The only Indiana statute that deals specifically with liability following a dog bite is Indiana Code (IC) §15-20-1-3, which lays out a straightforward standard: If an unprovoked dog bites a peaceably acting person, the owner is liable even if the dog has never before behaved viciously or the owner is unaware the dog has behaved viciously. However, this law applies only to a small subset of people—those discharging duties imposed on them by “the laws of Indiana,” “the laws of the United States,” or “the postal regulations of the United States.” In other words, police, postal workers, and other government employees who are on the job when they are bit.
For everyone else, things are a bit more complex. Dog bite cases often rely on an array of court decisions regarding negligence and the common-law doctrine of scienter—meaning, in essence, that an owner knows a dog has dangerous propensities.
If you have questions about your dog bite case, an Indiana dog bite lawyer at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm may be able to help. Our attorneys work on a contingency basis, which means you do not have to pay anything unless we recover compensation on your behalf.
For your free consultation, contact us today at (800) 816-0755.
Indiana Dog Bite Law
Under Indiana’s common law, dogs are presumed to be “harmless, domestic animals” regardless of breed or size, the Third District Court of Appeals wrote in the 1984 decision Alfano v. Stutsman. “This presumption is overcome by evidence of a known or dangerous propensity as evidenced by specific acts of the particular animal. When such is the evidence a duty arises for the owner or keeper to use reasonable care to prevent the dog from biting someone.”
The state’s courts have defined “reasonable care” as a requirement to “anticipate and guard against what usually happens or is likely to happen, and that a failure to do this is negligence; but that reasonable care does not require him to foresee and guard against that which is unusual and not likely to occur, and a failure to do this is not negligence.”
The Third District Court continued in Alfano, “When negligence is claimed, in the absence of evidence that the owner knew or should have known of a [dog’s] vicious tendency, the rule is simply that the owner of a domestic animal is bound to know the natural propensities of the particular class of animals to which it belongs. If these propensities are the kind which might be reasonably expected to cause injury, the owner must use reasonable care to prevent the injuries from occurring.”
In that case, the court ruled that the dog owner was not liable for the dog bite. The owner had no way of knowing the dog would be vicious when startled by a child. It was chained on the owner’s property during the attack, and the owner had posted a “Beware of Dog” sign, thus fulfilling his reasonable care responsibility.
In negligence cases, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant failed to meet a “duty of care,” and that failure resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries and losses. In 1999, the Second District Court of Appeals ruled that Indiana residents could be held responsible for the injuries a trespassing child suffered when their dog bit him on their property: “Maintaining a dog in Indiana imposes on a dog owner the duty of reasonable care, even when the owner is unaware of the dog’s vicious or dangerous propensities. Without knowledge of the dog’s vicious or dangerous propensities, the owner may become liable for damages the dog causes where the owner is otherwise negligent in the manner of his ‘keeping and control’ of the dog.”
In dog bite cases, negligence can also be shown through a failure to comply with a state law or local ordinance (known as negligence per se): If a person violates a local leash law and their dog bites someone, they are negligent. However, in situations where an adult’s failure of supervision allowed a dog to bite a child, Indiana courts have ruled that the adult rather than the dog’s owner might be negligent.
As noted in IC 34-51-2-5, in negligence cases, Indiana uses a comparative negligence standard to assess the compensation a person can recover. “In an action based on fault,” it says, “any contributory fault chargeable to the claimant diminishes proportionately the amount awarded as compensatory damages for an injury attributable to the claimant’s contributory fault.” This means that if you are deemed 20% responsible for the dog bite, your recovery will be reduced by 20%; if you are more than 50% responsible, IC-34-51-2-6 bars you from recovering anything.
To learn more about how negligence might affect your case, contact Pintas & Mullins Law Firm today.
Some dog bite cases get resolved out of court in a settlement with the owner’s homeowners or business insurance company. As the Insurance Information Institute (III) points out, most homeowners policies come with $100,000 to $300,000 in liability coverage, while the average dog bite claim is about $44,000. If you file a lawsuit, however, IC §34-11-2-4(a) gives you only two years after the dog bite to do so.
Indiana does not limit the amount of compensatory damages you may recover in a lawsuit, regardless of whether those damages are “economic” (tangible things such as lost wages and medical expenses) or “noneconomic” (e.g., pain and suffering and mental anguish).
How We Can Help
Whether justice requires us to locate the owner of the dog that bit you or simply show that the owner did not appropriately control their dog, the Indiana dog bite lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm will work tirelessly to recover compensation on your behalf. We do not get paid unless you receive a judgment or settlement. For your free case review, contact us today at (800) 816-0755.