When Lassie Attacks — Dog Bite Liability In Iowa

Personal injury matters involving dogs are fairly common.  They can be divided into two main categories.  The first encompasses cases involving dog bites, claw scratches, or other aspects of a dog attack.  The second category of dog liability concerns motor vehicle accidents and motorcycle crashes caused by roaming dogs.

For dog attacks, Iowa Code 351.28 states that “[t]he owner of a dog shall be liable to an injured party for all damages done by the dog, when the dog is caught in the action of worrying, maiming, or killing a domestic animal, or the dog is attacking or attempting to bite a person, except when the party damaged is doing an unlawful act, directly contributing to the injury. ”  That is a “strict liability” statute, meaning that the dog’s owner is automatically liable for injuries that fall within the statute’s terms without the need to prove the owner’s negligence or knowledge of the dog’s vicious or dangerous propensities.  This statute also creates the possibility of an action for personal injuries against a dog’s owner if a person is hurt while trying to escape a dog attack, for example a person who flees from a dog attack into a street and is hit by a car.

In some circumstances, people other than a dog’s owner may be liable for injuries sustained during an attack by a dog.  One example is people who are possessing, “keeping,” or “harboring” a dog for someone else.  That person may be liable for negligence if someone is hurt during an attack by the dog and it is proved that that person possessed, kept, or harbored a dog on the property that was known or should have been known to have dangerous tendencies.   Thus, while legal owners are strictly liable under Iowa Code 351.28, individuals possessing,  keeping, or harboring the dog on their property could also be held liable for damages if it can be proven that they knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous or potentially dangerous based upon prior experiences.

Another example of non-owner liability is landlords.  A landlord that allows a dog known to be aggressive to roam around the common areas of leased property may liable for negligence if that dog attacks someone in the common area, even if the landlord is not harboring or keeping the dog and has no control over the dog.  Another possible avenue of landlord liability is when the landlord harbors or controls a dog owned by someone else and knows or should know that the dog is dangerous.  In that instance, the landlord is liable for dog attack injuries that occur anywhere on the premises, even outside of common areas.

The other main category of dog-related liability concerns motor vehicle accidents caused by dogs that are running free.  Dog owners have a duty to control their dogs.  A dog that gets free and, for example, runs into a street and causes an accident, may be the basis for a negligence claim against the dog’s owner or the person responsible for keeping or harboring the dog.

Please feel free to contact me if you’d like to investigate the possibility of a personal injury or motor vehicle accident claim involving a dog.  I’ll be happy to meet with you and discuss the matter.

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