Alabama dog bite laws place responsibility for damages or injuries caused by a dog on the owner only if the victim was lawfully on the owner’s property at the time of the bite.
What that means is if your dog bites the mail carrier, you may be liable to pay damages. But if your dog bites someone that was trespassing on your land, then you have very little to worry about. That situation raises several questions, for example, what if the trespasser was a child?
Will the authorities take my dog if it bites someone? What is Alabama’s definition of a dangerous dog?
In summary, what dog owners in Alabama must remember is:
- When you invite someone to your property, then he or she is there legally, meaning state law holds you responsible for any injuries or damages that may result from an altercation with your dog or any animal on your property.
- If a victim provokes the dog leading to an attack, then the owner is not liable to pay any damages. The same is true with trespassing.
- State law permits dog owners to defend themselves against lawsuits or claims by proving that they did not know that the dog was mischievous, dangerous, or vicious.
What is the one-bite rule for dogs in Alabama?
Alabama is not exactly a ‘one bite rule state’. To make sense of that, we must talk about what a one-bite rule is.
The standard definition of a one-bite rule is “a rule that holds the owner of a dog or other domestic animal strictly liable for any injuries that the animal causes only if the owner KNEW or SHOULD HAVE KNOWN about the animal’s vicious propensities”. For instance, has the dog exhibited notable mischievous or vicious tendencies? If so and there is evidence of it, then the law may hold you responsible for any injuries the dog inflicts.
In practice, victims of dog bites in Alabama may pursue compensation under the One Bite Rule or Negligence Principles.
Dog owners on the other hand may use “mitigation laws” in their defense. What do I mean?
What Remedies Can Grounds Victims Use To Recover Compensation After A Dog Bite In Alabama
Alabama dog bite mitigation laws
Alabama code 3-6-3 contains a mitigation provision that says:
“if a dog owner shows that he or she did not know any circumstances indicating such dog to be or have been vicious or dangerous or mischievous then the dog owner is only responsible for actual expenses incurred by the victim”.
What is important to remember here is that this provision prevents the victim from claiming compensation for the pain and suffering associated with the attack.
Alabama’s dog bite negligence principles
If the dog owner knew of the dog’s vicious propensities, for example, if the dog has previously bitten or injured someone. The victim may pursue compensation under the ‘common law negligence theory’. What is that?
To prove negligence, Alabama dog bite laws ask four questions:
- Was the action of the dog/ animal within the category of dangerous activities? (was there a visible sign? Was the animal muzzled and so on).
- Has the dog/ animal exhibited a previous propensity to cause harm? (has it bitten, injured, or caused property damage in the past?)
- Did the owner have ‘constructive knowledge’ of the animal’s vicious or dangerous propensities?
- Did the injury or damage result from the dog’s or victim’s activity?
If the answer is yes, the law holds the owner responsible.
What to remember:
- Victims may recover compensation by proving that the owner knew that the dog was dangerous.
- ‘Negligence per se’ refers to violation of pet-related statutes, for example, a dog owner disobeying state leash law. And thus, the victim may accuse the owner of negligence.
- Property owners including employers may be held liable for any dog-related injuries resulting from unsafe conditions.
- The burden of proof is on the victim, meaning, failure to meet the burden of proof means that the defendant or accused is not liable.
- A dog’s record of fights with other dogs is not sufficient proof of the dog’s dangerousness towards people.
What if my dog bites a child in Alabama?
Alabama dog bite laws assume that a child that visits your home regularly and has never been forbidden to visit, is on your property legally. That means the owner is liable for any injuries that may occur. However, Alabama dog bite guidelines vary depending on two factors. One is the dog’s aggression and two is the danger the dog poses.
What is a dangerous dog in Alabama?
In memory of Emily Colvin, (who died after she was attacked by four pit bulls).
Governor Kay Ivey in 2017 signed the Emily Colvin bill.
What the law did was add a civil remedy for dealing with dangerous dogs.
Consequently, today, if a dog in Alabama injures OR kills a person without provocation, the owner is responsible for the dog’s impound costs. Also, the new law allows the judge to order euthanization.
What is important to remember is that the owner of a ‘dangerous dog’ may face Class C felony charges and the penalty for that is up to ten years in prison.
Also, title 3. 3-1-1 reads, “No person shall keep any dog which has been known to kill or worry sheep or other stock without being set upon the same. Any person knowingly keeping such dog is liable for double the value of all stock killed or injured by such dog, such damages to be recovered by the owner of such stock before any court of competent jurisdiction and no action shall be maintained against anyone for killing such dog”.
What to remember
- Alabama dog bite laws hold the owner at fault if he or she failed to confine and train the dog leading to a serious attack.
- Act 2018-188 is the state’s Dangerous Dog Procedure/Emily’s Law: that defines a dangerous dog as quote “a dog, regardless of its breed that has bitten, attacked or caused physical injury, serious injury, or death to a person without justification except for a dog that is a police animal as defined by section 13A-11-260 code of Alabama 1975.”
- The judge may order the dog to be returned to the owner after a bite under condition or order humane euthanization.
The owner may face class B or A felony charges if the courts had previously declared the dog dangerous. For a first bite, the owner may face class C felony charges or a class B misdemeanor.
- Also, refusing to surrender a dangerous dog to animal control is a class C misdemeanor and the same is true with making a false report to animal control.
- The conditions that may allow a judge to return a dangerous dog to its owner include microchipping, a fence that extends at least 2 feet into the ground, an annual dangerous dog registration fee, or the judge may order the owner to pay a $100,000 surety bond to cover death, injury or damage caused by a dog.
“Dangerous conditions” and dog bite liability
For property owners, homeowners and employers, Alabama dog bite laws expect you to exercise reasonable care to prevent injuries.
That means if say your dog breaks out of its confinement and bites someone on your premises, then you are liable for damages or charges listed above.
How many dogs can you have in Alabama? And is there a leash law?
It depends on where you keep the dog. Hence, if you keep them indoors, then you can have as many as you want, whereas you may only keep three outside.
Also, state law does not permit dogs to run at large, meaning, you must always confine your dogs. You do that by keeping the animal on a leash while in public or confining it within your property by building a fence or some other means.
What happens if a dog bites a trespasser in Alabama?
In summary, Alabama dog bite laws say this, “if any dog, without provocation, bites or injure any person who is at the time at a place where he or she has a legal right to be, the owner of such dog shall be liable in damages to the person bitten or injured”.
What that means is, you are not liable for any injuries that result from trespass. Thus, the law will only hold you strictly liable if the victim was on public property or your property legally, the attack was unprovoked, or if the attack happened while the dog was at large.
What to remember:
- Putting up a “NO TRESPASS SIGN” may reduce your liability. On the other hand, a “BEWARE OF DOG” sign may increase your liability.
- If the injury occurred off the property after the dog chased a trespasser, the owner is not liable (evidence of trespass).
- Proving trespass cancels out any duty of care you owe to the trespasser.
- Proving the victim provoked the dog frees the owner from any liabilities.
In general, the law does not hold the owner liable for any damages or injuries that result if the victim was trespassing, attempting to commit a burglary, or was engaging in criminal activity at the time of the bite.
What happens if you lose a dog bite lawsuit?
Depending on the nature of the case and the severity of the bite or injury. The judge may order compensation for damages including hospital expenses, lost wages, pain, and suffering, and so on. To lessen the impact dog bite-related lawsuits might cause, home or property owners may consider renter’s or homeowner’s insurance covers or pet insurance policies that will help settle such incidents.
Remember, if you do not have such protections, the law may hold you personally liable.
Alabama animal protection laws
As stated, provocation is a valid defense in dog bite cases, meaning, if a person performs any action which causes a radical change in the dog’s behavior such as entering its enclosure, then the owner is not liable.
What if the owner or other person injures or kills your dog, or what if the owner is cruel to the dog?
Cruelty to animals is a class A misdemeanor in Alabama according to ALA. CODE 13A-11-14. Hence anyone that abuses a dog may face up to 1 year at the county jail and or a $3000 maximum fine. Also, aggravated cruelty is a class C felony.
What is animal cruelty in Alabama?
“ALA. CODE § 13A-11-14 states that a person commits the crime of cruelty to animals if he intentionally or recklessly subjects any animal to cruel mistreatment; or subjects any animal in his custody to cruel neglect; or kills or injures without good cause”. According to the statute, cruelty to animals is a Class B misdemeanor.
Overall, the burden of proof is on the victim, meaning, the plaintiff must show that he/she was on the property legally when the bite happened, the bite did not result from provocation, and that the owner knew or should have known about the dog’s dangerous propensities.
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