Are Negligent Dog Owners Held Accountable?

Category: Dog Bites/Animal Attacks

Article by Tuley Law staff

Are Negligent Dog Owners Held Accountable?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell us that more than four million people in the United States are bitten or injured in some other way by dogs every year. As dog bite lawyers, we know that without quick, proper medical treatment, dog bites can cause disfigurement, nerve injuries, and several dangerous diseases. Sadly enough, children from ages five to nine are the most frequent victims of dog bites. The second largest victim group is elderly people. If a dog bites you or injures you in some other way, can you sue the dog’s owner for damages? In the state of Indiana, you can.

Dog bite victims may require skin grafting, physical therapy, and reconstructive surgery. In some cases, healing can take years. In 2015, dog bites led to 34 deaths in the United States. Pit bulls were the dogs involved in 28 or those 34 fatalities. An Indiana dog bite victim may be entitled to compensation for medical treatment and injury-related expenses, but if a dog bites you, your compensation isn’t automatic. You’ll need the legal advice and services of an experienced Evansville dog bite attorney. In this state, a dog’s owner can be found liable for a dog bite injury on three different legal grounds:

  • negligence
  • the “one-bite rule”
  • strict liability, where the victim is carrying out a duty imposed by law (such as a mail carrier or a fire fighter)

Negligent Dog Owner

A dog owner who is negligent in handling a dog may be held legally accountable if someone is injured as result of that negligence. In this state, a dog’s owner has a legal duty to keep the dog under reasonable care and control, even if the owner has no knowledge of any previous vicious tendencies in the dog. A landlord in Indiana has only a limited duty to protect third parties from dangerous dogs harbored by tenants and cannot be held liable for damages caused by a tenant’s dog unless the landlord had specific prior knowledge of the danger posed by the dog.


Although Indiana does not have a statewide dog leash law, most of the state’s municipalities and county governments have established their own dog leash ordinances, and the violation of a leash ordinance constitutes negligence if the violation was the cause of a dog bite injury. Most Indiana cities and counties require that a dog must be restrained at all times when outdoors, whether on the owner’s property or on public property.

Apart from the violation of a local leash law, defining negligence in an Indiana dog bite case can be difficult. Whether or not a dog’s owner was negligent is a determination that must be made after consideration of the particular facts and details of each individual dog bite incident. It basically hinges on whether or not, in the given situation, a dog’s owner acted sensibly and responsibly.

Held Liability

In some states, a dog owner is liable for a dog bite injury only if the dog has previously bitten or attacked someone in the past and the owner knows it. This is the “one-bite rule.” In Indiana, when a dog’s owner knows that his or her dog has bitten or injured someone in the past, and that dog again bites or otherwise injures someone, the dog’s owner can be found liable under the one-bite rule.


Under the legal principle of strict liability – liability that does not depend on actual negligence or intent to harm – a dog’s owner can be found liable in Indiana if the dog bites someone who is carrying out a duty “imposed upon him [or her] by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States of America.” Under strict liability, a dog bite victim does not have to prove that the dog’s owner was negligent, but only must prove that he or she was injured without provoking the animal and that he or she had a legal obligation to be at the location at that time.

Dogs are animals that use their strong teeth and jaws to rip apart food and flesh. This can cause severe injuries to humans, significant blood loss, and nerve damage. Dog bites are often traumatic. Amputations, lacerations, disfigurement, and long-term psychological damage are the predictable consequences of dog bite attacks. However, dogs usually convey warning signs when they prepare to bite. Knowing those signs may help you and your family to avoid a dog bite.

Health Damages
Immediately before biting someone, most dogs will growl, bark threateningly, and lift their lips. The hackles on the dog’s neck and back may rise. The dog may go rigid. However, some dogs may provide no warning at all before biting. Because small children are frequently the victims of dog bites, it’s important for parents to teach children these rules for encountering dogs they do not know:

  • Always ask the owner’s permission to approach or pet a strange dog.
  • If the owner is not present, do not even approach a strange dog or make eye contact.
  • Don’t run or scream. Remaining quiet and still is the best thing to do.

Obviously, not every dog bite is the dog owner’s responsibility. If a sign says “No Trespassing: Beware of Dog,” you have no grounds for legal action if you trespass and the dog bites you. Similarly, if you walk up to a fenced yard with a “Beware of the Dog” sign clearly posted, stick your finger through the fence, and the dog bites you, you cannot sue for damages. Confining the dog and posting the sign are reasonable precautions against someone being injured, so the dog’s owner in such a case would have no liability.


If you or someone you love is bitten or otherwise injured by a dog – or by any other pet animal in Indiana – seek medical attention immediately. If the dog exhibits rabies symptoms – or if the dog cannot be found – a doctor may order rabies vaccinations. After receiving medical attention, contact an experienced Evansville personal injury attorney. With the right lawyer working on your behalf, you can be reimbursed for your medical care, pain and suffering, lost income, and all other injury-related damages.

Avoid Dog Bite

After a dog bite, keep and make copies of any legal, medical, or insurance receipts or documents generated by the incident. Have photographs taken of your injuries, and let your dog bite attorney handle any negotiations with an insurance company. The state of Indiana entitles dog bite victims to full compensation for their medical treatment and other dog bite-related costs, and the state obligates dog owners to be thoughtful, safety-conscious, and responsible for their pets at all times.

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