict liability means that dog owners will be liable when their dogs bite others who are lawfully present regardless of whether or not the owners knew or should have known of their dogs’ propensity to bite. According to the court decision in Murdock v. Balle, owners will be strictly liable even in situations in which the owners were not at fault. Some states have a one-bite rule under which dog owners will not be liable unless they know that their dogs have the propensity to bite. These rules absolve owners of liability if the bite is the first time a dog has reacted violently. Arizona does not file this rule, however. Under Massey v. Colaric, dog owners will be liable even if they had no prior knowledge that their dogs were vicious.
Under the statute, if a dog owner’s dog bites another person while being walked on a public sidewalk or in a park, the dog owner will be held to be strictly liable to pay damages to the injured victim. If a dog owner has guests at his or her house who are bitten by the owner’s dog, the dog owner will likewise be liable to pay damages for their injuries and losses. Other lawfully present persons on private property who can recover under the strict liability dog bite statute include people who are on the property for lawful business purposes, including the following:
- Meter readers
- Postal carriers
- People who are on the property to do work on the premises
- Delivery personnel
Trespassers may not be able to recover under the strict liability statute because they are not lawfully present on the premises. However, dog owners should post signs warning trespassers to keep out so that there is no question of the existence of an implied invitation to enter.
What is lawful presence?
Lawful presence in Arizona is defined under A.R.S. § 11-1026. Under this statute, people are lawfully present when they are the guests of the dog owner, are invitees, are on the property to perform a legal duty under the laws of the federal government or the state, or are on the property pursuant to a municipal ordinance.
The impact of provocation on the ability to recover damages under the statute
In Arizona, provocation of a dog is a defense to strict liability under A.R.S. § 1027. Courts will consider whether or not a reasonable person would consider the action of the bitten person to be sufficiently provoking as to cause the dog to attack. Provocation may include hitting or striking a dog and may even include unintentionally stepping on a dog’s tale by a toddler, according to the decision in Toney v. Bouthillier.
What happens if a dog is at large?
Arizona also imposes strict liability on dog owners when their dogs are at large and bite victims. Under A.R.S. § 11-1020, either the owner or the person who was in control of or responsible for the dog at the time of the attack may be held to be strictly liable. If a person is attacked by a dog while it is at large and while under the control of a non-owner, this statute may provide the basis for the injured victim to hold the non-owner strictly liable for the injuries and resulting losses that the victim suffered.
Negligence claims for dog bites
The court held in Murdock v. Balle that the strict liability statute in Arizona does not replace the ability of victims to pursue claims under common law theories of negligence or negligence per se. If a dog owner’s negligence caused the dog attack, then the owner may be sued under both a common law negligence claim as well as the strict liability statutory claim. These claims may be filed simultaneously and allow more grounds for recovery.
A negligence per se claim may be available if the dog attacked the victim while the owner or person in control of the dog was violating the state’s law or the municipal ordinances. For example, violating the dog-at-large statute may provide a basis for a victim to sue under that strict liability statute as well as to claim a separate ground of negligence per se. In Arizona, an action is considered to be negligence per se when it violates an ordinance or statute.
Statutes of limitations
Arizona has a relatively short statute of limitations for claims under the strict liability statutes. In the state, claims of strict liability for dog bites must be filed against the owners no longer than one year after the incidents. Personal injury negligence and negligence per se claims have a longer statute of limitations of two years but require the plaintiffs to prove fault. It is important for victims to file their lawsuits as soon after their attacks as possible so that they preserve their ability to file claims under the strict liability statute. If the victims miss the statutory deadline, they may be barred from seeking the recovery of damages under a strict liability theory. If a victim has already passed the strict liability statutory deadline, he or she may still be able to file negligence claims if the owner was at fault.
Under the strict liability statute, dog owners can be held liable for the injuries and property damage that their dogs cause when they attack victims. If the victims are also able to separately prove negligence claims, they may recover the following types of damages:
- Past and future medical costs
- Disfigurement damages
- Past and future income losses
- Losses for the reduction of the quality of life
- Pain and suffering
- For spouses, loss of consortium if applicable
If the dog attack results in the death of the victim, the family members may also recover reasonable costs for their burial and funeral expenses. In most cases, the dog owners’ homeowners’ insurance will provide coverage for dog bite attacks.
For common law dog bite claims, how do plaintiffs prove negligence?
If people are pursuing negligence claims against a dog owner or a non-owner who was in control of the dog, then they will be required to prove fault. In order to prove negligence, plaintiffs must be able to prove the following:
- The owner or person in control owed a duty of care to the victim;
- The owner or person in control breached the duty of care;
- The dog’s attack happened because of the breach of duty;
- The victim was injured and suffered compensable harm as a result.
In order to prove that a duty was owed, plaintiffs will need to be able to prove scienter, which can be difficult. This involves showing that the dog’s owner either knew or had reason to know of the dog’s vicious propensities and is normally shown by proving the dog has attacked someone in the past. Phoenix dog bite attorneys may analyze the facts in order to determine whether or not the owner was negligent when deciding whether or not there are sufficient grounds to file a negligence claim.
How do dog bite cases work?
In a dog bite case, the Phoenix dog bite lawyers at Lamber Goodnow will initially start by sending demand letters to the defendant and his or her insurance company. The demand letter will request a settlement offer in a specific amount. The lawyers will value the case before sending the letter and discuss the likely range of values within which a settlement should fall and then demand an amount that is at the high end of that range. The insurance company may agree to settle the claim at the demand amount or make a counteroffer. If the counteroffer is unreasonably low, the attorneys may then initiate a lawsuit by filing a civil complaint with the court that has jurisdiction over the matter. The defendant will then be given a specific amount of time to file his or her response to the complaint. Once that happens, the case will enter the discovery phase.
During discovery, both sides must exchange all of the evidence that they have gathered. Discovery may also involve interrogatories and depositions. Interrogatories are questions that must be answered within a specific amount of time. Depositions involve giving testimony and being questioned by attorneys in front of court reporters and the attorneys but outside of court. Deposition testimony is transcribed and allows the attorneys to understand what testimony they should expect at trial.
Many cases that go through the litigation process are settled before trial. Sometimes, they are settled before trial on the day it is scheduled. If a settlement is not reached, the case may proceed to trial before a jury. Once the trial is finished, the jury will deliberate before returning the verdict. After a verdict, either the defense or the plaintiff may file an appeal. If the appeal is won, then the case may be sent back and have to start over.
Contact the Phoenix dog bite attorneys at Lamber Goodnow
The Lamber Goodnow team is highly knowledgeable and experienced in helping the victims of dog bites in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area. We are committed to helping our clients to recover fair compensation so that they can be made whole after they have been attacked by dogs. Our attorneys are often able to negotiate reasonable settlements with the responsible insurance companies, but we are willing to fight for our clients through trial if it is necessary. To schedule your free consultation with our knowledgeable Phoenix dog bite lawyers, simply contact us online or call our office at (602) 274-9662 or (800) 283-2652. We will be happy to explain your potential rights to the recovery of damages for your losses.
- A.R.S. § 11-1025.
- Murdock v. Balle, 696 P.2d 230 (Ct. App. 1985).
- Massey v. Colaric, 725 P.2d 1099 (1986).
- Johnson v. Svidergol, 757 P.2d 609 (Ct. App. 1988).
- A.R.S. § 11-1026.
- A.R.S. § 11-1027.
- Toney v. Bouthillier, 631 P.2d 557 (Ct. App. 1981).
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