Dog-bites happen quite often. The owners of the dog or dogs may not realize their dog is vicious, or they may lose control of the dog, or a dog might escape confinement. In Indiana, dog-owners can be sued for injuries caused by their dog, either from dog bits or other injuries caused by the dog. A good example would be if a dog lunges at you and you fall off your bike, the dog owner would typically be liable in such a situation. Whether the owner is liable usually depends on the “one-bite rule” which proclaims that a dog owner must be on notice of a dog’s violent nature before they can be held liable. After an owner is on notice, they are on the hook for any injuries caused. There are other instances, in certain specific cases, where a dog owner is “strictly liable” essentially meaning liable, no questions asked. In those “strict liability” cases, the one-bite rule does not apply and typically deal with people brought to a home due to their job (e.g. a mail carrier).
What is the One-Bite Rule?
The one-bite rule in Indiana states that when an owner has no previous knowledge of the viciousness of the dog or has no knowledge that their dog previously hurt someone; they are not liable for the dog’s actions. The name “one-bite rule” is a misnomer as it doesn’t require a “bite” for the owner to be put on notice of a dog’s violent/vicious tendencies. Aggressive barking and lunging will often suffice as will other violent behavior. After the owner knows of a dog’s vicious tendencies, they can be held liable for the dog’s actions. This is how dog bite cases are normally dealt with in Indiana, but strict liability can be determined for certain people under the statute below.
When Would a Dog Owner be Strictly Liable?
Liability is determined in these cases under Indiana Code Section 15-20-1-3. This sections states:
Sec. 3. (a) If a dog, without provocation, bites a person:
(1) who is acting peaceably; and
(2) who is in a location where the person may be required to be in order to discharge a duty imposed upon the person by:
(A) the laws of Indiana;
(B) the laws of the United States; or
(C) the postal regulations of the United States;
the owner of the dog is liable for all damages suffered by the person bitten.
(b) The owner of a dog described in subsection (a) is liable for damages even if:
(1) the dog has not previously behaved in a vicious manner; or
(2) the owner has no knowledge of prior vicious behavior by the dog.
This section of Indiana Code specifically mentions who is covered, namely any kind of state employee or federal employee, and what they are doing, in this case acting peaceably. Provocation is also mentioned in the first line. In order for an owner to be strictly liable for the injuries caused by the dog, there must have been no provocation.
According to the Ordinances for Marion County, the definition of provoke is: “the infliction of bodily harm on an animal or another person, or conduct that constitutes a substantial step toward the infliction of bodily harm on an animal or another person.”
The phrase “acting peaceably” according to the Webster dictionary definition, is: “not argumentative or hostile”.
The word provoked and the phrase acting peaceably here are two terms that are very important in determining whether an owner is strictly liable in a dog bite case. If a person is on the property doing some job, especially if they work for the state and federal government, they do not provoke the dog and are not hostile, then if they are bitten by a dog, the owner is liable.
When provoking a person or an animal, another person would have to be verbally or physically threatening, or they would have to act in such a manner as to make the other person or animal feel threatened. If a person is not acting in such a threatening manner, then the above section of Indiana Code would apply.
Are There Defenses to The One-Bite Rule?
One defense, talked about above, is that the owner did not know of the violent propensities of the dog. A good Plaintiff’s attorney needs to do lots of research to counter this defense including getting veterinary records and talking to neighbors. Just as is mentioned in the Strict Liability state above, provocation would likely be another defense to a dog causing injury. There is also the defense of “assumed risk” where an insurance company will claimed that the person hurt put themselves into the situation with full knowledge that they would likely get hurt and thus “assumed the risk.” All of these defenses can be addressed by a good Plaintiff’s attorney.