According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs annually. About half of that number accounts for children and about 885,000 require medical attention. In 2014, Denver was ranked among the top ten worst U.S. cities for dog attacks. In fact, in just a one-year period, there were nearly 6,500 reported dog bites in the mile-high city. Out of those cases, bites to the hand were most common, followed by legs, bites above the neck and then arms. Laws determining liability for a dog bite vary from state to state, but there are essentially two basic kinds of laws: liability when the dog owner knew or should have known the dog might bite someone, and liability regardless of what the owner knew or should have known. Many people heard of the “one bite rule”, which historically held a dog owner liable for their dog biting someone only if the owner had reason to know the dog might bite. This was known as the “one bite” rule because it essentially meant that a dog was allowed “one free bite” before an owner would be liable to the victim. In modern times, however, the one bite rule does not necessarily allow a dog one free bite, and states like Colorado have enacted stricter laws to protect victims.
Colorado’s “dog bite” statutes provide specific rules for dog bite cases that in some circumstances create a form of “strict liability” for dog bites. Strict liability means that the dog owner is liable if a certain event occurs, regardless of whether the defendant could have done anything to prevent the event. Colorado law holds a dog owner strictly liable only if the victim of the bite suffers serious bodily injury or death from being bitten by a dog while the victim is lawfully on public or private property, regardless of the viciousness or dangerous propensities of the dog. But if the victim was trespassing on another’s property, or the dog owner has at least one “no trespassing” or “beware of dog” sign on their property, the owner is most likely not strictly liable. This is also the case if a person knowingly provokes a dog and is then bitten.
For cases where an injury is not a serious or deadly one, or a strict liability situation doesn’t apply, Colorado’s negligence standards still may provide relief to the victim. To show negligence, the injured person would have to show that the owner failed to use reasonable care to control or restrain the dog, and a dog bite or other dog-related injury then resulted.
“If a dog has teeth, it has potential to bite,” says Sgt. Stephen Romero, a 20-year veteran of Denver’s Animal Control. So, remembering to be cautious around other people’s dogs may be the best tip for helping you avoid injury. And since children are bitten at much higher rates than adults, keeping children safe around dogs is even more important since children are more likely than adults to require medical attention for dog bites.
If you or a loved one were injured by a dog bite, contact an experienced Colorado personal injury attorney who can evaluate your case and get you the recovery you deserve.