Responsible dog ownership goes beyond the expected issues of ensuring that your animal is provided with food, water, ample opportunities for exercise, appropriate tags, and regular veterinary care. Pet owners in Colorado also have a legal obligation to ensure that their dogs do not bite or injure anyone. This means properly training them to respond to commands, keeping them on leashes, obeying all local dog ordinances, and keeping them secure behind fences and gates. When they fail to do so, everyday pedestrians can be severely injured in dog attacks.

If a dog bit you, speak to an experienced Fort Collins personal injury attorney at the Tenge Law Firm, LLC. Dog attacks can lead to catastrophic injuries and years of emotional trauma, both of which come with high price tags. While every case is different, Colorado law may entitle you to compensation for your injuries. To learn how to pursue a claim, contact us at (970) 638-8596 and schedule a free consultation.

The Dangers of a Dog Attack

As much as we all love dogs, we have to acknowledge that they were once wild animals and that many still have those same instincts. When scared, agitated, or threatened, they can lash out at anyone around them with sharp claws, powerful jaws, and strong fangs. However, even when they are not provoked, a dog can cause catastrophic injuries. Dogs are very territorial and will protect their homes or neighborhoods fiercely, even against neighbors. In contrast, many are also extremely playful and may not understand that they cannot jump on every stranger or pedestrian they encounter on a walk.

Dog attacks and bites can lead to traumatic injuries like:

While the owner may try to dismiss your injuries as minor, dog bites are not inexpensive. Many victims have to visit emergency rooms to get immediate treatment for cuts and to prevent infections, but others also have to receive surgery to repair serious trauma. This is especially common in cases involving traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and amputations. None of these injuries should be dismissed, especially given that Colorado has stringent laws about dog bites. Depending on the circumstances, you may be entitled to financial compensation from the owner’s insurance company.

Colorado’s Dog Bite Law

Colorado law (Section 13-21-124, Civil actions against dog owners) has a combination of “strict liability” and “negligence” rules when it comes to dog bites, and which rule your case falls under depends on both the severity of the injuries and where the bite occurred. Here is an overview of both rules and their impacts on dog bite cases.

Strict Liability: If a dog bite causes serious injury or death and occurs while the victim is either on public property or lawfully on private property, the case becomes one of strict liability, meaning that the dog owner can be sued for bodily injury even if they did not know that their dog had the propensity to bite or become aggressive. Injuries seemed serious enough to evoke the strict liability include those that pose a substantial risk of death, serious or permanent disfigurement, a substantial risk of loss or impairment of a body part or organ, or result in broken bones or serious injury.

The only valid defenses against strict liability dog bite cases in Colorado are:

  • If the dog is performing military or law enforcement duties.
  • The dog is working as a hunting, herding, or farm dog at the time the bite occurred.
  • The victim was working as a veterinarian, dog handler, groomer, or other dog-related professionals at the time of the bite.
  • The property where the bite occurred was clearly and conspicuously marked with signs stating “beware of dog” or “no trespassing.”
  • The injured person was trespassing and/or provoked the dog.

Negligence: Colorado’s negligence rules apply in cases where the injuries are less serious or in cases where the injuries are caused by the dog, but are not from a dog bite. An example of this might be if the dog knocked someone down. In negligent dog bite cases, the claimant must prove that the dog owner failed to use reasonable care or control in restraining the dog and preventing it from injuring someone. Additionally, the one bite rule applies in negligent dog bite cases, meaning that if the dog has bitten someone or acted in an aggressive manner at least one time before, then the owner can no longer say that they did not know that the dog was aggressive.

Children and Dog Bite Cases

While we all think fondly of a child and dog playing together, children are often the most at risk of being injured in an attack. Children do not have the same awareness as adults and may unintentionally provoke a dog to attack, either by petting it without asking the owner or wandering into its territory. They also do not know how to control the volume of their voices, which can put a dog on edge and make them more prone to bite.

When determining negligence in a dog bite case involving a child, the age of the child is extremely important. In the state of Colorado, any child under the age of seven-years-old cannot be found negligent. Even if the child involved in the case is seven-years-old or older, the court must determine whether or not a different child of the same age would have committed the same actions under the same circumstances. Based on these laws, children typically can receive compensation in dog bite cases unless they were actively provoking the dog.

Even in instances such as trespassing, children have a bit more leeway under the law. This is because Colorado follows a concept called attractive nuisance. The attractive nuisance doctrine states that a homeowner may be liable for a child’s injuries if the child trespassed on the owner’s property in order to reach an “attractive nuisance,” which can include a swing set, swimming pool, or even a dog. Homeowners in Colorado are expected to take extra precautions to keep children from entering their properties, which includes locked gates, secure fences, and warning sites. If your child was trespassing on a neighbor’s property and bitten by a dog, you may still be able to seek compensation.

Comparative Negligence in Dog Bite Cases

Like other personal injury cases in Colorado, dog bite cases here are subject to comparative negligence. What this means is that if a claimant is found to be at least partially responsible for the incident that caused their injuries, the award they obtain through the claim will be reduced by the percentage of their fault. Additionally, if the claimant is found to be at least 50% at fault for the injuries they sustained, they likely won’t receive an award at all.

In dog bite cases, it is a common tactic of the dog owner or his or her insurance carrier to attempt to place all or a portion of the blame for the bite on the victim. Some defenses that are commonly used in these cases are that the victim provoked the dog or was trespassing. However, these defenses are not full proof. Provocation must be clear, such as the malicious or willful tormenting of an animal. If you were protecting someone else from a dog or trying to get its attention away from a victim, it would not be considered provocation. In turn, trespassing laws do not always apply if you were unaware of the property lines or if you had express permission to be on a property, such as if you are a mailman or maintenance employee. It also does not apply to children in attractive nuisance cases. With the right attorney, you can fight back at these defenses and advocate for proper compensation from the dog’s owner.

Because of how severe and expensive dog attacks can be, there are several types of damages that a victim can pursue in a claim. Damages in a dog bite claim are divided into two distinct categories: economic and non-economic damages for their injuries.

Economic damages cover everything related to the financial costs of your injuries. The bulk of these can include your medical treatment, ranging from emergency room bills to long-term treatment like physical therapy, medication, and assisted living equipment. However, it can also include lost wages if you have to take time off of work to recover, and lost career opportunities if you are left permanently disabled by the attack and have to change jobs.

In contrast, non-economic damages cover non-financial costs of a dog bite. This can include the pain you suffered due to the attack, emotional trauma if you develop a fear of dogs, mental trauma of disfigurements, and other damages not readily visible.

What to Do if a Dog Bites You

If you or someone you are with is injured from by a dog bite, you should do the following:

  • File a report with the county animal control department in the county where the bite occurred. Colorado law requires filing the report within 12 hours after the bite occurred. Be sure to provide as many details as you can about where and how the bite happened and request a copy of your report.
  • Identify the owner of the dog and get their insurance information, such as an applicable renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy.
  • Seek prompt medical attention for your injuries. The medical provider will be legally required to report the dog bite to the state health department.
  • Speak to an experienced personal injury attorney about the facts of your case and your legal options. Avoid making statements or discussing a settlement with the dog owner’s insurance company representatives until after you have spoken to an attorney.

Let Tenge Law Firm, LLC Help You

The Tenge Law Firm, LLC understands the physical and emotional trauma that dog bites can cause. Like other personal injury cases, Colorado law only allows two years to file a dog bite claim or you risk being unable to seek compensation. We provide an experienced and skilled legal team that is prepared to fight for the compensation you need to recover. If you have been injured due to an unprovoked attack by a dog, contact Tenge Law Firm, LLC online or call us at (970) 638-8596 to schedule a free consultation and case evaluation with our Fort Collins dog bite attorney.