Dog attacks in public

Dog attacks in public restaurants and stores—who is liable for injuries caused?

It may be automatically assumed that the store or restaurant is liable for a dog attack in the facility, having allowed the dog in—pet friendly business owner policies rule the day. However, if the business owner is unaware of the animal’s dangerous propensities it may escape liability in the majority of states.

While visiting my local Home Depot store a few weeks back, I passed by a store co-patron who was accompanied by his purebred adult pit bull dog. All dog attack cases that I have handled involved pit bulls—the dogs can be very vicious and cause irreparable harm or death. I could not help but to wonder if the store would be able to successfully escape liability if the dog attacked another store patron.

In most states, a store or restaurant will escape liability for a dog attack if the facility can establish that they were unaware of the animal’s dangerous propensities. Unfortunately, even the dog’s owner can escape liability for that same reason (i.e., if he or she can prove unawareness of the dog’s dangerous propensities).

State laws to protect dog attack victims generally fall into 3 categories:

• “One Bite Rule”: After the first incident, the owner is strictly liable for all other injuries caused by the animal;
• Strict liability: States applying strict liability do not weigh actions the dog owner took to prevent the injury. The animal bites, the owner is liable for the injuries or death;
• General negligence principles apply to determine if the owner acted or failed to act to prevent the attack.