Dog Bite Laws Alaska

Dog bite laws as they apply to the state of Alaska

Alaska dog bite statutes do not yet exist, meaning local law enforcement officers rely on the Standard Law of Negligence as guidance when handling dog-related incidents or crimes.

Alaska’s standard law of negligence says that any person in the state may lawfully take the life of any vicious or dangerous dog running at large.  Therefore, your most trusted companion is at risk of death whenever he/she wanders or escapes confinement.  That tells us that Alaska dog bite guidelines expect the owner to exercise “reasonable control over the animal or face liability”.  Liability here could be property damage, the victim’s medical bills, lost wages, pain, and suffering, and so on.

If you are the victim of a dog bite, taking legal action against the owner maybe your best course of action because healthcare is not cheap and the bite or injury may alter your future in more ways than you can imagine.  So, it pays to know what the law says about dog bites and how to prove the owner’s negligence.  Remember, Alaska reports the highest number of dog-related deaths and hospitalizations each year in the states.

What to remember:

  1. Dog owners may maintain an insurance cover to help resolve dog-related injuries and avoid going to court.  But it is up to the victim to choose whether to settle or escalate the matter.
  2. The general negligence principles determine whether the owner is liable (negligence/negligence per se).
  3. The court may subject the owner to strict liability if the victim proves the owner knew of the dog’s vicious propensities.
  4. Alaska does not have a Dangerous Dog Statute.

What Laws Protect Dog Bite Victims In Alaska?

Alaska’s one bite rule

Alaska’s one bite rule works under the presumption that quote, “the owner may be held strictly liable for injuries caused by an animal if the dog had a propensity to cause harm and the owner KNEW or SHOULD HAVE KNOWN of the danger the animal poses”.

This means the law holds the owner liable for any injury or damage if he or she knew that the dog was dangerous or had dangerous tendencies.  This law applies to not only homeowners but also landowners and management companies.

What to remember:

  • If a homeowner, property owner, or management company is aware of a dog’s dangerous propensities and does nothing to prevent injury.  The law holds the owner liable (Alaskan village, Inc. vs Smalley).
  • The dog owner is liable for damage or injury that results from negligence.
  • Dangerous behavior that may influence a judge’s decision includes the dog’s history of bites, previous threatening behavior, jumping on people, frightening people, or fighting dogs.

Alaska standard law of negligence

Alaska’s negligence laws are unique in that the defendant must owe the victim a duty to keep them safe.  For example, if you invite someone to your property or if a mail carrier gets injured while on your property, then you are liable.

Note Alaska dog bite laws hold the owner liable if he or she fails to act like a “reasonable person”.

For example, did you attempt to restrain the dog before it attacked the mail carrier? Was it confined? Was the bite a result of your negligence or the victim’s actions?

AK Stat § 09.17.060 (2016) says:

“In an action based on fault seeking to recover damages for injury or death to a person or harm to property, contributory fault chargeable to the claimant diminishes proportionately the amount awarded as compensatory damages for the injury attributable to the claimant’s contributory fault, but does not bar recovery.”

What to remember:

  • The victim must prove a breach of duty, causation, and harm.
  • Reasonable person standard: the court must weigh the actions of the accused with negligence against the standard of conduct of a reasonable person in similar circumstances.
  • Harming a police dog in Alaska is a first-degree class C felony.

Hale v. O’Neil explained

Alaska’s dog bite guidelines are based on a man’s encounter with a ‘dangerous horse’ named pepper.

What happened was, Hale, the victim, got injured while riding pepper on O’Neil’s property.  This prompted Hale to file a claim that was based on the doctrine of strict liability.  The strict liability doctrine dictates that quote “the owner of a domestic animal is liable, regardless of fault, for injuries caused by an animal which stem from vicious propensity, known to the owner”.

That means:

  • To show negligence, the victim must prove that the owner knew of the dog’s/animal’s vicious propensity.
  • The animal’s dangerous tendency resulted in the victim’s injury thus duty, causation, and harm.

O’Neil won the case because the court found that Hale’s injuries resulted from his fault in riding a horse that he knew to be dangerous.  That is why it is important to put up a No Trespass sign.

What is a “dangerous dog” in Alaska?

HB 355 12 AS 03.55.064 says that the Department of Public safety Classifies dangerous dogs on three levels:

  1. Whether or not confined, the dog causes serious physical injury or death of a person.
  2. The dog is used as a weapon in the commission of a crime.
  3. A dog that aggressively bites, or causes physical injury, or kills a person/other domestic animal.

However, the court may decide not to consider a dog dangerous if the injury resulted from the victim’s behavior towards the dog (torment, provocation, or abuse).

What if my dog bites a trespasser?

In Alaska, trespass is a class A misdemeanor, meaning dog-owning property owners may put up a “NO TRESPASS” sign.  If anyone ignores the sign, it means that the owner is not liable for any injuries or bites that occur on the land.

Remember, Alaska does not have specific laws on animal bites and there is no statewide leash law, thus it is up to the owner to control his/her dog.  That is according to the Municipal ordinance Title 17 which also says:

  • The dog owner must simultaneously monitor, direct, and restrict a dog’s activity in a humane manner, control by command, Or control by leash
  • You must leash your dog in public places.

What if the trespasser is a child?

If your dog bites a child in Alaska, the lawsuit the victim or victim’s lawyer may bring against you might include reasonable medical expenses.  As a rule, state law holds the owner liable if it is reasonable to know that a child is likely to wander into your property.

It is also worth noting that the general rule for minors is quote, “minors are held to the same standard of care a person of like age, intelligence, and experience under similar circumstance”.

Available compensation

The victim may recover compensation for:

  1. Medical costs/hospitalization expenses.
  2. Lost wages.
  3. Pain and suffering
  4. Property damage.
  5. Wrong full death.
  6. Injuries to children

Remember, the burden of proof is on the victim, meaning, you should contact animal control immediately after a bite.  You may also recover punitive damages if you can prove that the owner acted with reckless indifference or malice leading to injury.

Ways victims may seek compensation after dog bite in Alaska

As mentioned, dog bite victims may recover compensation under the negligence theory.

Alaska’s negligence theory states that the victim must prove that the owner of the offending dog had a duty to keep him/her safe from the dog. Thus, the burden of proof is on the victim.

Also, 0.3.04A Violation of Statute Negligence Per Se laws excuses the owner from liability if:

  • The owner could not comply with the law, the owner did not know of the dog’s vicious propensities, or the defendant faced an emergency not caused by his or her misconduct.

For example, if someone enters your property intending to commit a crime, negligence laws will not hold you liable if you use your dog as a weapon to defend yourself or your property.

Why you should not use a DANGEROUS DOG sign

A ‘Dangerous Dog’ or ‘Beware of Dangerous Dog’ sign is in some states an admission of the dog’s aggressive nature.  And as we have seen, to show owner negligence the victim must prove that the owner knew that the dog was dangerous.

A no trespassing sign on the other hand makes the victim the offender, because he or she ignored the trespass warning and got bitten.  Meaning, you the owner will not be liable for damages.

Added measures to protect yourself from dog bite liability

A dog bite may happen at any time, for instance, you might be at the park and a stranger asks to pet your dog leading to injury.

For said reason, we advise you to maintain liability or umbrella insurance to protect yourself from any dog-related lawsuits that may come your way.

In general, the best defenses you have are:

  • Provocation: if the victim provokes or torments the dog leading to injury, the owner is not liable.
  • Trespass: fence or place NO TRESPASS signs on your property if you own dogs.
  • Keep your dog on a leash when in public.
  • Do not encourage children or strangers to pet or play with your dog.

More Alaska Laws

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