Have you been attacked by a dog?
We love our dogs, and we also know that we must control them so they don’t hurt others. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 4.5 million dog bites occur each year in the U.S. Approximately 900,000 dog bite victims seek emergency medical care at hospitals every year.
If you have been attacked, you may have a claim against the dog owner and others who contributed to the exposure. Dog attacks can be surprisingly complicated cases. There is a web of local and state laws that govern dogs and dog ownership in Colorado, and making sure that your claim is treated seriously depends on your attorney’s knowledge.
Colorado Law for Dog Attacks
Colorado Dog Bite Statute
In Colorado, dog bites are governed by statute, and claims under the statute can be brought in addition to negligence claims, claims for negligence per se, and sometimes outrageous conduct claims. C.R.S. § 13-21-124(6)(a), (b). The statute reads in pertinent part:
A person or a personal representative of a person who suffers serious bodily injury or death from being bitten by a dog while lawfully on public or private property shall be entitled to bring a civil action to recover economic damages against the dog owner regardless of the viciousness or dangerous propensities of the dog or the dog owner’s knowledge or lack of knowledge of the dog’s viciousness or dangerous propensities.
C.R.S. § 13-21-124(2). “The statute imposes strict liability for economic damages upon a dog owner for any dog bite causing serious injury, subject to specified exclusions.” Legro v. Robinson, 2012 COA 182, ¶ 19, aff’d but criticized on other grounds, 2014 CO 40, ¶ 19, accord Robinson v. Legro, 2014 CO 40, ¶ 1 (“Colorado’s dog bite statute,… governs “civil actions against dog owners” and imposes strict liability on a dog owner whose dog causes serious bodily injury or death unless at least one of six exemptions applies.”).
“Bodily injury” is defined by the statute as “any physical injury that results in severe bruising, muscle tears, or skin lacerations requiring professional medical treatment or any physical injury that requires corrective or cosmetic surgery.” C.R.S. § 124(1)(a). The statute adopts the definition of “[s]erious bodily injury” found in Colorado’s Criminal Code:
“[s]erious bodily injury” means bodily injury which, either at the time of the actual injury or at a later time, involves a substantial risk of death, a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement, a substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, or breaks, fractures, or burns of the second or third degree.
This means that in Colorado, if you have “seriously bodily injury,” then the owner is strictly liable for your medical expenses. Your claims for pain and suffering, disfigurement, fear, and other aspects of your injury, however, are still going to have to be determined by the insurance adjuster or in a court of law.
Claims for Negligence and Negligence Per Se
In addition to your claims under the dog bite law, you can sometimes bring claims under local dog ordinances and city laws. When a dog owner ignores local rules, then their conduct is called negligence per se. This legal concept views the simple act of violating the local laws as establishing the negligence of the dog owner.
But even if there is no violation of a local ordinance or law, you may still have a claim for negligence. That means that you are alleging that the dog owner did not act reasonably under the circumstances, which led to your injuries. Usually you have to prove the following:
In order to establish that a person who owns or keeps a domestic animal is liable for injuries inflicted by that animal, a plaintiff must prove: (1) that the animal has vicious or dangerous tendencies; (2) that the owner or keeper had knowledge or notice thereof; and (3) that the owner or keeper did not exercise reasonable care to prevent injuries reasonably anticipated to result from such tendencies. A dangerous or vicious tendency of a domestic animal includes not only a disposition to attack every person, but also a natural mischievous disposition that may on occasion lead it to attack without provocation.
Dubois v. Myers, 684 P.2d 940, 942 (Colo. App. 1984).
Claims for Dog Fright Accidents
Not all accidents resulting from attacking dogs result in a bite. A variation is the dog fright claim, where a dog acts so aggressively that an individual reacts out of fear of the animal and suffers an accident resulting in injuries. Such cases include dogs charging bicyclists who crash in avoiding the animal or pedestrians walking along a sidewalk, startled by a dog hurling itself against a fence and backing into oncoming traffic.
Chalat Hatten & Banker represent a young boy who was the victim of a dog fright accident. The youngster was walking to his neighborhood school playground with a friend, when two pit bulls charged the chain link fence of their enclosure. Both animals were sufficiently large to place their forepaws on top of the fence. Terrified, our client jumped into the street and was struck by a passing truck resulting in significant injuries. The case is now before the Colorado Supreme Court, here you can read the Colorado Court of Appeals' opinion.
My dog attack occurred in Colorado, where do I file?
Regardless of where you are now, if your dog attack accident occurred in Colorado, the claim will need to be filed in Colorado. Because most accident claims arise from state law, the claim will be pursued in the state where the attack occurred.
How long do I have to file a dog attack lawsuit?
Lawsuits for dog attacks must be filed with the court within two years of the accident; this is the statute of limitations for accident lawsuits in Colorado. Read more about time limits.
What will I gain from a dog attack lawsuit?
Many dog attack victims are saddled with economic burdens that make a lawsuit a necessity. Compensation for economic losses such as medical expenses (including those paid by your medical insurance provider) and loss wages should be sought for both the past and future. These are typically expenses easily supported by documents, such as payroll stubs and medical bills. More challenging are the losses for which there are no hard measure – a permanently impaired body or the diminished ability to enjoy life are losses that also deserve compensation. Both the economic losses and the non-economic injuries may be legitimate elements of the damages for which you look to the responsible party for compensation. Read more about damages.
What should I expect as a plaintiff in a dog attack lawsuit?
Pursuing a personal injury claim, including a dog attack claim, is a significant personal and financial decision – you will invest about two years in the process until your case will be ready for settlement or trial. The process begins with the filing of a complaint by the plaintiff, the injured party. Several months are spent on investigating and collecting evidence by both sides in preparation for trial, and the only way to achieve a top settlement for your case is to be ready for trial. Read more about the litigation process.
For answers about your dog attack claim, call for a free consultation
We are experienced in determining what your dog attack means in terms of medical bills, lost wages, adverse living conditions, and psychological trauma. We make it a point to answer all the questions of our clients, and we address each concern in a professional and compassionate manner. Contact an experienced lawyer at our office today to discuss your dog attack case.