This dog has injured people before. Does that count?

A: Connecticut has a statute (written law) about injuries caused by dogs — it holds the owner or keeper responsible for all bites, even if the dog has not hurt someone before.  But many of the “laws” we all follow are not statutes — they have never been voted on by members of our state legislature.  Instead, they are “laws” that have been with us for centuries, often based on principles of commonly accepted behavior and decency our forefathers agreed everyone should follow.  These are part of our “common law.”
According to Connecticut’s “common law,” a domestic animal’s owner or keeper can be responsible for all injuries the animal causes after it has already hurt someone.  In other words, once the owner or keeper knows his particular animal is dangerous, he has the obligation to take reasonable measures to be sure the animal never does it again.  If he does not take the reasonable measures, he has been negligent and can be held liable.
This “common law” rule applies to all sorts of domestic animals.  And even though our special statute makes it easier to hold dog owners and keepers accountable, the “common law” rule applies to dogs, too.

Is it true that the owner or keeper is only responsible for injuries and damages if the dog has injured someone before?

A: The short answer is “no.”  Connecticut has a statute (written law) that specifically deals with injuries and damages caused by dogs.  That statute makes the owner or keeperfully responsible for all injuries and damages caused by the dog unless, at the time of the event:

  1. the person injured was  “teasing, tormenting or abusing” the dog, or
  2. the person injured was trespassing or committing an unlawful or injury-causing act.

Who is responsible for the injuries?

A: In Connecticut, it seems that the dog’s “owner or keeper” is fully responsible for injuries and damages the animal causes.  Finding the identity of the dog’s owner is usually not difficult.  There have been several court decisions about what it means to be a “keeper,” however.
Decisions about what it means to be a dog’s “keeper” often involve injuries on rental properties, where the landlord is sued because he allowed a dog in a tenant’s apartment and may even have known that the tenant’s dog was dangerous.  The courts have consistently decided that a “keeper” must have responsibility for the dog’s “care, maintenance, or control.”  This means actions like “feeding, giving water to, exercising, sheltering or otherwise caring for the dog” at the time of the incident.

What if stitches are needed?

A: This might be a good time to ask for a plastic surgeon, especially if the bites are on a part of the body that is visible, or if a child is involved.  Plastic surgeons are specially trained in techniques to minimize scars.

I’ve been bitten by a dog. What should I do?

A: No matter how bad the bite looks, the first thing to do is get medical attention.  Most of us have no hesitation about being licked by a dog, but if there has been any breaking of your skin, no matter how small, you run the risk of infection-or worse.  Get to an emergency room or a doctor immediately.

Call the animal warden from your town or city-the number is in the blue pages of your phone book or on the internet.  If you can’t find the phone number quickly, this is a good time to use an operator.  You must make sure that the dog has had its shots-rabies is a dreaded disease for good reason.  The animal warden will help identify the animal and contact the owner and/or keeper and make sure that all shots are current.

If there is any risk of rabies, you should talk with a doctor without delay about treatment.  Over the years, rabies shots have really improved and are nowhere near as painful as they once were.  Rabies, however, is as dangerous as ever.  Talk with a doctor about what should be done to protect you.

My child has been bitten by a dog. What should I do?

A: See the advice to the last question about what to do if you’ve been bitten.  We know you would do no less for your child.  Medical attention should be an urgent matter, for the wound, the chance of infection, and the possibility of rabies.  Never assume that the animal’s shots are current.  No matter how well you know the owner or keeper, contact the animal warden to get the most accurate information as quickly as possible.

Is there insurance to protect owners and keepers if a pet hurts someone?

A: Absolutely.  Most insurance policies for home owners, and many policies for renters, protect owners and keepers for injuries caused by their pets.  It pays to check your coverage for two reasons:

  1. some policies do not cover particular breeds of dogs, like pit-bulls, German Shepherds, Chows, etc., that are often thought to have been bred to be short-tempered and aggressive; and
  2. we find that people who might otherwise forgive a neighbor’s negligence really do expect dogs to be controlled, tied, leashed or caged, and especially if a child is injured, will bring a lawsuit for dog bites.

Ratings and Reviews