Today I want to talk about that Beware of Dog sign and why it may be more important than you might realize.
First, let me preface this post by stating VERY CLEARLY that I am NOT an attorney. The information in this post has been gathered from various sources and may change at any time. If this information is important to you, I highly recommend doing your own research for your specific circumstance and location.
What You Need to Know About That Beware of Dog Sign
Dog bite law varies depending on the jurisdiction where you live and this is what determines the protection (if any) you receive from posting a beware of dog sign.
The general rule of thumb, however, is that IF someone enters your property understanding that doing so may carry a risk of being injured by your dog, they voluntarily took that risk and this limits your liability as a dog owner for any injury caused to that person by your dog.
How do you prove that the individual entering your property knew that there was a risk of being injured by your dog? You have clearly posted signs at all entry points of your home that advertise your dog’s presence – “Beware of Dog”, “Guard Dog on Duty”, etc.
As I mentioned before, dog bite law varies depending on where you live.
In jurisdictions that have a “dog bite statute” in place, the presence of a beware of dog sign on your property is NOT protection against liability.
What’s a “dog bite statute” and what jurisdictions have them?
A “dog bite statute” is a statute that states that IF your dog causes injury to someone – either in a public place or a private place, you ARE liable for that injury EVEN if you did not think that your dog was dangerous or likely to cause injury.
This is referred to as “strict liability statute” because, in order for you to be found liable for the injury caused by your dog, a victim DOES NOT have to prove that you did anything wrong.
You are walking your dog in the park and your dog has no history of biting someone. A stranger then walks over and engages you in conversation, they reach down to pet your dog, but your dog bites them.
IF you live in a jurisdiction where there is a strict liability statute in place, you will be found liable for your dog biting the stranger EVEN though you didn’t know that your dog was going to bite and they had no history of biting.
It is also worth noting that in some jurisdictions, the injury caused by your dog does not have to be a bite. It may also be another type of injury such as causing someone to fall down the stairs.
So How Do You Know the Law Where You Live?
To know whether a beware of dog sign would do you any good in your jurisdiction, you need to know the law where you live. The tables below are from the NOLO.com website and summarize dog bite statutes in the U.S.
Dog Bite Statute
|Alabama||Ala. Code § 3-6-1||no||Only applies if injury on owner’s property|
|Arizona|| Ariz. Rev. Stat. §11-1025
|Ariz. Rev. Stat. §11-1020||no||Only applies if dog at large|
|California||Cal. Civ. Code § 3342||yes|
|Colorado||Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-124||yes||Injury must be severe|
|Connecticut||Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-357||no||Injured person must prove not committing tort|
|Delaware||9 Dela. Code § 913||No|
|Florida||Fla. Stat. Ann. § § 767.01||no|
|Fla. Stat. Ann. § § 767.04||yes||Owner not liable (except to children under 6, or if owner was negligent) if displayed sign including words “Bad Dog”|
|Illinois||510 Ill. Comp. Stat., § 5/16||no||Injured person must prove lack of provocation or trespassing|
|Indiana||Ind. Code 15-20-1-3||yes||Only applies if injured person was in a location where they were required to be in order to discharge a duty under federal or state law (i.e. delivering the mail), they were acting peaceably, and they did not provoke the dog.|
|Iowa||Iowa Code Ann. § 351.28||no||Injured person must prove not doing unlawful act that contributed to the injury|
|Kentucky||Ky. Rev. Stat. § 258.235||no|
|Louisiana||Louisiana Civil Code § 2321||no||Applies to injuries “which the owner could have prevented”|
|Maine||Me. Rev. Stat. Ann., tit. 7, § 3961||no||Injured person must prove not at fault|
|Maryland||Md. Cts. & Jud. Proc. Code § 3-1901||no||Applies when dog “running at large”; otherwise injury creates “rebuttable presumption” that owner knew of dog’s dangerous propensities|
|Massachusetts||Mass. Gen. Laws Ann., ch. 140, § 155||no||Injured person must prove not trespassing or committing tort (unless less than 7 years old)|
|Michigan||Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 287.351||yes|
|Minnesota||Minn. Stat. Ann. § 347.22||no||Owner “primarily liable”|
|Missouri||Mo. Rev. Stat. 273.036||yes|
|Montana||Mont. Code Ann. § 27-1-715||yes||Applies only in city or town|
|Nebraska||Neb. Rev. Stat. § 54-601||no||Injured person must prove not trespasser. Applies only if dog chases, bites, kills or wounds|
|New Hampshire||N. H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 466:19||no||Injured person must prove not trespassing or committing tort|
|New Jersey||N.J. Stat. Ann. § 4:19-16||yes|
|Ohio||Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 955.28||no||Injured person must prove not trespassing or teasing, tormenting, or abusing dog on owner’s property|
|Oklahoma||Okla. Stat. Ann., tit. 4, § 42.1||no|
|Pennsylvania||3 Pa. Stat. § 459-502 (b)||yes||Owner must pay injured person’s medical bills|
|Rhode Island||R.I. Gen. Laws § 4-13-16||no||Only applies if dog out of their enclosure. On the second occurrence, double damages and court can order dog killed|
|South Carolina||S.C. Code Ann. § 47-3-110||no||Applies only if dog bites or attacks|
|Utah||Utah Code § 18-1-1||no||Does not apply to police dogs|
|Washington||Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 16.08.040||yes|
|West Virginia||W. Va. Code § 19-20-13||no||Only applies if dog at large|
|Wisconsin||Wis. Stat. Ann. § 174.02||no||After owner has received notice that the dog has caused injury, double the damages and penalties|
Other Dog-Bite Statutes
Some states have dog-bite statutes that don’t impose simple strict liability.
|District of Columbia||
D.C. Code Ann. § 8-1812
|no||If dog injures someone while “at large” the owner’s lack of knowledge of the animal’s dangerousness will not absolve the owner from a finding that he or she was negligent|
|Georgia||Ga. Code Ann. § 51-2-7||no||Owner liable if the dog was a “dangerous animal” or off leash or not under control|
|Hawaii||Haw. Rev. Stat. § § 663-9, 663-9.1||no||Injured person must prove owner was negligent unless the animal is known to be dangerous|
|North Carolina||N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § § 67-4.4, 67-12||no||Owner of a “dangerous dog” or an owner who allows “dog over six months old to run at large in the nighttime” is strictly liable|
|Tennessee||Tenn. Code Ann. § 44-8-413||no||Not exactly strict liability, but owner may be liable without knowledge of dog’s dangerous propensity|
Have a question about dog bite law where you live? Want to know how much protection you would receive from posting a beware of dog sign? Make sure to research local laws as well as state laws and if you need to, talk to an attorney to get a clear picture of where you stand.
As a dog owner, it is CRUCIAL that you are informed and educated!