Is Kentucky’s Strict Liability Dog Bite Law Good for Victims?

by | Apr 13, 2022 | Injuries

Millions of Americans own dogs, and these animals bite millions of Americans every year. These groups view dog bite liability very differently. Many dog bite victims are acutely aware of the serious physical and emotional injuries these attacks cause. Many pet owners view dog bites as an unpleasant, yet natural, part of life. So, the dog bite laws in different states, such as Section 258.235 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes, try to balance these extremes.

Physical dog bite injuries usually begin with knockdowns. When large dogs lunge at vulnerable victims, the knockdown often causes broken bones and head injuries. As dogs bite, their teeth usually inflict deep puncture wounds on victims, as well as severe tearing lacerations. The entire experience produces PTSD-lye symptoms, such as hypervigilance, anger, depression, and flashbacks.

The law is on no one’s side in this area, at least technically. But a Lexington personal injury attorney is always on your side. So, attorneys strongly advocate for victims, in court and at the negotiating table. Lawyers also don’t quit until they obtain the best possible result under the circumstances. This result means fair compensation for your serious injuries and justice for the experience you endured.

The Strict Liability Law

Most states don’t have broad strict liability laws which thoroughly protect dog bite victims. Pet owner groups usually oppose these laws, arguing among other things that strict liability discourages pet adoptions and rescues. But Kentucky is an exception. The law states that “Any owner whose dog is found to have caused damage to a person, livestock, or other property shall be responsible for that damage.” That’s about as simple and straightforward as you can get. This liability is subject to the provocation defense, which is discussed below.

There’s more. Kentucky’s strict liability law also contains a dangerous dog provision. Usually, a “dangerous dog” is an animal that has shown vicious tendencies or has attacked another animal. After notice and hearing, a court may issue a dangerous dog declaration. This declaration requires the owner to restrain the animal in a locked enclosure. The animal must be muzzled if it leaves the enclosure for any reason. It’s illegal for an owner to allow a dangerous dog to “run at large.”

Strict Liability Defenses

So, if a dog bites a victim, the owner could be liable for both economic losses, such as medical bills related to the aforementioned injuries, and noneconomic losses, such as emotional distress. Lack of evidence could be a defense in a few cases. Provocation is a much stronger defense in most cases.

The victim/plaintiff has the burden of proof in a strict liability claim. There’s no need to prove some traditional parts of injury cases, like legal responsibility and lack of responsibility. However, the victim/plaintiff must prove cause. 

If no one witnessed an attack in the open and the dog ran away afterwards, cause could be difficult to prove. But most dog bites occur on the owner’s property and in the presence of witnesses.

Provocation is different. It’s one of the most common defenses in strict liability claims. In the court of public opinion, many owners claim victims provoked attacks because the victim moved suddenly or behaved unusually. But in a court of law, provocation is limited. Basically, provoking is almost a physical act that’s practically synonymous with torturing.

Dog Bites and Negligence

Ironically, the combination of the broad strict liability law and narrow defenses sometimes work against victims. Many pet owner jurors see these proceedings as one-sided against defendants. So, to ensure maximum compensation for victims, Lexington personal injury attorneys often turn to negligence claims.

Usually, negligence involves scienter (knowledge). Owners are liable for animal attacks if they knew the dog was potentially dangerous. Evidence on this point often includes the aforementioned dangerous dog declaration. Other evidence includes pre-bite behavior, like baring of teeth or snarling.

Scienter claims involve an element of owner recklessness. Therefore, even dedicated pet owner rights advocates are often willing to award maximum compensation in these cases.

The provocation defense is available in negligence claims. However, it’s a little easier to prove in negligence claims, because the elements are slightly different. The assumption of the risk defense is available as well. Owners who display dangerous dog warning signs often try to use this defense. But a sign itself is not enough. The owner must still prove the victim voluntarily assumed a known risk. 

Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.