Indiana Dog Bite Laws: A Guide

Indianapolis Personal Injury Law William W. Hurst

When Is Someone Responsible for a Dog Bite?

There are 4.5 million people bitten by dogs annually, according to the American Veterinary Association, and almost one in five of the affected people require medical attention. Children are the most common victims, and are usually the most severely injured.

Indiana code § 15-20-1-3 states that if an animal without provocation bites someone behaving in a peaceful manner, while you in a location where you have a duty of care, you are liable for the resulting injuries. According to the statue, you are absolutely responsible if the dog bites someone in a public place, or if someone is lawfully on your property. According to the law, you owe even a trespasser a duty to not be negligent in confining your dog.

In one case, neighborhood children routinely cut across a family’s property to go to a nearby softball field, which the family knew about it and allowed. According to a county ordinance, dogs must be confined within a fence on a dog owner’s property, or on a leash or chain. The family in question allowed their dog to roam freely, which then bit a neighborhood child crossing the property en route to the softball field. The court ruled against the dog owner.

Dog owners may need to confine pets to avoid possible liability, but liability can vary depending on circumstances and local ordinances. In the case above, the owner was found liable under the local ordinance for not confining his animal within a fence or on a leash, even though the animal was on private property. In addition, state law also required a pet owner to observe a duty of care even toward a trespasser when confining an animal. If you have been the victim of a dog bite under similar circumstances, a personal injury lawyer can tell you if you have a viable legal claim.

When Is Someone Else Not Responsible?

If you are a dog owner, however, and you properly restrain your animal, you are unlikely to suffer liability for bites. In Stewart v. City of Indianapolis, the court ruled for the dog owner when a neighborhood child attempted to crawl under the Stewarts’ garage door and was bitten by their dog. The court ruled the dog, being left in an enclosed garage, was therefore confined, and the family was not responsible for the bite.

How Can You Avoid Dog Bites?

  • Socialize your dog by introducing him to people and other animals when he is a puppy. When he gets older, different situations will probably seem less stressful to him, and he’ll be less likely to bite.
  • Be a responsible pet owner, by choosing a pet right for your family; train, exercise, and neuter/spay your pet.
  • Educate yourself and your children on when to approach and when not to approach a dog.
  • Don’t pet a dog that is not with its owner, or if the owner does not give you permission to do so.
  • Don’t reach through a fence to pet a dog.
  • Don’t pet a dog that is asleep, sick, injured, with a toy, or eating.
  • Don’t pet a mother dog who is with her puppies.
  • Don’t pet a dog that barks or growls.
  • Don’t pet a dog that hides from people.

What to Do if a Dog Bit You

If you were bitten by a dog, contact us now at (317) 636-0808 to schedule a free consultation. We can help explore your options and see whether Indiana law entitles you to compensation for your injuries.

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Indianapolis Personal Injury Law William W. Hurst
William W. Hurst

Bill Hurst has successfully represented hundreds of accident victims, and has limited his practice to personal injury cases for over thirty-five (35) years.


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