Colorado dog bite laws are a combination of strict liability ordinances and negligence laws. Primarily what you must remember is that the victim does not have to show that the owner had any knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensities.
In 2004, the state of Colorado removed the “one bite” rule. This means regardless of whether the bite fails to result in serious bodily injury, the victim may still file a case under the “first bite rule”.
Below is a clarification of Colorado dog bite rules along with actionable tips to help keep yourself and your most trusted companion safe. For victims, you get to learn what your options are after a dog bite and how to seek compensation.
Colorado strict liability dog bite laws
Colorado dog bite laws only hold the dog owner strictly liable if:
- The injury occurs on public property or while the victim is legally on private property.
- The injury is caused by a dog bite.
Note that the victim does not have to prove that the owner knew or should have known of the dog’s viciousness. Instead, the main consideration is the nature of the injury. According to state law, the owner of a dog that bites someone is strictly liable for damages if the injury
- Involved a substantial risk of death.
- Resulted in serious or permanent disfigurement.
- Caused or involved long-lasting impairment of the function of any organ.
- The victim suffered broken bones or fractures.
Also, if a victim sees a “beware of dog” or “Dangerous Dog” sign, and proceeds to ignores it and gets bitten, the law will not hold the dog owner liable because the actions of the victim caused the attack. The same applies to victims who provoke an attack, persons bitten by police dogs, or attacks that occur while a military/service dog is performing its duties and trespassers.
Therefore, if you are a dog owner in Colorado, it is in your best interest to put up a no-trespass or dangerous dog sign today.
What Laws Protect Dog Bite Victims In Colorado?
Colorado first bite rule
The first bite rule works under the presumption that a dog owner is only responsible if he/she knew that the dog could be dangerous. In Colorado, this law applies when a bite does not result in serious injury.
What is crucial to remember here is if the victim can show that the dog is or has been vicious or aggressive, then he or she may recover both economic and non-economic damages including pain and suffering, lost wages, emotional distress, and so on.
What to remember:
- If the bite results in serious injury, the dog owner is strictly liable for economic damages.
- Victims may recover non-economic damages if they can prove that the dog has dangerous inclinations.
- Owning a dangerous dog in Colorado is a punishable offense (keep reading).
- Scaring, jumping on people, fight training, growling, and or snapping at people. Are dangerous behavior in Colorado.
- The victim has two years to file a civil lawsuit seeking compensation after a dog bite.
Colorado dog bite negligence laws
The victim of a dog bite may also pursue compensation in Colorado by filing a negligence claim against the owner of the dog. If you choose this option, it is vital to realize that the court expects you to prove the owner’s negligence.
To prove negligence in Colorado, the victim must show:
- The dog owner or at-fault party owed the victim a duty.
- The accused breached that duty of care.
- And that the victim’s injuries resulted from the owner’s breach.
Remember, the judge must consider “whether a reasonable person, of ordinary prudence, would have acted the same way, in similar circumstances”. That means if the victim acted negligently resulting in injury, then the owner is not liable to pay.
Also, Colorado negligence standards ‘require the victim to suffer’ in some significant manner. For example, were you hospitalized? Did the bite affect your income or capability to earn? And so on.
The point is, the victim must establish; duty, violation of duty, causation, and damages to recover compensation.
Gross negligence versus vicarious negligence
As mentioned above, the law requires the judge to consider whether a reasonable person would act in the same way given the same circumstances. Gross negligence occurs when a person, say a dog owner, does something that a reasonable person would not do. For example, using the dog as a weapon against the mail carrier is an unreasonable act. Thus, the owner is liable for any injuries or damages that occur.
Vicarious negligence, on the other hand, happens when a dog owner fails to take reasonable action to prevent harm or injury. For example, if a dog escapes its enclosure and bites someone while at large or if it breaks the leash. Then the owner is negligent and thus liable to pay.
What if both parties acted negligently?
If the court finds that the victim was 51% responsible or at fault for the bite, then the court will not grant the victim compensation because the bite was a result of his/her actions. That tells us that Colorado awards damages based on the proportion of fault or blame each party is responsible for.
For instance, if the victim is 30% responsible for the accident, then he or she may only recover 70% of the total cost. Why?
CO Rev Stat § 13-21-111 (2016) contains a mitigation provision that says: “Contributory negligence shall not bar recovery in any action by any person or his legal representative to recover damages for negligence resulting in death or injury to person or property if such negligence was not as great as the negligence of the person against whom recovery is sought, but any damages allowed shall be diminished in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to the person for whose injury, damage, or death recovery is made.”
Section (b) says: “The degree of negligence of each party, expressed as a percentage.
(3) Upon the making of the finding of fact or the return of a special verdict, as is required by subsection (2) of this section, the court shall reduce the amount of the verdict in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to the person for whose injury, damage, or death recovery is made; but, if the said proportion is equal to or greater than the negligence of the person against whom recovery is sought, then, in such event, the court shall enter a judgment for the defendant”.
What to remember:
- The burden of proof is on the victim.
- If the jury finds the victim is 51% or more at fault, then he or she will not receive compensation.
- The doctrine of “last clear chance” says if the victim was partially responsible for the injury, then the victim may recover compensation.
Colorado breed-specific laws: What is a dangerous dog?
According to Colorado dog bite laws, “dangerous dogs” refers to any dog that has, “inflicted bodily injury or serious bodily injury upon or has caused the death of a person or domestic animal”.
Also, Colorado is one of the states that have breed-specific dog laws. This means cities including Lone Tree, Louisville, Town of Simla, Denver, Aurora, commerce city, and Broomfield all have bans or restrictions on pit bulls, wolf-dog hybrids, and American bulldogs.
In Lone Tree, keeping Dogo Argentines, Tosa Inus, Cane Corsos, Fila Brasiello, wolf-dog hybrids, and American pit bulls is a violation of the law.
If you are in Denver and own any of the listed dog breeds, you should know that state law requires you to vaccinate the dog, neuter, or spay it, and you must keep the dog confined in a secure enclosure. Also, you must register the animal according to the Denver Revised Municipal Code for Animal licensing.
What to remember:
- Animal control may take your dog if it is not spayed or neutered.
- In some cities in Colorado, dog owners must sterilize their dogs or purchase a permit yearly.
Voters overturn Denver’s Pitbull ban
In November 2020, voters in Colorado overturned an ordinance banning ownership of pit bulls that have been in place since 1989. This repeal took effect on January 1st, 2021.
Under the new law, Pitbull owners in Colorado must:
- Get a special permit to keep pit bulls.
- The maximum number of Pit bulls you may keep is two.
What if my dog bites a trespasser in Colorado?
In Colorado, criminal trespass is a serious offense that carries a sentence of up to 3 years in prison and or a maximum fine of $100000. This makes trespass one of the best defenses for dog bites in Colorado.
To clarify, a trespasser is anyone who enters or remains on private property without the land or property owner’s consent. That means anyone you invite, or a person who is on your property legally is not a trespasser. Thus, you owe them a duty.
What if the dog bite victim is a child?
The “Attractive Nuisance Doctrine” is a part of ‘premises liability’ law that protects children under fourteen in Colorado. What that means is the law will not hold a child to the same standard as an adult if he or she trespasses.
Remember, the law assumes that children are naturally curious and thus home or landowners must anticipate that a dog on their property may entice a child to trespass.
If the child’s lawyer or caregivers file a lawsuit against the dog owner, the court expects the victim’s representatives to show that:
- The owner knew or should have known of the dog’s vicious propensities.
- He or she had reason to believe that kids were likely to enter the property.
- The owner failed to protect the child by exercising reasonable care.
- The child was not capable of understanding the risk the dog posed.
If the victim can prove all that, then the court may hold the dog owner strictly liable.
It is also worth mentioning that C. R. S. A. § 13-21-124, (2-3) says, “A person or a personal representative of a person who suffers serious bodily injury or death from being bitten by a dog while lawfully on public or private property shall be entitled to bring a civil action to recover economic damages against the dog owner regardless of the viciousness or dangerous propensities of the dog or the dog owner’s knowledge or lack of knowledge of the dog’s viciousness or dangerous propensities.
(3) In any case described in subsection (2) of this section in which it is alleged and proved that the dog owner had knowledge or notice of the dog’s viciousness or dangerous propensities, the court, upon a motion made by the victim or the personal representative of the victim, may enter an order that the dog is euthanized by a licensed veterinarian or licensed shelter at the expense of the dog owner.”
Navigating Colorado dog bite laws as we have seen is a bit convoluted, so we advise you to consult with a dog bite defense attorney in your area. If you are a dog owner, put up a sign and make sure that your dog is confined whenever necessary. You should also keep it on a leash while in public.
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