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Dog Bite Laws By State

Laws dealing with dog bites are a complex combination of city, county and state laws, and generally speaking, all states will hold a dog owner responsible for an attack. However, some states allow for dog owners to assert different defenses in dog bite cases such as the victim provoking the dog, or the victim in some way being negligent by trespassing on property near or around the dog. Just as dog bite laws vary from state to state, so do the defenses allowed in these very serious cases.

What follows is a brief explanation of the dog bite laws in our states.

AL | AK | AZ | AR | CA | CO | CT | DE | DC | FL | GA | HI | ID | IL | IN | IA | KS | KY
LA | ME | MD | MA | MI | MN | MS | MO | MT | NE | NV | NH | NJ | NM | NY | NC
ND | OH | OK | OR | PA | RI | SC | SD | TN | TX | UT | VT | VA | WA | WV | WI
WY

Alabama

A dog owner is responsible for damages caused by his dog when the dog bites or injures a person but only if the victim is lawfully present on the dog owner’s property at the time of the bite or injury. Lawfully present means he or she was invited by the owner of the property to be there, such as a friend or maintenance person. To the contrary, someone who is trespassing is not considered a lawful guest of the owner. However, even if the person is lawfully present on the property, the dog owner is not liable for an attack if it can be showed that the victim provoked the dog in some way, causing the dog to attack.

In Alabama, a dog owner can also defend his case if he is able to prove that he had no knowledge that the dog was dangerous or prone to attack. If the dog owner can prove this, the damages will be limited to the actual expenses caused by the injury and not pain and suffering.

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Alaska

Alaska does not have a specific dog bite statute but owners can still be liable for injuries caused by their dogs under general common law negligence principles. For example, if an owner does not exercise reasonable control over his dog and the dog attacks a person, the owner may be held liable. An owner may also be liable if he knew, or had reason to know, that the dog was prone to being vicious.

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Arizona

 The dog bite statute imposes strict liability on the dog owner for injuries caused by his dog, which means the dog does not get “one free bite,” which is available in some states. In Arizona, a dog owner is liable for full damages caused by his dog when the dog injures another person in a public place or when the injured person is lawfully present (see definition described in Alabama) on the dog owner’s property at the time of the injury. In Arizona, if a dog owner knows the dog is vicious, the dog must be kept in an enclosed area with a sign posted indicating the dog’s vicious propensity. Even if the dog has never attacked a person, a certain breed of dog may fit this requirement just based on the reputation of that breed (Pit bulls, Presa canarious, Rottweilers, etc.). In this state, a dog owner is not liable for injuries sustained if the dog was provoked.

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Arkansas

This state has no specific dog bite statute, but dog owners may still be liable for injuries caused by their dog under general common law negligence principles. In Arkansas, an owner must exercise reasonable control over a dog, and if the dog injures someone, the owner may be held liable. The owner may also be held to strict liability if he knew, or had reason to know, that the dog had a dangerous propensity that caused the injury.

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California

Here, a dog owner is liable for injuries caused by his dog regardless of any previous vicious tendencies of the dog. And, the victim does not have to prove any fault on the part of the owner, applicable to both being on private property and in a public place.

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In California, a dog owner may be able to defend his case if he is able to demonstrate that the victim assumed the risk of the bite. Examples include when the victim is trespassing, provoking the dog, or attempting to commit a crime.

Californians should note that the statute in the state defines dogs that are “potentially dangerous” or “vicious,” and separates them into two different categories. Dangerous dog owners must keep them confined in an enclosed area to prevent the dog from escaping, as well as preventing children from entering the area around the dog. When off the owner’s property, the dangerous dog must be on a leash and under the control of a responsible adult. Cities and counties in California do have the authority to prohibit the ownership of a vicious dog.

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Colorado

In Colorado, the dog bite statute imposes strict liability on the owner for injuries caused by the dog, regardless of the dog’s vicious propensity. In this state, the dog does not get “one free bite.” If an owner has knowledge of a dog’s vicious propensity, the owner must keep the dog in an enclosed area that is escape-proof. When taking the dog out of its enclosure, the dog must be on a leash and under the control of a responsible adult. If the owner has previously violated the dangerous dog law, the dog must be muzzled when outside of its enclosure.

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Connecticut

In this state, a dog owner may be liable for damages caused by the dog when the dog bites or injures a person if the victim can prove he was not trespassing at the time of the attack or was not teasing the dog. A person is considered to be lawfully on the property if he/she was invited to be there by the owner (explained in Alabama section). The law in Connecticut presumes that a child under the age of seven does not commit trespass or tease dogs. In those cases, the burden of proof lies with the owner.

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Delaware

In Delaware, a dog owner may be liable for dog bites or injuries in cases where the victim was not trespassing or committing or attempting to commit a crime on the owner’s property. Also, a dog owner is not liable for injuries if the dog was provoked, even if lawfully present on the property (lawfully present is explained in the section on Alabama).

In Delaware, the owner of a dog known to be dangerous must meet the following legal requirements:

  • Owner must have liability insurance to cover damages caused by the dog
  • Must spay or neuter the dog
  • Must immediately notify animal control if the dog gets loose or attacks a person
  • Must notify animal control when the owner moves or when the dog dies

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District of Columbia

In Washington, D.C., based on the principle of common law negligence, a dog owner may be liable for damages caused by his dog when a person is injured. In D.C., the same legal requirements as those of Delaware must be met.

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Florida

In Florida, a dog owner may be liable for damages caused by his dog when a person is attacked in a public place or when the victim is lawfully present on the owner’s property. Lawfully present is explained in the Alabama section. An owner’s defense may be that he displayed the words “dangerous dog” on his property. In these cases, he may escape liability unless the owner was negligent or the victim was under the age of six.

The owner of a dog known to be dangerous must meet the following legal requirements:

  • The owner must have the dangerous dog identified with a tattoo or with an electronic implant
  • Must register the dog with the state
  • Must immediately notify animal control when the dog is loose, has bitten someone, has been sold, or dies.
  • The dog must be properly confined.
  • The owner must display clear warning signs at all points of entry indicating there’s a dangerous dog on the property.

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Georgia

Dog owners are liable for damages caused by their dogs if they knew their dog was dangerous or should have known that the dog had a propensity to being vicious. In this state, the owner of a dangerous dog must meet certain legal requirements including:

  • Owner must maintain liability insurance for personal injuries
  • Must register the dog with the state
  • Must clearly display a warning sign on the property indicating a dangerous dog or potentially dangerous dog
  • Dog must be properly confined
  • When the dog is not confined, the owner must properly restrain and muzzle the dog

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Hawaii

This state does not have a specific dog bite statute, but dog owners may still be liable for injuries caused by their dog under general common law negligence principles.

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Idaho

This state does not have a specific dog bite statute, either, but dog owners may still be liable for injuries caused by their dogs under general common law negligence principles. Dog owners in Idaho need to be aware that any dog, even if not provoked, that attacks or injures a person, may be defined as a “vicious dog.” Owners of these vicious dogs must take special care to ensure the dog is not able to escape from its enclosure. Violations of the dog bite regulations may result in fines for the owner of the dog.

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Illinois

A dog owner in Illinois may be liable for damages when his dog attacks someone but only if the victim is lawfully present on the owner’s property. Lawfully present is defined in the section for Alabama. A dog owner is not liable, in Illinois, for injuries sustained by a person if the dog was provoked. In this state, each county has the authority to further regulate owner liability regarding dangerous dogs.

In Illinois, the owner of a vicious or dangerous dog must meet certain legal requirements including:

  • Special care must be taken in confining the dog
  • When not confined, the dog must be properly restrained and muzzled.

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Indiana

In this state, every dog is presumed to be harmless under state law, but a victim can overcome this presumption by presenting evidence that the dog had a propensity toward violence. In these situations, liability is still based on negligence. The victim must demonstrate the owner failed to take reasonable steps to prevent injury. A dog owner in Indiana may be liable for their dog’s attack if the victim was acting within his or her duties imposed by state law, federal law, or postal regulations of the United States.

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Iowa

A dog owner may be liable for damages caused by his dog except in situations where the victim engaged in an unlawful act (trespassing or committing a crime).

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Kansas

No dog bite statute is in place in Kansas, but dog owners may still be liable for injuries caused by their dog under general common law negligence principles.

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Kentucky

In this state, dog bites are governed by a strict liability statute that assigns all liability to the dog owner for damages caused by the dog as long as the person is lawfully present on the property at the time of the attack (lawfully present is explained in the section on Alabama).

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Louisiana

In this state, dog owners are liable for dog attacks but only if the injured person is able to demonstrate that the owner knew, or should have known, the dog’s behavior would cause injury, that the injury could have been prevented through the use of reasonable care, and that the owner failed to act reasonably to prevent the injury. If the dog is provoked, the owner is usually not liable.

In Louisiana, the owner of a dangerous dog must meet certain legal requirements including:

  • Dog must be registered with the local dog licensing authority and must clearly display warning signs around the dog’s enclosure such as “beware of dog.”
  • Special care must also be taken in enclosing the dog.
  • When the dog is not confined, he must be on a leash.

In this state, it is unlawful to own a vicious dog.

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Maine

In this state, a dog owner may be liable for damages caused by his dog as long as the victim’s actions did not provoke the dog. If the victim’s action played some part in the attack, the damages are reduced only if the judge determines that the fault of the victim exceeded the negligence of the owner of the dog. In Maine, after a dog has bitten or otherwise injured a person, a court may conduct a hearing to determine if the dog is dangerous or not. If the dog is deemed dangerous, a judge may order the dog to be muzzled, restrained, confined indoors, or confined outdoors in an enclosure. If the injury is severe enough, the judge may order the dog to be destroyed. If the dog owner does not comply with the judge’s orders, he may be required to pay the injured person triple the amount of damages suffered.

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Maryland

While this state does not have a specific dog bite statute, the owner of a dog may still be liable for injuries caused by his dog under general common law negligence principles. In order to hold a dog's owner liable for dog bite injuries, the plaintiff must prove that the owner of the attacking dog knew or should have known that the dog was vicious and failed to take appropriate precautions.

If a dog is classified as a dangerous dog, the owner faces criminal penalties if he or she fails to take appropriate precautions as well as liability for dog bite injuries.An owner of a dangerous dog may not leave the dog unattended, unless confined indoors or in a securely locked pen outdoors. Dog owners must also properly restrain and muzzle dangerous dogs when the dog is off his property.

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Massachusetts

In this state, the dog owner may be liable for damages caused by his dog but only if the injured person was not trespassing at the time of the incident. If the person provoked the dog to attack, the owner is typically not liable. Massachusetts law presumes that when the victim is under seven years of age, the child was not provoking the dog or trespassing. The burden then goes to the dog owner to prove the child was trespassing or provoking the dog prior to the attack.

Local authorities have the right to issue orders regarding the control of certain dogs such as ordering a certain dog to be restrained. If that dog injures a person after the order, the owner will be liable for three times the amount of damages sustained by the victim.

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Michigan

In Michigan, regardless of the dog owner’s knowledge that the dog is vicious, a dog owner is subject to strict liability for damages caused by his dog when the dog bites someone. Dog bite victims in this state may seek damages both under Michigan’s dog bite statute and under a common law theory of negligence where the victim is able to prove that the owner’s negligence caused the injury. A dog that has caused serious injury or death to a person (or another dog) can be ordered to be destroyed by the appropriate Michigan court. Dog owners of dangerous dogs must meet certain legal requirements including:

  • The court may order the owner to register the dog with the Michigan Department of Agriculture, be tattooed, and be sterilized
  • The owner may be required to obtain and maintain liability insurance
  • The dog must be enclosed on the owner’s property
  • The owner must take appropriate action to protect the public from the dangerous dog

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Minnesota

In this state, a dog owner may be liable for the full amount of damages if a person is attacked and lawfully present on the dog owner’s property (lawfully present is defined in the section on Alabama). In Minnesota, the owner of a dangerous dog must meet certain legal requirements including:

  • The owner must register the dog with local authorities
  • Pay an annual registration fee
  • Maintain a liability policy of at least $50,000
  • Dogs must be identified with a microchip device and must wear a tag identifying them as being “dangerous.”
  • Owner must clearly display the uniform “dangerous dog” symbol as specified by Minnesota’s Commissioner of Public Safety.
  • Dog must be properly confined and when not confined, must be restrained and muzzled.

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Mississippi

This state has no dog bite statute but owners can be liable for injuries caused by their dogs if they knew, or had reason to know, the dog has a tendency toward violence.

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Montana

Regardless of the owner knowing the dog’s propensity toward violence, a dog owner may be liable for damages caused by his dog. If the dog is provoked or the person is not lawfully present on the dog owner’s property, then the dog owner is typically not liable. Lawfully present is explained in the section on Alabama.

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Nebraska

In this state, a dog owner is strictly liable for damages his dog causes but only if the person is lawfully present on the dog owner’s property (lawfully present is explained in the section on Alabama). If the dog is provoked or the victim is trespassing, the owner is typically not liable. People injured by dogs (except for trespassers) are not required to demonstrate the dog owner had knowledge of the dog’s propensity for violence. Trespassers may also be able to recover for damages if they can demonstrate the dog owner knew the dog’s propensity for viciousness.

In Nebraska, the owner of a dangerous dong must meet certain legal requirements including:

  • Warning signs must be displayed indicating a dangerous dog
  • Dogs must be properly confined
  • When not confined, the dog must be properly restrained

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Nevada

Nevada is one of the states that does not have a specific dog bite statute, but dog owners may still be liable for injuries caused by their dogs. In Nevada, it is illegal for a person to own a vicious dog. If a person owns a vicious dog and that dog injures someone, the owner of the dog may be guilty of a felony and subject to jail time and/or a fine.

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New Hampshire

Dog owners are subject to strict liability for damages if their dogs attack and injure someone who is lawfully present on their property. Lawfully present is defined in the section on Alabama.

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New Jersey

In New Jersey, a dog owner is liable for damages if a person is injured by his dog while lawfully present on the property. The victim is not required to prove any negligence on the part of the owner. The authorities in New Jersey are able to declare a dog as being “vicious” or “potentially dangerous,” depending on the propensities and actions of the dog. A dog declared as vicious will be destroyed. If a dog is declared “potentially dangerous,” certain legal requirements must be met:

  • The owner must register the dog with the local authorities
  • Owner may be required to maintain a liability insurance policy to cover any damage caused by the potentially dangerous dog.
  • Owner must clearly display warning signs indicating the dog is dangerous.
  • Dog must be properly confined.
  • When not confined, the dog must be properly restrained and muzzled.

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North Carolina

NC does not have a specific dog bite statute, but dog owners may still be liable for injuries caused by their dog under general common law negligence principles. Dangerous dogs must be confined in a securely closed pen if outdoors or confined indoors. If taken off the owner’s property, the dogs must be properly leashed, restrained and muzzled.

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North Dakota

Dog bite laws are same as in North Carolina.

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Ohio

In Ohio, a dog owner is strictly liable for damages caused by his dog but only if the person is not committing or attempting to commit a crime or trespassing on the owner’s property. The owner of a dangerous dog must meet certain legal requirements:

  • The owner must register the dangerous dog with the state
  • The owner must maintain a liability insurance policy to cover any damage caused by the dog
  • Post clearly-visible warning signs on the property indicating the presence of a dangerous dog
  • The owner must confine the dog properly
  • When the dog is not confined, the dog must be properly restrained, leashed, and muzzled.

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Oklahoma

A dog owner in this state is strictly liable for damages caused by his dog when he injures someone who is lawfully present on the property. Lawfully present is explained in the section on Alabama. A dog owner is not liable, however, for injuries sustained by a person if the dog was provoked.

The owner of a dangerous dog must meet certain legal requirements regulated by local, municipal and country authorities including the same ones listed for the state of Ohio.

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Oregon

While Oregon does not have a specific dog bite statute, dog owners may still be liable for injuries caused by their dog.

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Pennsylvania

In PA, owners and keepers of dogs are required to have reasonable control over their dogs at all times, and all dogs must be confined on their premises. When not on their own property, dogs must e restrained with a collar, chain, or other restraining device. A person suffering a dog bite may recover for damages under a theory of negligence if he is able to prove the dog owner violated PA’s confinement statute.

The owner of a dog declared to be dangerous must meet certain legal requirements:

  • The owner must register the dangerous dog
  • The owner must maintain a liability insurance policy to cover personal injuries caused by his dog
  • The owner must post clearly-visible warning signs on the property indicating a dangerous dog
  • Dog must be properly confined
  • When not confined, dog must be properly restrained with a muzzle and chain or leash and physically controlled by a responsible adult.
  • Owners must notify the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, the State Dog Warden, and the local police department if the dangerous dog gets loose, is unconfined, has attacked a person or animal, has died, or been sold.

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Rhode Island

In this state, a dog bite victim may seek damages for injuries resulting from a dog bite using the theory of common law negligence. With this, the victim must demonstrate that the dog owner’s negligence caused the injury. If a dangerous dog injures a person and the dog was not provoked, then the dog owner may be liable for all damages sustained. It is not necessary for the injured person to demonstrate the dog owner or dog keeper knew of the dog’s vicious propensities.

In Rhode Island, the owner of a dog declared dangerous must meet certain legal requirements including:

  • The owner must register the dog and have the dog’s registration number tattooed on its left thigh
  • The owner must maintain a liability insurance policy to cover personal injuries caused by the dog
  • Clearly-visible warning signs must be posted on the property indicating the presence of a dangerous dog
  • The dog must be confined properly
  • When not confined, the dog must be properly restrained
  • A vicious dog is only allowed out of its home or enclosure to go to the veterinarian, to comply with a legal order, or to receive the vicious dog tattoo.
  • Owners must notify the local police if the vicious dog gets loose, has attacked a person or animal, or has died.
  • It is unlawful to leave a vicious dog in the care of a person under the age of 16 or to sell or give away a vicious dog.

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South Carolina

In SC, a dog owner is liable for damages caused by his dog when he attacks a person and causes injury in a public place or on private property if the victim was lawfully present.  Lawfully present is explained in the section on Alabama. The owner of a dog declared dangerous must meet certain legal requirements:

  • Dog must be registered with local law enforcement
  • Owner must maintain a liability insurance policy to cover personal injuries caused by the dog
  • Clearly-visible warning signs must be on property indicating presence of a dangerous dog
  • Dog must be properly confined
  • When not confined, dog must be properly restrained and muzzled

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South Dakota

South Dakota does not have a specific dog bite statute, but dog owners may still be liable for injuries caused by their dogs.

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Tennessee

In TN, a dog owner may be liable for damages caused by his dog but only if the injured person is able to prove that the dog owner’s negligence caused the injury.

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Texas

While Texas does not have a specific dog bite statute, dog owners may be held liable for injuries that their dogs cause. If the owner had knowledge of the dog’s vicious nature, the owner may be subject to strict liability for any injuries caused by the dog.

In Texas, the owner of a dog declared dangerous must meet certain legal requirements:

  • The owner must register the dangerous dog with the local animal control authority
  • The owner must maintain a liability insurance policy to cover personal injuries caused by the dog
  • The dog must properly confined
  • When not confined, the dog must be properly restrained

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Utah

In this state, a person who owns or keeps a dog is liable for damages caused by the dog regardless of whether or not the dog was known to have vicious or aggressive propensities. Comparative fault is used to determine the amount of liability, meaning any fault attributed to the victim may reduce the amount of damages available.

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Vermont

While Vermont does not have a specific dog bite statute, dog owners may still be liable for injuries their dogs cause under general common law negligence principles. If the victim is able to demonstrate the owner’s negligence caused the injury, the owner may be liable for the damages inflicted by his dogs.

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Virginia

While Virginia does not have a specific dog bite statute, dog owners may still be liable for injuries their dogs cause under general common law negligence principles. If the victim is able to demonstrate the owner’s negligence caused the injury, the owner may be liable for the damages inflicted by his dogs.

Also, in Virginia, any county, city, or town holds the authority to enact dangerous and vicious dog ordinances. The owner of a dog declared dangerous must meet certain legal requirements:

  • Owner must register the dog with the local animal control authority
  • Owner must maintain a liability insurance policy to cover personal injuries caused by the dog
  • The dog must wear a “dangerous dog” identification tag in addition to being identified with a tattoo or an electronic implant
  • The dog must be confined properly
  • When not confined, the dog must be restrained and muzzled properly

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Washington

In Washington state, a dog owner is liable for damages caused by his dog when the dog bites or injures a person, but only if the injured person is lawfully present at the time of the incident. Lawfully present is explained in the section on Alabama. If the dog is provoked by the victim or the victim is trespassing at the time of the incident, the dog owner is not usually liable.

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West Virginia

In WV, a dog owner or keeper who permits a dog to run loose is liable for damages caused by the dog. The victim is not required to prove the owner’s negligence. If a dog is not running loose but injures a person, the victim must demonstrate the owner’s negligence caused the injury. The owner of a dog generally considered to be vicious or dangerous, for the purpose of protection, must meet certain legal requirements including:

  • The owner must acquire a special license from the county assessor
  • The owner must properly secure the dog in a manner intended to prevent injury to a person lawfully on the property

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Wisconsin

In the state of Wisconsin, a dog owner is liable for damages caused by his dog regardless of whether the owner knew of the violent nature of the dog. If the owner did know about the dog’s violent nature, then the owner will be liable for twice the amount of damages. When determining the amount of damages, any fault on the part of the injured person is considered by the court.

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Wyoming

While no dog bite statute exists in this state, dog owners may still be liable for injuries caused by their dogs. In Wyoming, a plaintiff is able to demonstrate knowledge of vicious propensities by showing the general class to which the dog belongs. Also, individual counties are permitted to enact ordinances for the purpose of controlling dangerous and vicious dogs.

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