No proof of dog attack?

by Sarah
(Fayetteville, TN, USA)

My neighbor accused my roommate's dog or my dog of attacking and killing his dog today. I have one dog (a lab mix under a year old, she is full grown and is a medium dog) and my roommate has two dogs (the parents of mine). I have never seen my dog or my roommate's male dog outside of our fenced-in yard.

The other dog has jumped the fence and I have seen her in our driveway. She has been on a 20ft lead since discovering this. My neighbor filed a police report today stating one of the German Shepherd looking dogs at my house killed his dog. He was not home at the time, but his wife was. I was home and the dog that jumps the fence was on her lead all day.

After finding my neighbor taking pictures of the dogs with my son outside, my husband and I walked to his house to sort out the confusion. My neighbor was very adamant that it was one of our dogs because he has seen all three of them jump our fence and his fence and back again. He states they do this all the time.

Again, two of the dogs have never jumped the fence, to my knowledge, and the one that does is on a lead. We have never been notified that this was a concern. He states he has knocked on our door numerous times, but we must not have been home at the time. There is an adult at my house 24/7 to avoid daycare costs for my son.

We have never been notified by animal control or the police that there have been complaints. Also, I get home at 8:45am and from that time until my daughters get home from school, my son is outside playing with the dogs, unless it is raining.

I feel like this neighbor is going to try to harass my family and that he is planning on bringing a lawsuit. In a lawsuit, is it his job to prove that one of our dogs caused the damage, or is it our job to prove that they did not?

What I know is that one of the dogs matching, somewhat, his description was on a lead, and the other has never jumped the fence in the past. These are not aggressive animals and each time I have seen them around other dogs, they have been friendly and playful...except for my roommate's dog (she is more afraid and leery, but again, she is on a lead in a fenced in yard).

There are other dogs in the neighborhood. In fact, all of our neighbors have dogs. One of which is an actual German Shepherd. But he insists that it has to be our dog. On top of this, my dog was shot with a BB gun about a month ago. I couldn't imagine anyone doing that to a puppy, but the vet stated that's what it looked like.

I'm concerned about what my neighbor may do next because he mentioned he wanted to shoot our dogs. What are the liability factors here? Could we be vulnerable to a lawsuit? How can we protect ourselves and our dogs? Thank you.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "No proof of dog attack?":

Sarah (Fayetteville, TN, USA):

To prove one or more of your dogs attacked and killed your neighbor’s dog will require evidence. In civil cases (not criminal), the party filing the lawsuit (plaintiff) has the burden of proof to go forward and show "by a preponderance of the evidence" their case has merit.

Under the facts you present, your neighbor will need sufficient evidence to convince a judge or a jury that one or more of your dogs was responsible for the death of their dog.

"Preponderance of the evidence" is different from "beyond a reasonable doubt." Beyond a reasonable doubt is the measure used strictly in criminal cases. In those criminal cases, it is up to the prosecutor to prove the defendant (accused) is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That is a very substantial burden of proof to meet.

In civil cases, the burden the plaintiff has is much less burdensome. While there will always be great debate about exactly what "by a preponderance of the evidence" means, it can be equated somewhat to having your neighbor prove there is about a 51% chance one or more of your dogs killed their dog.

If they convince a judge or jury there is 51% or more probability one or more of your dogs killed their dog, then your neighbor will prevail in the lawsuit against you.

If you believe the neighbor's dog injured your dog, and your neighbor files a lawsuit, you can file a counterclaim. In your counterclaim you can ask the judge or jury to find against your neighbor and in your favor for your vet bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and even lost wages, if you had to miss work to take your dog to the vet.

If though, you decide to file a counterclaim, you are admitting there was an attack. You may not want to do that as admitting there was an attack could be held against you if the jury isn’t exactly sure if the attack took place.

If your neighbor sues you, the most he or she can get is the same as you might in a counter claim. That is all.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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