What is our liability for our Pitt Bull attacking accidental trespassers?

by Loving Dog Owner
(Dayton, Ohio, U.S.A.)

My roommate and I own a Brindle American Pitt Bull Terrier. He is approximately 4 years old and weighs 75 pounds. He is a full time guard dog. He pulls shifts at my roommate's job, where he guards new and used tires from would-be burglars, and protecting my roommate and I at home. The dog is set in his ways, and dislikes strangers.

Before I could move into the house, I had to leave my scent around for a few days, and when I finally made my move, I had to physically be in the house before he came home. It took two weeks for the dog to accept me. With his owners, he's a fabulous dog. But when it comes to strangers, he will without a doubt, bite. Some people he'll pursue, others he'll ignore unless bothered. Because of this, we never keep him out front on a leash.

My question is this: Am I liable if my dog bites someone who trespasses? I live in an apartment complex, where everyone is familiar with our dog and his responsibilities. A neighbors visitor accidentally walked into my apartment, and got bit on the hand.

I'm used to the dog barking at people who get close to the door, and thought that the commotion was just another instance of this. When I walked into the living room from my bedroom, I got the suspicion that someone had tried to come into the apartment. I noticed the screen door was open, and the door was slightly open. I closed and locked the door.

Later, I found out that someone had indeed walked in, on accident. I checked on this person to see if they needed any assistance, or needed to go to the hospital. They assured me they did not.

If this had not been the case, and the victim sought medical and legal help, would I be held liable? I have two "Beware of Dog" signs up, clearly visible. The victim wasn't trying to break in, but walked in on accident. The dog, not knowing the difference, was doing his duty. What is your legal view on this scenario? Thank you.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "What is our liability for our Pitt Bull attacking accidental trespassers?":

Loving Dog Owner (Dayton, Ohio, U.S.A.):

If the dog had bitten a person who accidentally walked into a home, the dog owner would likely be liable. This is because the person wasn't committing a crime, nor did he apparently provoke the dog. In the alternative, if the person had been illegally in the home, and was there with intent to further his illegal entry by committing another crime such as burglary, the dog owner would probably not be liable.

“Beware of Dog” signs are almost useless when it comes to protecting dog owners from liability for injuries their dogs may inflict. A dog owner can’t put up a Beware of Dog sign and “hide” behind the sign if the dog injures a person who is legally on the dog owner’s property.

It’s pretty simple... A dog owner, and not a third person, has a duty to do everything reasonably possible to assure his or her dog doesn’t inflict injuries on other people. This includes leashing a dog, and making sure the dog does not have access to people if there is a chance the dog may bite someone. This is the case, even if the dog owner has his or her dog on a leash.

In almost all cases, other than cases where a crime is in progress, when a dog bites a third person, the dog owner is liable.

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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