Visitor Question

Fault for unleashed dog that came after my dog?

Submitted By: Kass (Regina, West Virginia)

My husky was tied up and on a leash on shared property (because we both live in the same apartment building) while the other girl’s dog (chihuahua) was not on a leash.

During our stay here, this girl has never had her tiny dog on a leash at all I don’t believe. Not even once. Her tiny dog would come up to my Husky to bark and almost taunt him. Hard to say when it comes to protecting territory because of living in the same complex.

Anyways, one evening she came where my boyfriend had been with my leashed dog and her dog ran up to my husky barking, almost like trying to call mine on. Then it happened. My dog had her dog by the neck and was shaking it. My boyfriend jumped on my dog and started hitting it in the end and got my dog to release her dog.

During all this, my dog’s leash ripped and my dog took off. He didn’t go after the girl or her dog. He just took off. Almost like he knew he was going to be in trouble or was just shaken up in general. My boyfriend then went to try and get my husky back after that.

I went to check on her and her dog to make sure they were okay. The girl had no injuries at all but her chihuahua had very bad injuries. It looked like one leg was broken and the other one I couldn’t tell because of all the blood.

I had my dog leashed and she didn’t. Who would be at fault? Thank you for answering my question.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.

Answer

Dear Kass,

It is questionable as to who is liable.

The answer depends on how a judge or jury would weigh all of the pertinent facts in the case.

Dog Owners Have a Duty of Care

Dog owners have a “duty of care” to keep their dog from hurting another person or animal.

This duty means owners must act responsibly with their dogs. Owners also have to make reasonable efforts and precautions to ensure their dogs are not threatening to someone else.

Dog owners are “negligent” if they do not uphold these duties. Negligence is a legal term that means they failed in their duty to act responsibly.

Negligent dog owners are financially responsible for the harm caused by their dogs. In terms of a dog fight, this means that an owner might have to pay for:

  • Veterinary bills
  • Dog medications
  • Kennel fees
  • Animal hospital fees

Responsibility is a Question of Fact

The facts of a case determine whether or not dog owners uphold their duty of care. Points that stand out are whether:

  • A dog was on a leash
  • The attacking dog has a history of dog attacks
  • The breed of the dogs
  • An owner took any preventive measures to limit an attack

There are other facts that show you acted responsibly. You had your dog on a leash and normally do when the pet is outside. On the contrary, the chihuahua was not on a leash. This itself is not wise but is even more surprising since the chihuahua has a history of barking and disturbing your dog.

West Virginia has “Strict Liability” laws for loose dogs: 

“Any owner or keeper of any dog who permits such dog to run at large shall be liable for any damages inflicted upon the person or property of another by such dog while so running at large.”

 

In this particular case, the facts kind of cut both ways. Your dog was the larger of the two dogs, and some people say huskies are inherently dangerous. While the other dog may have initiated the contact between the two animals, yours was the first to bite and showed more aggression. It also seems that your boyfriend was near to the dog at the time of the attack and helped serve as an additional guard against a bite.

Unless you have a special license for a guard dog, West Virginians are not allowed to keep a dog known to be vicious or dangerous under state law. Further, some counties and towns also have rules banning particular dog breeds, most often “pit bull” breeds.

That said, West Virginia is considered a “one bite rule” state. That means before you can be held liable, the other party must prove you knew that your dog could be dangerous before your dog harmed another dog or person.

West Virginia’s dangerous dog law states: 

“Except as provided [for specially licensed dogs], no person shall own, keep or harbor any dog known by him to be vicious, dangerous, or in the habit of biting or attacking other persons, whether or not such dog wears a tag or muzzle. Upon satisfactory proof before a circuit court or magistrate that such dog is vicious, dangerous, or in the habit of biting or attacking other persons or other dogs or animals, the judge may authorize the humane officer to cause such dog to be killed.” Emphasis added.

Given the facts in this particular case, it’s wise to talk to a local attorney. The attorney will know the state and local laws that apply to your situation, and might also take a look at your lease agreement and housing rules.

When meeting with a lawyer, it’s helpful to take with you any other evidence regarding the dog fight. Valuable pieces include any photos and, better yet, any videos of the confrontation. These will show more facts that will help shed light on what party is at fault.

Learn more here: Dog-on-Dog Aggression

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney.

Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call 888-972-0892.

We wish you the best with your claim,

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