As the saying goes, a dog is man’s best friend. Most of the time, a dog is a wonderful companion that enriches the life of its owner. Unfortunately, there are times when man’s best friend will bite a person because of provocation, fear or instinct. In fact, there are millions of dog bites per year in the United States ranging from fatal attacks to relatively minor “nips” and everything in between. This blog will provide an overview of the Wisconsin dog bite law so dog owners can appreciate their potential liability and others can learn about the law in the unfortunate event that a friend or loved one is injured by a dog.
In Wisconsin, a dog owner is liable for damages caused by his or her dog. Wisconsin’s dog bite law is a strict liability statute meaning that the dog owner is liable simply because he or she owned or kept the dog at the time of the accident. Importantly, this means that a dog owner can be liable for the full amount of injuries caused by his or her dog even if he or she was not negligent in any manner. The dog bite law is set forth in Wisconsin Statute section 174.02, which states:
(1) Liability for injury.
(a) Without notice. Subject to s. 895.045 and except as provided in s. 895.57 (4), the owner of a dog is liable for the full amount of damages caused by the dog injuring or causing injury to a person, domestic animal or property.
(b) After notice. Subject to s. 895.045 and except as provided in s. 895.57 (4), the owner of a dog is liable for 2 times the full amount of damages caused by the dog injuring or causing injury to a person, domestic animal or property if the owner was notified or knew that the dog previously injured or caused injury to a person, domestic animal or property.
In addition to civil liability, the owner is subject to a fine of up to $1,000 depending on whether the dog previously injured another person. If there is evidence that the dog previously injured another person, the owner faces liability for twice the full amount of damages caused by the dog. When determining the injured person’s damages, the comparative negligence statute applies meaning that any fault on the part of the injured person is taken into account. Depending on the severity of the injury, the damages in dog bite cases can be significant.
For dog owners, this means that they would be well served to take steps designed to minimize the risk of a dog bite. For example, dog owners should:
- Consult with a professional to learn about suitable breeds of dogs for their particular household and lifestyle.
- Use caution when handling a dog around an infant or toddler.
- Never leave infants or young children alone with any dog.
- Obey leash rules.
- Immediately seek consult a veterinarian if the dog develops aggressive behaviors.
- Stay current on vaccinations. (Wisconsin law requires that any dog that bites a person must be quarantined for ten days so it can be observed for signs of rabies. If the dog is vaccinated it may be quarantined on the premises of the owner. Unvaccinated dogs will be quarantined at an isolation facility).
For those people who have been injured by a dog bite it is important to consult with an attorney who has experience handling dog bite cases. A competent attorney will be able to gather all of the necessary documentation to support your claim and determine whether the dog has previously injured another person. If you have any questions regarding Wisconsin’s dog bite law please contact one of our attorneys to discuss the details of your case in confidence.