Defenses in Dog Bite Lawsuits

May 14, 2024

Dog bites are common incidents in the US, with many resulting in minor injuries, yet some can be quite severe or even fatal. Children are at higher risk of dog bites than adults, with 1 in 5 of these dog bites requiring medical attention.

In many places, dog owners can be held legally liable for injuries caused by their pets. Giving victims of dog bites or their families a recourse to seek compensation against the dog owner through civil lawsuits or settlement negotiations.

Whether it's inside or out of court negotiations, it’s highly advisable to look for a dog bite defense attorney near you and have them during these talks to protect your interests and rights.

In this article, we’ll focus on the defenses you could use in dog bite lawsuits because it is these defenses that could make or break a case.

Provocation as a Defense

When defending against dog bite lawsuits, provocation can be used as a legal defense. If you can prove that the person who was bitten provoked the dog in some way, it may help in reducing or even dismissing liability. Teasing, hitting, or behaving aggressively towards the dog could be considered as provocation but evidence has to be gathered to support this claim–like witness statements or surveillance footage.

In court, demonstrating that the dog was provoked can shift the blame from the dog owner to the person who provoked the animal. This defense must be presented convincingly, emphasizing the actions of the injured person that led to the dog biting.

Yet provocation must be serious enough to cause a reasonable dog to react aggressively. You can consult with legal experts to understand how provocation can be used as a defense in dog bite cases. Being prepared with a solid defense strategy can greatly impact the outcome of the lawsuit.

Owner's Lack of Knowledge

In cases where the owner can prove that they were unaware of their dog's aggressive tendencies or past behavior indicating a propensity to bite, it may serve as a defense against liability. If the owner had no prior knowledge of the dog's dangerous behavior and took reasonable precautions to prevent any incidents like keeping the dog securely contained or putting up warning signs, they mightn't be held fully responsible for a dog bite that occurs unexpectedly.

Proving lack of knowledge can be challenging, as owners are generally expected to be aware of their dog's behavior and take necessary precautions. It's best for owners to familiarize themselves with their dog's tendencies, provide proper training, and take steps to prevent potential incidents to avoid liability in dog bite lawsuits.

Trespassing on Property

If someone is on your property without permission when they're bitten by your dog, it can be a strong defense in court. The law generally states that property owners owe a lower duty of care to trespassers compared to invited guests or those with a legal right to be on the property.

In cases where a trespasser is bitten by a dog, the property owner might argue that they shouldn't be held liable for injuries inflicted by their dog on someone who shouldn't have been on the property in the first place.

But there are exceptions to this defense, especially if the property owner set up traps or knew of the trespasser's presence and failed to warn them about the dog. Consult with a legal professional to deeply understand how trespassing laws may impact your specific dog bite case.

Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence is a legal concept that comes into play when assessing the fault of both parties involved in an incident. This means that if you're bitten by a dog, but your actions contributed to the bite in some way, your compensation may be reduced based on the percentage of fault assigned to you. For example, if you provoked the dog or ignored warning signs, a court may find you partially responsible for the incident.

In states that follow comparative negligence laws, your compensation could be reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to you. This factor can impact the outcome and the amount of compensation you receive when pursuing a dog bite lawsuit. A consultation with a legal professional who understands dog bite laws in your state can help you work on this aspect of comparative negligence effectively.

Statute of Limitations

In dog bite cases, the statute of limitations varies by state and typically ranges from one to three years. Be aware of this timeframe because once the statute of limitations expires, you may lose the right to pursue compensation for your injuries.

The clock on the statute of limitations usually starts ticking from the date of the dog bite incident. Yet in some situations, the discovery rule may apply, meaning the clock starts when the injury is discovered or should have been discovered. This rule is useful for cases where the dog bite's effects aren't immediately apparent.

Act quickly if you've been a victim of a dog bite to make sure you stay within the statute of limitations. Consulting with a legal professional specializing in dog bite cases can help you understand the specific time limits in your state and take the necessary steps to protect your rights.


When facing a dog bite lawsuit, there are several possible defenses to look at. These may include proving provocation by the victim, the owner's lack of knowledge of the dog's aggressiveness, the victim trespassing on the owner's property, comparative negligence on the part of the victim, or the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit. Carefully assess each defense option to protect your rights in a dog bite case.


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