Ding dong. The doorbell rings. The ears of your beloved pooch perk up in curiosity. Your dog, Fido, raises his head slowly and utters a low, rumbling growl. He’s protective. It’s in his nature. Quite frankly, that’s part of the reason you love him so much. “Oh be quiet!” you exclaim jokingly as you set your sub-par mystery novel down on the couch and make your way to the front door. You pause and peer through the peephole out to the front porch. A busy looking man is standing there calmly with a package in his hand. Your heart leaps in anticipation. You burst open the door to proudly sign for whatever it is that someone sent you, and it’s too late.
Fido bursts through the space between your legs and the door frame sinking his teeth into the mail man’s leg. You panic, but manage to frantically pry Fido’s jaw open and free the mail man’s leg. If you are the unfortunate owner of a dog that bit the mailman (or anyone else for that matter), you are probably liable. Dog bites are serious incidents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that “[n]early 1 in 5 people bitten by a dog requires medical attention.”[i] And when we consider the fact that “over 36% of households own at least one dog”[i], the status of your legal responsibility as a dog owner is worth understanding.
Utah law requires strict accountability from dog owners. According to Utah Code § 18-1-1, “Every person owning or keeping a dog is liable in damages for injury committed by the dog […].”[ii] The answer is simple: if your dog bites someone unprovoked, you will likely be held liable. “But it was my dog’s fault, not mine!” The Utah Supreme Court and Utah Law may not view your logic the same way. In fact, the Utah Supreme Court has ruled that the “statute makes a dog’s owner or keeper strictly liable for damages caused by the dog, thus making it unnecessary for the injured party to allege and prove negligence on the part of the dog owner or keeper.”[iii] Thus, even if technically speaking, your dog is responsible for the actual “biting” of someone else, you are still strictly liable for your dog’s actions by law. So, when it comes time to consider adding a new pet to your home, keep your responsibilities as a potential dog owner in mind. And remember, the Utah Supreme Court does not feel the same way about cats… “We hold that . . . an owner of a domestic cat is not liable for the unforeseeable actions of their cat.”[iv] The information contained in the article is intended for educational purposes only. Nothing in this article is intended to constitute legal advice, and by no means should be construed as such. [i] https://www.cdc.gov/features/dog-bite-prevention/index.html [ii] U.C.A. § 18-1-1 [iii] Sharp v. Williams, 915 P.2d 494, 498 (1996) [iv] Jackson v. Mateus, 70 P.3d 78, 83 (2003)