A dog is man’s best friend, and many of us think nothing of approaching a dog on its walk or when it comes to a fence to say hello.  But what happens when a dog loses control and bites a person?

Utah law is clear: if you are bitten by a dog, you can recover damages from the owner or the person keeping the dog.  You don’t have to prove that the dog was vicious or mischievous before the attack, either.  This is important because other states require you to prove that the owner knew that his dog previously bit someone, or acted like it wanted to bite someone, and the owner was aware of the dog’s prior conduct.  Utah doesn’t require the victim of a dog attack to prove any of this; if you’re attacked by a dog and you suffer injuries, you can recover damages because Utah makes dog owners strictly liable for any injury committed by their dog-and not just from bites.

If you own a dog walking service or a doggie daycare-or even if you’re just watching a dog for your friend-you will also be strictly liable for any attacks by a dog you’re keeping, however, there are important exceptions: states, counties, cities, and towns in Utah, as well as peace officers, are not liable for damages for injury committed by dogs trained to assist in law enforcement, so long as “the injury occurs while the dog is reasonably and carefully being used in the apprehension, arrest, or location of a suspected offender or in maintaining or controlling the public order.”

However, even if you aren’t the owner or the keeper of the dog in question, you can still be liable under negligence.  Let’s say you see a stray dog, and you let the stray into your place of business and it attacks a customer.  You’re liable for damages, but Utah law also requires the court to balance the victim’s fault against your fault.  If the court finds that your fault exceeds the victim’s fault, you can be sued for recovery by the victim; however, the amount the victim can recover will be reduced by the level of his fault.

If you’re an owner, or if you’re the person in charge of a dog, you have to adhere to animal control laws, such as ordinances require dogs to be leashed.  If a dog you own or have responsibility for is off leash in violation of the law, this could be the basis of civil liability in the event that the dog attacks someone.  Such violations give victims a prima facie case of negligence, and the only way you can escape liability is to demonstrate an overriding reason to justify having your dog off leash.

In addition, if you’re the relative of a dog bite victim, and you’re present when your relative is attacked, you can recover for emotional distress if it manifests as an illness or a bodily harm.  Anxiety attacks, blood pressure issues, and other forms of stress can be the basis for you to recover monetary damages from the dog’s owner or keeper.

Whether you’re the owner or the keeper of a dog, or merely a person who sees a dog on your walk, exercise caution.  Keep your dog on a leash, and always ask for the owner’s permission to approach the dog.  When a dog is eating, don’t interrupt the dog’s feeding time or try to play with his treats or toys, because this could trigger aggression in the dog.  Always exercise common sense, because it’s better to avoid an injury than to be put in the position of recovering damages after an injury.

If you’re a dog owner in Utah, realize that you’re liable for your dog and make sure that your dog is adequately socialized with other dogs and people and trained to respond to voice commands.  Always follow local laws and keep your dog leashed, and make sure that they are secured on your property.  What you pay for an obedience class will be far less than the cost of an attorney and any damages you have to pay as the result of a dog attack.

Personal Injury Education Center of Utah wishes you and your furry friends a long, healthy, and legally uneventful life together.  Remember, knowing the law is the first step to avoiding any legal problem.  The second step is following the law, and as long you know what the law requires, you can easily avoid any legal trouble, as well as any spike in your homeowner’s insurance premiums.

Dan Garner

Author Dan Garner

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