Dog parks have become increasingly popular over the past several years, both in Ohio and around the country. There are more than 140 off-leash dog parks in Ohio alone. Some are run by city or county park districts, some by the state of Ohio, and others by private entities like travel plazas.
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That’s good news for the 37.9% of Ohio residents who own dogs. But, it’s not without risks.
Ohio Dog Park Safety
In a dog park, both humans and dogs are exposed to unfamiliar animals who are unrestrained. Most of the time, it works out–but only when owners make good choices about whether and when to let their dogs loose in the park and how to monitor them.
Most dog parks post rules designed to keep everyone safe. For example:
- Dogs are typically required to be up to date on vaccinations to enter the park
- Most parks require that an adult monitor the dog, and some have “leash-in-hand” requirements to ensure that the owner can quickly restrain the animal if necessary
- Children typically aren’t allowed in dog parks unless they’re with an adult, and many parks discourage bringing younger children into the park even if they don’t explicitly prohibit it
- Young puppies are generally not allowed in dog parks
- There is typically a limit on the number of dogs a single adult may be responsible for in the park (usually 2)
- In accordance with Ohio law, female dogs in heat are now allowed to run loose in the park
Be sure to read the rules at any park you visit with your pet and follow them.
Of course, these rules are only the beginning when it comes to keeping yourself, your pets, and others in the park safe. You know your animal best, and know whether its temperament is suited to sharing the park with other animals, whether it’s necessary to remove your dog if the park gets too crowded or active, and when your dog is showing signs of stress.
If you’re uncertain about the behavior of another dog sharing the park, consider removing your dog and coming back later, when you can be more confident in the environment.
It’s also important to note that even a friendly, well-intentioned larger dog can seriously injure a small dog during play.
Who is Responsible When Someone Gets Hurt?
Unfortunately, both people and dogs are injured in dog parks, in Ohio and elsewhere. Some dogs have even been killed by other dogs while trying to enjoy a day in the park.
Generally, a dog bite or other injury caused by a dog in an Ohio dog park will be treated like a dog bite that occurred in any other place accessible to the public. That means the dog’s owner or handler will typically be responsible for any harm the animal causes.
Some states give a dog’s owner one free pass if they haven’t behaved negligently and have no reason to believe the dog is dangerous. Ohio does not. The general rule is that if you choose to own a dog, you take responsibility for any injury it causes.
An expert tip from Doug Mann
This strict liability doesn’t apply if the person who was bitten or otherwise injured was abusing or tormenting the animal when the attack occurred. That doesn’t necessarily mean the owner or handler won’t bear any responsibility–it simply means that the injured person would have to prove the owner or other responsible person was negligent, and their negligence caused or contributed to the injury.
In this situation, the compensation available would typically be reduced to account for the percentage of fault attributable to the person harassing the dog. If the dog bite victim was found to be more than 50% responsible, no compensation would be available.
What if My Dog is Hurt or Killed?
Under Ohio law, dogs are property. The owner or handler of a dog is generally liable for any property damage the animal causes, just as they are responsible for bites to humans.
Is the Dog Park Liable for Injuries?
Usually, the city or other entity owning and operating a dog park will not be responsible for dog bite and other dog attack injuries that occur in the park.
Generally, a business owner or other entity is responsible for injuries that occur on its property if and only if their negligence caused or substantially contributed to the injury. That means the dog park might be liable if someone was injured by a poorly-maintained piece of equipment in the park, or in some other way because the park management didn’t do its job properly. But, that won’t come into play in most dog park bite or dog attack situations.
Many dog parks also require owners to sign a liability waiver before their animals are allowed in the park.
See Also: My Dog Bit Someone On My Property: What Now?
What Type of Damages May Be Available after a Dog Park Injury?
When a person is injured by a dog in a dog park, the available damages are similar to those in any other type of personal injury claim. Damages will vary from case to case, but may include things like:
- Compensation for medical expenses
- Compensation for lost income due to the injury
- Compensation for intangible harm like pain and suffering
When a dog is injured, the answer is different, and a bit less certain. Technically, a dog is considered property in Ohio. The normal compensation for property damage is the cost of repair if that’s less than the fair market value of the property. If the cost of repair is greater than the fair market value, then compensation for property loss is generally capped at the value of the property.
This makes sense in the context of most other types of property. If your $2,500 vehicle is damaged in a car accident and the mechanic says it will cost $15,000 to repair, you don’t get $15,000 in compensation for a $2,500 vehicle. The insurance company will “total” the car and give you $2,500–the value of the property you lost.
Dogs, of course, are not cars. And, courts differ on how to treat injuries to animals.
A strict application of the system described above would mean that you couldn’t recover $500 in veterinary expenses after another dog attacked and hurt your middle-aged $50 mixed-breed pet. But, some Ohio courts have rejected that reasoning and made the aggressor dog’s owner liable for the injured dog’s medical care, regardless of fair market value.
Getting Help after a Dog Park Injury
If you or your animal is injured in a dog park, you’ll want to gather whatever information you are able to right away. Of course, in a medical emergency, you may not have that opportunity. But, depending on the number of dogs that use a particular park, the type of operation it is, and what type of records the park keeps, it may be difficult to identify the responsible party after the fact.
If you are able, get the dog’s owner’s contact information right away, along with contact information for any witnesses.
Of course, your first priority will be seeking medical care for yourself or your animal. Your next step should be to speak with an experienced Ohio dog park injury lawyer. At Dyer, Garofalo, Mann & Schultz L.P.A., we’ve been representing Ohio injury victims for decades.
To learn more about how we can help, call 937-222-2222 or fill out the contact form on this page.
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