Updated Feb 18 2020.
Dogs, as they say, are man’s best friend. However, sometimes they are ill-tempered or poorly trained and can pose a serious danger to humans. Every year, more than 4.5 million Americans are attacked by dogs, and about 800,000 of those attacks result in the need for medical care. Victims may face medical bills, time off work, and emotional distress, but the dog owners may be liable for those costs. What is the dog bite law in Ohio?
Here are the big takeaways:
There are approximately 70-80 million dogs in the U.S.
According to the CDC, there are more than 4.5 million dog bites per year in the U.S., of which 800,000 need medical attention.
Some states follow common law rules, where the owner of a dog is only liable after the dog has already bitten or injured someone once.
Ohio has a One-Bite Rule, so owners are liable for the first injury their dogs cause.
Homeowner’s insurance usually compensates victims for dog bites; dog bites account for more than 1/3 of all homeowners’ claims in the U.S.
The average dog bite claim in 2014 was for more than $32,000.
Common Law Dog Bites
In general, dogs get one free bite before their owners become liable. If they bite someone one time, there are no consequences and the owner is simply expected to take better care to train and restrain her dog in the future. If you’re bitten by a dog in a common law jurisdiction, you’ll have to prove that the dog has bitten or tried to bite someone else before.
You’ll also have to prove that the owner of the dog knew about that incident. It’s tough to prove in court, which is why many states have enacted specific laws tightening the rules for dog bites.
Ohio Dog Bite Law
Ohio has strict statutory liability for dog bites. In other words, Ohio law explicitly makes dog owners liable for every bite, including the first one.
In Ohio, a dog that has bitten or otherwise attacked or harmed another person must be registered as a “dangerous dog.” Ohio Rev. Code § 955.22. Dangerous dogs are subject to serious restrictions. They must always be on a leash shorter than 6 feet (except while hunting) and they must be kept in a locked cage or locked yard. Dangerous dogs must be registered with the county auditor and must always wear a tag designating them as dangerous.
If you sell a dangerous dog, you must notify the purchaser of the dog’s status and inform the county auditor within 10 days of the sale. Ohio Rev. Code § 955. If you’re convicted of failing to control your dangerous dog three times, you will be required to get liability insurance to cover the chance that the dog will hurt someone. Ohio Rev. Code § 955(e)(1). It’s also illegal to debark or surgically silence a dangerous dog in Ohio and convicted felons may not own dangerous dogs. Id.
Dog Bite Quarantine
If your dog bites someone in Ohio, you’ll need to quarantine it for at least 10 days before removing it from the county. Ohio Rev. Code § 955.261(A). That’s to allow you to observe the dog to determine if it has rabies. If so, the bite victim will need to be treated for rabies as soon as possible.
Dog Bite Penalties
Most penalties if your dog bites a person or if you fail to adequately register and restrain your dog are misdemeanors. However, if you fail to follow all the regulations pertaining to dangerous dogs and your dangerous dog kills someone, you’re guilty of a fourth-degree felony and the court will order that your dog be put down. If you haven’t followed all the regulations and your dog seriously injures someone, you’re guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor and the court may choose to have your dog put down. Finally, you may have to pay fines to the county in addition to whatever damages you’re required to pay to the injured person. Ohio Rev. Code § 955.99.
Reporting a Dog Bite in Ohio
Anyone who has knowledge of a dog bite, whether it is the person bitten or the owner of the dog, needs to file a bite incident report to the health commissioner in the local health jurisdiction where the bite occurred within 24 hours. Ohio Administrative Code 3701-3-28. A rabies exposure risk assessment will be completed, and the dog will be quarantined.
The Ohio Department of Health tracks animal bites yearly, including potential exposure to rabies via bites. In 2015, the latest year available, there were 15,725 potential rabies exposure dog bites in Ohio.
If you are bitten by a dog there are many questions to keep in mind. Questions such as the description of the dog, the owner, location of where the bite happened, and how it occurred. However, the dog’s rabies vaccination status (if known) may be the most important information. Dog bite wounds should be thoroughly washed with soap and water as soon as possible and the injured area should be elevated.
A trip to your doctor also is warranted, if not the emergency room depending on the severity of the bite. If a dog bite is deep enough, it can damage muscles, tendons, nerves, or bones. Dog bites also can cause infections that need to be treated with antibiotics for 7 to 14 days. Though you may be put on antibiotics anyway to prevent infection. People with diabetes, liver disease, or illnesses that suppress the immune system may be more likely to develop an infection from a dog bite.
Who is Liable for a Dog’s Behavior?
Three different parties may be responsible for the behavior of the dog. The first, obviously, is the owner. However, a harborer or keeper of the dog may also be liable. A harborer is a person who controls the dog’s home. The most common example is that of a dog owned by a person who lives with her parents; the parents are harborers of the dog. In general, landlords are not considered harborers and are not responsible for the behavior of tenants’ dogs. However, landlords may be held responsible if the bite or attack happens in a common area.
A keeper is a person with temporary control over the dog. That may be a hired dog-walker or just a friend holding the dog’s leash. Say if the dog breaks free of the control of the keeper and hurts someone. The keeper may then be legally responsible for the injuries that occur.
Dog Bite Compensation
If you’re bitten by a dog in Ohio, you’re generally entitled to compensation from the owner. Ohio Rev. Code § 955.28(B). That compensation should cover any medical expenses you incur as a result of the dog bite. It may also cover any property damage. If the bite was so severe that you were forced to miss work, you may be entitled to compensation for your lost wages. You may also be entitled to compensation for “non-economic” losses, such as scarring, pain and suffering, and psychological damage.
If you find that you can’t bring a claim under Ohio’s specific dog bite statutes there are other ways. Remember that you may be able to bring a claim under a different, common law legal theory. For example, you may be able to show that the owner of the dog was acting negligently or recklessly. Or that they should have known that you’d be injured. For example, letting a dog loose in a kindergarten is probably negligent behavior. If you pursue a claim under the common law, you may be able to win punitive damages.
Punitive damages are amounts that are intended to punish the dog owner rather than to compensate you for some specific loss. So, you may be able to recover more money in some cases under common law than under the dog bite statute. Note, however, that owners are protected from common law claims by the One-Bite Rule; you probably can’t recover under common law if it’s the first time their dog has acted out.
You can also pursue a wrongful death claim against the owner of a dog. The estate, surviving spouse, and dependents of a person killed by a dog may be entitled to compensation for the death.
If you were trespassing or otherwise committing a crime on the property of the dog owner, you are not entitled to compensation. You’re also not entitled to compensation if you were tormenting or abusing the dog on the owner’s property.
Pursuing a Dog Bite Claim
If you’re injured by a dog in Ohio, you may be able to claim compensation directly from the dog owner’s insurance. Homeowner’s insurance is typically the type that covers dog bites. In fact, dog bites account for more than 1/3 of homeowner’s insurance claims in the US. The average claim amount is more than $30,000. Remember that you should consult an attorney before accepting a settlement from the insurance. Their business is minimizing payouts and you won’t be able to ask for anything else if you don’t get enough the first time.
If the dog owner doesn’t have insurance or if you can’t get your compensation through their insurance, you’ll need to file a suit in court. You may not need an attorney to deal with an insurance settlement. However, you should definitely get an attorney to deal with your lawsuit. Your attorney can help you decide whether to pursue your claim under the common law or the Ohio dog bit statute. Both can help you put together the best possible case to get the most possible compensation.
Your attorney can also help you decide who you should file suit against: the owner, a harborer, or a keeper? The success of your suit may depend on correctly assigning the legal blame for your injuries.
Statute of Limitations for Dog Bites
As with most other crimes, the law limits the amount of time you have to bring a claim for compensation. This does not account for the severity of injuries sustained due to a dog bite or attack. In Ohio, you have six years from the date of the bite or attack to bring suit. However, if you’re bitten before you turn 18, you have six years from your 18th birthday in which to file. After that time, you lose your right to file a lawsuit and claim compensation.
We Can Help
If you’ve been bitten by a dog, speak to one of our experienced personal injury attorneys. In a free consultation, we’ll go over the circumstances surrounding your injury. Then, we can help you decide how best to pursue your claim. We handle dog bites and other personal injury cases on a contingent-fee basis. That means we only get paid if you do and you never have to pay anything out of pocket.
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Prior to forming Dyer, Garofalo, Mann & Schultz, Doug worked as a bodily injury claims adjuster for a large insurance company. This unique experience has been a tremendous asset to Doug in his fight to achieve maximum cash settlements for his clients in minimum time. Since departing from the insurance company, Doug has dedicated his entire legal career to helping injured clients when they need it the most.