Injuries by dangerous or aggressive dogs are quite common. In Colorado, about 3,000 dog bites are reported each year. This means that about 57 people per week are bitten by a dog. Dog bites can result in serious injuries and permanent scarring and other disfigurement. Small children are often bitten in the face by a dog and the wounds leave permanent scars.
Colorado law sets out when an owner or caretaker of a dog is liable and what damages are allowed. There are both criminal and civil statutes applying to injuries or death from dogs or other dangerous animals. The Colorado appellate courts have further set out the law on dog bite liability.
No Liability Situations
- Trespassers. If a person is unlawfully on public or private property and is injured by an animal, the person cannot seek any compensation. A person is unlawfully on a property if they do not have the expressed or implied invitation to be on the property.
- Proper Signs. If a property is clearly and conspicuously marked with a sign posting “No Trespassing” or “Beware of Dog”, there is no right to compensation to a person bitten by a dog on this property.
- Provoking a Dog. If a person provokes a dog such as hitting it, trying to get it riled up or provoking it in other manner and the person is then bitten by a dog, they are not allowed to recover any damages.
- Professionals Working With Dogs. Veterinary health care workers, dog groomers, humane agency staff people, professional dog handlers, dog trainers and dog show judges are not allowed any recovery for damages from dog bites.
- Working Dogs. Police and military dogs, while performing their duties are exempt all from liability. Hunting, herding, farm, ranch or predator control dogs while working as such are also exempt from all liability.
Regardless of whether an owner or caretaker was negligent, violated a statute or ordinance such as having a dangerous animal or allowing an animal to run “at large,” or did not know of any prior biting or viscous behavior, an owner or caretaker will be liable for an injured person’s medical bills, income losses and other economic damages if it involved a serious bodily injury, C.R.S. §13-21-124 sets out the strict liability law. If liability is determined only by this statute, the dog owner is responsible for the economic damages of the victim but is not responsible for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering and is not liable for damages for disfigurement or physical impairment.
Only serious bodily injury and death claims are compensable. Serious bodily injury is defined as a bodily injury which at the time of the actual injury or at a later time, involves a substantial risk of death, a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement, a substantial risk or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, or breaks, fractures, or burns of the second or third degree. Bodily injury is further defined as any physical injury that results in severe bruising, muscle tears or skin lacerations requiring professional medical treatment or corrective or cosmetic surgery.
Prior Notice of Bites, Viscous Behavior or Violations of Local Laws
All people may pursue full damage claims for personal injuries from dogs if they can prove that the owner or person responsible for the dog knew that the dog had bitten before or had demonstrated viscous behavior prior to the incident. Many refer to this law as the “One Free Bite Rule.” Another way to prove liability is to show that the owner or person responsible for the dog violated a municipal ordinance such as allowing a dog to run at large, failed to keep a dog properly restrained, or violated any other state, county or municipal law regulating dogs which are intended to protect the public. If there was a violation of an ordinance or other law relating to the dog, this violation typically results in a finding of liability.
If it can be proven that the owner or person responsible for a dog knew of prior bites or viscous behavior, or if it is proven that a dog log was violated, the person injured from a dog attack can collect all damages. These damages include past and future medical bills, income losses, disfigurement, pain and suffering, physical impairment and other damages.
When representing a victim of a dog bite, we search local and state government records for any prior citations, investigations or convictions involving a dog biting in the past, exhibiting viscous tendencies or running at large by the same dog or of the owner. In addition, neighbors near the home of the dog often will inform us of prior problems with a dog. It is important to investigate early due to people moving away. We also investigate local and state statutes on dogs applicable to the location.
The homeowner’s or renter’s insurance with the owner of the dog or on any person responsible for the dog typically covers dog bite claims. Some insurance policies, however, have a separate provision not covering dog bite claims. This is often found when the owner had a prior dog bite claim or the owner and the insurance company know that there is a problem dog on the property.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations to bring a lawsuit for injuries relating to a dog bite is two years from the date of the incident. If a claim is not settled and a lawsuit has not been properly filed in court within 2 years from the date of the injury, a person will be barred from seeking compensation for injuries and damages.
Specific Breeds of Dogs
Many studies show certain breeds of dogs are more likely to be involved in dog bites. Some types of dogs are more aggressive. Also, some types of dogs are larger and stronger which results in more serious injuries or death. The breed itself, however, has little influence on what makes a dangerous dog. Typically, the aggressive dog is a result of its environment.
If not properly raised, trained, and socialized, a dog is much more likely to be viscous, bite others and cause injuries. When a bite and injury occurs, many owners claim that it has never happened before and the dog has never been aggressive before. These claims are often untrue. A dog that bites typically has been showing long-term behavior of aggression.
It is important to document the injuries. Photograph the bites. If possible, photograph the dog and the location. Report the incident to animal control. Seek treatment.
If you are injured by a dog, Colorado law has many complexities, rules and exceptions. It is important that a victim of a dog bite speak with an attorney. If the claim is relatively small and the insurance company for the owner of the dog is not disputing liability, a person may have success settling their claim without an attorney. For most claims, however, an attorney is needed to bring the claim and obtain full compensation.
Our firm provides complementary initial consultations. The author can be reached at 303-733-6353 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Ramos Law has extensive experience in representing clients injured from dog bites or due to other types of dangerous animals.