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Can You Sue for a Minor Dog Bite?

May 15, 2019

Coloradans love their dogs. The fact is evident by the sheer number of dog parks, dog-friendly businesses, and other dog-friendly entities available within the city of Denver. Most human-dog interactions proceed without a hitch, leaving both the dog and human feeling happy and fulfilled. However, what happens when an interaction with a dog leaves you suffering a bite? Can you sue for a dog bite?

Colorado Dog Bite Liability

Most states in the nation approach dog bite liability in one of two ways – either the owner assumes strict liability for any dog bite regardless of its severity, or the victim must prove that the owner failed in some way to control the dog and assert negligence caused the injury. However, Colorado combines both strict liability and negligence rules in a unique way. The Colorado dog bite statute covers serious bites, while negligence and premises liability cover minor dog bites.

For serious dog bites, the owner assumes strict liability for all injury-related expenses incurred as the result of a dog bite. However, the victim must be in a public place or lawfully on private property at the time the dog bite occurred. In Colorado, a serious dog bite causes serious bodily injury, including:

  • Severe injuries that cause a substantial risk for death
  • Broken or fractured bones
  • Severe injuries that cause permanent disfigurement, such as severe scarring
  • Severe injuries that cause the loss of or impaired function of a limb, organ system, individual organ, or other body part

Minor Dog Bite Liability

Conversely, liability for minor dog bites depends on the victim’s ability to prove that the owner acted negligently. If in public, the victim must prove that the owner failed to leash the dog in the public area and prevent it from attacking others. Similarly, in the case of loose dogs, the victim must prove that the owner failed to exercise reasonable care to ensure that the dog did not leave the property and pose a risk to others. Further, owners owe victims on their personal property a duty of care to prevent injuries under premises liability laws.

However, Colorado is a comparative negligence state. In the event of a minor dog bite in which a victim must prove negligence on the part of a dog owner, dog owners often utilize Colorado’s modified comparative fault laws to attempt to assert that the victim should receive partial blame for the incident. The owner may attempt to claim that you trespassed, knowingly antagonized the dog, or failed to acknowledge posted dangerous dog signs. If the courts agree and assign over 50% of the fault to you, you could lose the ability to recover financial damages.

In other cases, dog owners do not need to accept strict liability or may avoid assigned negligence. In particular, if the dog is a working dog, such as a police or military dog, hunting dog, livestock guardian dog, herding dog, or farm and ranch dog, and is carrying out duties related to the job at hand, the handler may avoid liability. Similarly, if you are a veterinary worker, dog groomer, dog handler, dog show judge, or animal rescue worker, dog bites incurred during your duties may not result in a lawsuit.

Consult With An Attorney

It is important to consult with an experienced Denver dog bite attorney to determine liability in your unique situation. While many minor dog bites prove difficult to pursue litigation, your case may result in the recovery of any damages you incurred. A trusted attorney can investigate your case and inform you whether or not litigation should comprise your next steps. Since most personal injury attorneys in Denver work on a contingency basis, meaning that no payment occurs unless they win a case, most will not take your case unless there is an excellent chance you can win your case.

If litigation is necessary, be sure to mind the statutes of limitation. In Colorado, you must file a lawsuit within two years of the date of your injury. Filing after this date will negate your ability to pursue a lawsuit and recover damages.