Dogs, whether pets, working, or hunting dogs, are everywhere in Colorado. While they are beloved animals, they are also a liability because they have the propensity to attack and bite people. A dog bite can result in severe injuries, and dog owners should be held liable for their dog’s actions. However, liability is complex for dog owners who use various defenses to avoid liability.
The placement of a Beware of Dog sign is not an exemption of dog owners from liability, and you must speak to a dog bite liability lawyer to review your options.
Dangerous dog ordinances
Specific breeds are no longer banned in Denver. However, Denver law recognizes any dog that is prone to attack without provocation as dangerous. Dogs that endanger the lives of others are inherent risks, and owners are responsible for managing the dog’s behavior and keeping them under control.
Ordinances require dangerous dogs to be in a secure, confined space. When the dog is out of the confined area, it must be on a leash and wear a muzzle.
Dogs to look out for
Any dog can be unpredictable and attack, but some breeds are statistically more likely to bite and have predominantly been at issue in dog bite lawsuits.
Notorious breeds that cause injuries are:
- German shepherds
- Pit bulls
- Chow chow
- Jack Russell terriers
- Labrador retriever
- Saint bernards
Many people domesticate these animals, but at their core, they are animals and have animalistic instincts that can overpower their training. Dog bite victims must discuss their options with a dog bite lawyer, regardless of breed, after an attack.
Strict liability and negligence
If a dog attack results in injury or death, the dog owner is liable, even if they were unaware that the dog was aggressive. There is strict liability for injuries involving disfigurement, impairment of bodily functions, and injuries leading to death. The injured person must be legally on public or private property when the attack happens for strict liability to apply.
Dog owners can also be negligent. Negligence cases involve proving duty of care, breach, causation, and damages from an attack. Injured persons must prove the dog owner did not control the dog properly, allowing the attack to happen. Often, negligence actions result when there is no dog bite, but the injury results from the dog’s behavior, like if they jump on someone.
The dog owner is responsible when dog attacks happen in apartment buildings, but the landlord might share liability under certain circumstances. Several past court cases cover these liability issues and outline what injured parties must prove to hold landlords responsible.
When a landlord knows a tenant has a dangerous dog and moves forward with the lease, they can be liable for a victim’s damages. The key is the landlord knowing the dog had previously bitten or attacked someone. You must have evidence that this dog was aggressive and that the landlord knew about it.
Beware of dog signs and liability
Dog owners rely heavily on posting signage around the property to avoid liability. However, having signage is not an exemption from liability. Dog owners must have adequate warnings, and hidden signs are inadequate for guests and trespassers.
The sign defense is futile if the injured person can prove that the signs were not easily visible or in a conspicuous location. One tactic owners can use as a defense is to move the signage after the attack to a more visible location. If possible, return to the scene at a safe distance and take pictures of the lack of signage before the owner can make any changes.
Colorado dog bite lawsuit time limits
Processing a dog attack can take some time, but you should take legal action immediately. From the date of the injury, you have two years to file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. If you wait even a day after the two-year deadline, the case can be dismissed without a hearing. You should speak to Denver dog bite lawyers as soon as possible to review your options.
Dog owner defenses
You might not want to hear about dog owners’ possible defenses, but it is crucial to prepare. If you know what they can use to avoid liability, you can prepare to challenge their defenses. While posted signage is one, there are several others.
Defenses available for dog owners can include:
- The dog was a military or law enforcement working dog
- The injured person provoked the dog
- The wounded person was a vet, show judge, groomer, or another professional that works with dogs
- The person was trespassing on the dog owner’s property
- The dog works in herding, ranch, or hunting
Denver dog bite injury lawyers can craft strategies to address these defenses and prove the owner uses them to avoid responsibility for the dog attack.
Economic damages are available
The Colorado dog bite statute CRS 13-21-124 allows plaintiffs to seek economic damages in strict liability dog bite claims. You cannot recover non-economic damages like mental anguish or pain and suffering under a strict liability theory.
Non-economic damages are available in cases when you allege and prove negligence of the dog owner. You must speak to a dog bite lawyer in Denver to determine available damages in your specific case.
Examples of economic damages include:
- Loss of income
- Loss of earning potential
- Medical bills
- Future loss of income
- Future medical bills
- Psychological counseling costs
Psychological counseling addresses the emotional and mental trauma these attacks and injuries cause. Still, you have tangible costs from your treatment, unlike pain and suffering, which are not tangible losses and, therefore, ineligible in strict liability claims.
Who pays for damages?
When you file a dog bite claim, it is generally against the dog’s owner. The dog owner does not pay out of pocket for damages, but their insurance policies cover these costs. Your dog bite lawyer can find the homeowners, renter’s insurance, or animal insurance policy. When the dog owner has one or more of these policies, your claim will go through them. Only when they have no insurance policies will owners be personally liable.
Dogs without owners, such as strays, lead to complicated situations. If the dog frequents a particular establishment, the property owner can bear responsibility for the attack and be liable in a premises liability claim. However, you must show the property owner knew about the dog by having reports from patrons and other guests, and they failed to warn guests or have the dog removed from the premises, which led to your attack.
Stray dogs can be dangerous and the government has a duty to properly address strays and control them. Denver County Animal Control Services is responsible for capturing and putting stray dogs into shelters. Their services help keep the city and county safe for residents. However, if they get a report about a stray dog and fail to respond accordingly and the dog attacks, they can face legal consequences.
Victims of stray dog attacks can file a tort claim seeking damages. There are strict government regulations for these claims and shorter filing deadlines. These cases are very complex and require assistance from a local dog bite lawyer. Dog bite victims must contact a lawyer immediately to see if they have a viable claim and the appropriate steps to take.
Criminal charges for dog owners
Another consequence of a dog bite injury is that the owner can face criminal charges in addition to civil penalties. Criminal charges happen when the dog is dangerous and owners fail to comply with animal safety laws. Instances that can lead to criminal penalties for dangerous dog owners include training the dog for animal fighting or to attack humans.
When the dog causes an injury, the owner can face a misdemeanor charge. When the dog causes a death, the charge can be a felony. The consequences of these criminal charges can include restitution, fines, jail, etc.
Some dog bite victims assume that a criminal case will help them seek justice. While criminal convictions and penalties punish dog owners, these cases can do little to provide full compensation for a victim’s losses. Instead, a victim must file a separate action against an insurance company or in civil court.
Your lawyer can review any police or arrest reports and determine whether the dog owner received a conviction of their charges. While your civil matter is separate from a criminal case, the results of a criminal matter can help you prove liability of the owner for your injuries and losses.
The legal definition of serious bodily injury
Serious bodily injury is an important concept in Colorado dog bite cases, as this is when strict liability can apply. The law has a different definition of serious bodily injury than the general public. First, bodily injury is any injury that results in muscle tears, skin lacerations, or bruising requiring medical treatment. Injuries that require cosmetic or corrective surgery are also bodily injuries.
Serious bodily injury refers to injuries that have a significant risk of permanent disfigurement, are long-lasting, or involve a high risk of death, such as broken bones, fractures, and second or third-degree burns. A condition with a substantial risk of impairment or loss of use of an essential body part that is also a serious bodily injury.
Examples of severe bodily injury are:
- Life-threatening injuries
- Organ damage
- Skin tearing, especially facial tears, requiring sutures
Your medical professionals and attorney can review your injuries, determine if they are serious under the law, and take the appropriate legal actions.
No one-bite rule in Colorado
Proving a prior bite is not essential for a viable claim. A dog’s bite history can be evidence of the dog’s temperament and negligence on the part of the owner, but owners can be liable even if the dog never bit anyone before.
Previously, owners might avoid liability by showing this was the dog’s first bite and they were unaware the dog was dangerous until this incident. Colorado no longer has this rule, meaning dog owners can have liability for a first bite, and victims have better legal options. However, finding any indication that the dog was previously vicious and attacked someone can help you prove a negligence claim.
Denver dog bite lawyers can help victims
Meeting with a dog bit lawyer is crucial to your injury claim, but some victims are unsure of what role attorneys play. An initial consultation can help determine the validity of your claim and give your attorney an idea of the strategy necessary to seek compensation on your behalf. The next part is building your case, which involves collecting evidence to prove liability and damages. They can hire necessary professionals to help with your claim.
Your personal injury lawyer in Denver will handle correspondence between you and the insurance company. They will work to negotiate for a fair settlement that covers all your medical bills and other losses. If negotiations are unsuccessful, they can file a civil lawsuit and manage the litigation process.
Speak to a dog bite lawyer in Denver
Dog bites leave lasting impacts on victims, and you should seek compensation for your injuries. After a dog bite or attack, call a Denver dog bite lawyer.