What is the Role of Breed in Dog Bite Lawsuits

Morgan Ferrell

Dog bites are a big problem because they hurt people physically and make them feel bad emotionally. After a dog bite, people are often sued, and the breed of the dog that bit the person is often a key factor in these cases.

Breed-specific factors can affect the result of dog bite cases in many ways, from figuring out who is responsible to making sure that certain laws are followed.

When someone sues for dog bites, the piece goes into detail about the breed of the dog and the legal precedents that affect these cases.

Let’s Understand Dog Bite Laws

Dog bite laws vary significantly across jurisdictions, but they generally fall into three categories: strict liability laws, negligence laws, and “one bite” rules.

  1. Strict Liability Laws: These laws hold dog owners liable for bites regardless of the dog’s previous behavior or the owner’s knowledge of any vicious tendencies. Many states in the U.S. adopt this approach, simplifying the process for victims to claim damages.
  2. Negligence Laws: Under negligence laws, the victim must prove that the owner’s negligence led to the bite. This can involve showing that the owner failed to control the dog or was aware of its aggressive tendencies but did nothing to prevent the attack.
  3. One Bite Rule: Some states follow the “one bite” rule, which means that the owner is only liable if they knew or should have known about the dog’s propensity to bite. This often hinges on whether the dog has bitten before or shown signs of aggression.

Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL)

Breed-Specific Legislation refers to laws that regulate or ban certain dog breeds deemed dangerous. These laws aim to reduce the risk of attacks by restricting ownership of breeds like Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and Doberman Pinschers. The influence of BSL on dog bite lawsuits is profound and multifaceted.

  1. Influence on Liability: In jurisdictions with BSL, the breed of the dog can automatically imply liability. Owners of restricted breeds may face stricter scrutiny and harsher penalties. For instance, if a Pit Bull bites someone in a city with a breed ban, the owner might be held strictly liable due to the breed’s illegal status.
  2. Evidence of Aggressiveness: Breed-specific traits can be used as evidence in court. Proponents of BSL argue that certain breeds are inherently more dangerous, citing statistics on dog attacks. Defense attorneys, however, may challenge this by presenting evidence of the individual dog’s behavior and training.
  3. Insurance and Ownership Restrictions: Breed restrictions by insurance companies also play a role. Homeowners’ insurance policies might exclude coverage for certain breeds, affecting the owner’s financial liability in a lawsuit. This lack of coverage can complicate settlements and damage awards.

Legal precedents involving breed-specific considerations highlight the complexities of dog bite lawsuits. Here are a few notable cases:

  1. Tracey v. Solesky (2012): The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Pit Bulls are “inherently dangerous,” making owners and landlords strictly liable for any attacks. This decision faced backlash and was later modified, but it underscores the impact of breed perceptions on legal outcomes.
  2. Holt v. City of Maumelle (1991): The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a city’s breed-specific ordinance, reinforcing the idea that municipalities can regulate dog breeds to protect public safety. This case highlights the legal backing for BSL and its influence on liability.
  3. People v. Rogers (2001): In New York, a court ruled that a dog owner could be liable for an attack by a mixed-breed dog with characteristics of a restricted breed. This case illustrates how breed appearance and public perception can affect legal judgments.

Challenges and Controversies

The role of breed in dog bite lawsuits is contentious. Critics of BSL argue that it unfairly targets specific breeds without considering the individual dog’s behavior or the owner’s responsibility. They advocate for “dangerous dog” laws that focus on the dog’s actions rather than its breed.

  1. Effectiveness and Fairness: Studies have shown that breed alone is not a reliable predictor of aggression. Factors such as training, socialization, and the owner’s management play a crucial role in a dog’s behavior. Critics argue that BSL can lead to the unnecessary euthanasia of well-behaved dogs and does not effectively reduce dog bite incidents.
  2. Breed Identification Issues: Determining a dog’s breed can be challenging, especially for mixed breeds. Misidentification can lead to wrongful punishment of owners and their pets. DNA testing can provide clarity but is not always readily available or accepted in court.
  3. Discrimination and Stigma: Breed-specific laws can perpetuate stereotypes and stigmatize owners of certain breeds. This can lead to discrimination and difficulty finding housing or insurance. Such stigma can also impact the fairness of legal proceedings.

The Bottom Line

The part that dog breed plays in dog bite lawsuits is complicated by rules, past cases, and how people think about dogs.

Laws that target certain breeds are meant to make the public safer, but they are often criticized for not being fair or effective.

As laws continue to change, more and more people are realizing that they need more balanced methods that take into account both breed traits and responsible dog ownership.

These details are very important for people who are involved in or touched by dog bite lawsuits.

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Personal injury lawyer Morgan Ferrell has 10+ years of experience. She fights for injury victims and has helped many get proper recompense. Morgan Ferrell writes about personal injury law for Bestratedattorney.com and other legal publications. Dedicated to quality and successful.