In a recent blog post (see Dog Bites and Dog-Related Injuries) the idea that an owner or dog handler can be liable for personal injuries caused by their dog(s) under a negligence per se theory of liability was briefly discussed. This blog post will discuss this theory of liability in further detail. As previously indicated, an individual is presumed to have breached their duty of care owed to a victim of a dog-related injury where that person (1) violated a statute or local ordinance, (2) that violation was a proximate cause of the victim’s injury (or death), (3) the injury or death resulted from a particular occurrence the statute or ordinance was designed to prevent, and (4) the victim of the injury or death was within the class of persons the statute or ordinance was designed to protect. Here is a good example of a local ordinance designed to protect the citizenry from injury or death related to dogs: “It shall be unlawful for any person owning or controlling or having in their custody, whether upon a leash or not, upon any public street or place, three or more dogs at any one time.” If someone is walking 3 dogs along the sidewalk and only one of those dogs causes a victim to trip and fall by running into her, or during the victim’s attempt to get out of the way of the dog, the custodian of those dogs would be negligent per se, because of the applicable ordinance he violated. It is not important that only one dog caused the injury, or that the dog may not have even touched the victim. Because the statute was violated, that violation was a proximate cause of the victim’s injury (this is easily argued because but-for the dogs being at that place at that time, the victim would not have been injured), the injury resulted from the exact occurrence the ordinance was designed to prevent, and the victim (a citizen walking along the sidewalk) was within the class of persons the ordinance was designed to protect, the custodian will face liability under the ordinance and his duty of care owed to the victim will be presumed to have been breached. This presumption can be refuted in two ways. First, the liable party can show that they acted in a way that a person of ordinary prudence would reasonably have been expected to act under similar circumstances who desired to comply with the law (this argument would not be available here because there were no extenuating circumstances which caused the liable party to violate the law in order to avoid a greater harm to the victim). Or second, the liable party was under age and exercised a degree of care toward the victim that a person with similar capacity, maturity and intelligence would have exercised. This second way of refuting the presumption cannot be used if the violation occurred during an activity that is normally only engaged in by adults and that requires adult qualifications. If you were injured by a dog and believe the liable party violated a local law or ordinance, contact our dog attack lawyer today for a free consultation.
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