Protect Yourself from Legal Liability Involving Dog Bites

The family dog is as American as apple pie, and they are also used for a variety of purposes.  Residents of Oklahoma can have dogs commercially for property protection, as domestic pets, or on ranches to provide support for cattle herding. 

In many areas of rural Oklahoma, there are currently no laws that limit the number of dogs that a homeowner may possess on their property.  However, in some districts like Oklahoma City, the number of dogs permitted is limited to four.  The average permitted in most communities across the state is 3-4 dogs per household, and there can be a fine of up to $200 for homeowners that have more than the legally allowed number of dogs on their property.

When you own a dog, there are some important legal considerations that should govern how you care for and control your pet, with regards to preventing personal injuries for anyone who comes into contact with your animal.  In this article, we’re going to share a few facts that dog owners need to consider, with regards to responsible pet ownership, and the legal liabilities that can occur, when your pet is involved in an injury incident.

Safety Requirements for Dog Owners

First and foremost, homeowners and renters must secure access to their dog to prevent injuries.  In personal injury cases when a dog has been at fault in an unsolicited attack on another individual, negligence is automatically determined by law.  If your dog bites someone, you are legally responsible for failing to prevent that injury.

Some homeowners in Oklahoma feel that this legal requirement only applies to guests or members of the public who may be bitten on their property.  When your dog is out in public, at a dog park, or if it is wandering loose without you, and it injures someone, you are also legally responsible for the incident and any personal injuries that have been incurred by the bite victim.

  • Always inspect your backyard fencing, to ensure that you have addressed any areas where your pet may leave your property.
  • Post signs warning others that there is a dog on the property.  Regardless of the size or perceived temperament of your dog; friendly dogs bite too, and a sign warning visitors can help them avoid an encounter with your pet.
  • Never allow your dog to be loose in a public area.  If your dog should happen to ‘escape’ the backyard, make sure to secure your pet immediately.
  • Never take your dog in public without a leash; that includes city sidewalks and parks.  If you are visiting a ‘leash free dog park’ be sure to review the liability disclosure posted by the municipality regarding legal responsibilities regarding injury to other people, or to other pets.

As much as we love our family dog, if your dog has aggressive tendencies or gets nervous around strangers, or if they have been involved in a biting incident before, make sure to muzzle your pet for safety.  A muzzled dog can do very little to injure bystanders or other pets, and it is a wise precaution that is recommended to avoid legal issues.

Common Questions That Dog Owners Have About Injury and Liability

Residents of Oklahoma are responsible for the humane care and responsible guardianship of their domesticated pets.  Any incident that involves either personal injury or property damage as a result of the behavior of your pet can result in legal action, and responsibility for the repair, restoration and financial reparation for injuries that occurred.

Here are some common questions we are asked, when consulting on personal injury cases that involve a dog bite or attack:

1. What if I have left my dog in the car, and he or she bites someone as they are attempting to gain access to my vehicle, or reaching into my car or truck?

Oklahoma legislation outlined in § 42.1. Personal injury by dog--Liability of owner, states: “The owner or owners of any dog shall be liable for damages to the full amount of any damages sustained when his dog, without provocation, bites or injures any person while such person is in or on a place where he has a lawful right to be.”

In the case of securing your dog in a locked vehicle, and the dog bite injury victim was attempting to gain unlawful access to the vehicle, you may not be held responsible for injuries.  This holds true as well, for individuals who may be trespassing on your property.  However, while the injury victim may not successfully seek legal damages, local authorities may still seize and destroy any animal involved in an attack. 

If the bite or attack victim is engaged in unlawful activities, including violence against the homeowner, break and enter, theft and robbery, vandalism etc. and they have no business or service purpose by invitation from the homeowner, they are defense provisions:

“It shall be an affirmative defense to a prosecution pursuant to subsection A or B of this section that the injury or death was sustained by a person who, at the time, was committing a willful criminal act upon the premises of the owner of the dog or was assaulting the owner of the dog.”

2.  Does someone have the right to shoot my dog, if it is being aggressive with them and the dog is not on my property?

Absolutely.  Any resident in Oklahoma has the legal right to protect their safety, that of their family and their property against trespassing animals that pose a threat.   The most common example of this type of circumstance, is when a domesticated dog is found chasing, harassing or injuring livestock.  The property owner can shoot to injure or destroy the offending dog legally.

3. What if a contractor is doing work on my property, and gets bitten or attacked by my dog?

According to § 42.2. [Lawful presence on owner's property], when you have hired an individual to do work at your home, and they are injured by your dog, they are deemed to be lawfully present on your property providing a business service.  As such, any injuries which occur fall to the direct legal liability of the pet and homeowner.  This includes construction workers, house cleaning service providers, daycare or babysitters, landscape workers and more.

4. Can my landlord evict me, because my dog has bitten someone in my complex or neighborhood?

A landlord has the right to evict any tenant to has a dog that has been deemed dangerous to public safety.  This label for your pet can occur after one or several incidents of attack or dog bite injuries.  The landlord may also contact animal control authorities who can, without a warrant, enter the premises to forcibly remove and seize the animal, after a complaint of injury by a resident.

5. What if a law enforcement officer is bitten by my dog, while he or she is on my property?

An unprovoked attack on a law enforcement officer while he or she is carrying out performance of official duties, can result in a fine not exceeding $5,000 and not more than (5) years of imprisonment.  If a law enforcement officer is visiting your home, ensure that your dog is secured in a kennel, or outdoors to reduce the risk of injury and subsequent liability.

In the most severe cases of dog attacks and mauling, when a victim is killed as a direct result of the injuries sustained by dog, the offense becomes a felony charge.   The penalties include a fine not to exceed $25,000 and up to (5) years of incarceration.

Remember that owning a dog is a privilege (not a right) and with it comes significant moral and legal responsibilities.  Take the correct steps to protect your pet by reducing your risk for dog attack injuries.

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