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Friday, April 18, 2014
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Published: 5/8/2010

Owner of biting dog may have defense

Dear Dale: During a party at my home my dog bit a woman, and now her lawyer is trying to hold me responsible. I don't think this is fair because I told the woman I didn't want her at the party before it started and I asked her to leave when she got there. My dog bit her after she showed up and hit someone at the party. Am I responsible for her injuries?

Without hearing both sides of the story from witnesses to the bite, it would be impossible for me to tell you whether you're legally liable for the woman's injuries. But you certainly have some defenses that aren't available in most dog-bite cases.

Under Ohio law, the owner, keeper, or harborer of a dog is strictly liable for injuries caused by the dog. That means that the owner bears responsibility for the victim's past and future medical bills related to the bite, any lost wages from missing work, and the pain suffered as a result of the bite. If the bite leaves a permanent scar, that can be factored in to the damages equation as well.

Though the state's strict-liability law is strong, there are exceptions. If the person who was bitten was committing or attempting to commit a criminal trespass or another criminal offense — other than a minor misdemeanor — on the property of the owner, the owner is not liable for the injuries. Also, if the person who was bitten was teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog on the owner's property, the owner is not legally responsible for the bite.

In my experience with these cases, it's rare that those defenses are available to the owner of the biting dog. In the situation you describe, you'd first have to look at whether the woman who was bitten had committed a criminal trespass.

Without reciting the entire statute, someone commits a criminal trespass by knowingly entering the land or premises of another without privilege, or by refusing to leave another property when told to do so by the owner or occupant.

So, in your situation, you could argue that the woman who was bitten was criminally trespassing because you told her not to come to the party ahead of time and once she was there, she didn't leave when notified she didn't have permission to be there.

You also mentioned that she hit someone at the party. If that happened at the time of the bite, you could argue that she was committing a criminal offense on your property, which is another defense available under the dog-bite law.

So, you may have cards to play. But it's probably a decent bet that the bite victim has another version of the story, so the issue of liability will come down to the credibility of the parties and their respective witnesses.

Dale Emch practices law at the Dale Emch Law Office, LLC, in Toledo. In his column, he will discuss general legal principles and answer readers' questions. Neither Mr. Emch nor The Blade present or intend his column to be taken as legal advice. Readers seeking legal advice should consult with an attorney. Readers may send their questions to 615 Adams St. Toledo, OH 43604. His blog is at toledocaraccidentlawyerblog.com.



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