Your State’s Dog Bite Laws: What You Need to Know

A small dog bites the finger of a person

Dog owners and/or keepers as well as people injured by dogs should take the time to familiarize themselves with their specific state dog bite laws or injury statutes in order to avoid liability for a dog related injury. To help you better understand the laws, this article will provide an overview of the law in your jurisdiction.

Each state has its own specific laws concerning dog bites and/or injuries including knockdowns and use terms such as “vicious” or dangerous,” and “negligent owner,” and mention civil liability relative to certain breeds of canines. Understanding these legal nuances is essential to stay in compliance with the law and may impact your homeowners insurance coverage regarding harm caused by your dog.

Many states recognize strict liability regarding dog bite cases, which means that regardless of a dog owner or keepers knowledge of their dogs dangerous propensities they are liable for injuries caused by their canine, unless any injured party was committing a tort or trespass or otherwise abusing or tormenting the animal.


Dog bites can cause serious injuries and will result in legal and financial liabilities for the dog owner. These laws are designed to protect the public from the potential harm caused by dogs and to provide legal remedies to people injured by dogs, whether through a vicious bite or a friendly knockdown.

The Basics of State Dog Bite Laws

Dog bite laws can vary depending on the state, but they generally fall into two categories: strict liability and the one bite rule. In strict liability states, dog owners are held responsible for any injuries caused by their dogs, regardless of whether they knew or should have known of their dog’s dangerous propensities. In one bite rule states, a dog owner is held responsible if they were aware of their dog’s propensity to bite or cause harm and did nothing to prevent injury.

Strict Liability vs. One Bite Rule

Strict liability states typically hold the owner or keeper liable for any damages caused by their dog, regardless of whether the dog had a prior history of aggressive behavior. This means that even if the dog had never bitten anyone before, the owner will be held liable for the injuries caused by the dog. On the other hand, states with the one bite rule, generally hold the owner liable only if they knew or should have known that their dog had the propensity to bite or cause harm. This means that the owner must have had prior knowledge of their dog’s aggressive behavior, and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent their dog from harming others.

Liability for Owners of Dangerous Dogs

Many states have enacted laws that specifically define dangerous breeds of dogs. These laws typically define dangerous dogs as those that have attacked or bitten someone in the past, or those that have shown a propensity to attack or bite without provocation. In these states, the owner of a dangerous dog is held strictly liable for any injuries caused by the dog, regardless of whether they were aware of the dog’s dangerous propensities.

Liability for Non-Owner Handlers

Some strict liability states also hold non-owner handlers, such as dog walkers or caretakers, responsible for any injuries caused by the dog. This liability can arise even if the non-owner handler was not aware of the dog’s dangerous propensities. These laws are designed to encourage non-owner handlers to take appropriate precautions when handling dogs.

Defenses to Dog Bite Claims

There are several defenses that a dog owner can use in a dog bite claim, such as provocation or trespassing. If the victim provoked or abused the dog or was trespassing on the owner’s property at the time of the incident, the owner may not be held liable for the injuries caused by the dog.

Statute of Limitations

It is important to be aware of the statute of limitations for filing a dog bite or injury claim in your state. The statute of limitations is the time limit for filing a lawsuit after an injury has occurred. In some states, the statute of limitations for dog bite claims may be as short as one year, while in other states, it may be as long as four years. It is important to consult with an attorney to determine the
statute of limitations in your state.

Reporting a Dog Bite Incident

In some states, dog bite incidents must be reported to the local animal control agency or law enforcement within a certain timeframe. This is to ensure that the dog can be quarantined and observed for signs of rabies or other diseases. Failure to report a dog bite incident by an owner/keeper or handler of the dog may result in civil fines or other administrative penalties. In some cases, a dog may be declared dangerous and ordered to be euthanized.


In conclusion, it is important for dog owners/keepers and anyone who has been injured by a dog to understand their state statute and laws relating to dogs. By following your state law and taking appropriate precautions, you can prevent dog bite incidents and protect the public from the potential harm caused by dogs.

If you need legal representation for a dog bite case on Cape Cod, call The Snow Law Firm. With years of experience in personal injury law, Attorney Snow is capable of getting results when it matters most to you. Contact The Snow Law Firm today to schedule an appointment.


If you are bitten by a dog, seek medical attention right away and report the incident to the local animal control agency or law enforcement.
Yes, in most cases, you can sue the owner of a dog if it bites you and the owner may be held liable for any damages caused by their dog.
The penalties for violating dog bite laws varies depending upon the state, the number of offenses committed and may result in civil fines, administrative penalties and may result in a lawsuit.
There are several ways to prevent your dog from biting someone, such as socializing your dog, providing appropriate training and supervision, and taking appropriate precautions when interacting with strangers.
Yes, all states have some form of dog bite laws, although the specific laws vary from state to state. It is important to take appropriate precautions to prevent dog bite incidents and to understand your state’s rights if you are injured by a dog.


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