Dogs and Cats and Other Critters: What You Should Know If Your Neighbor’s Pet Bites

If your neighbor's pet attacks you, can you sue for your injuries? The answer depends on what type of animal it is, the laws in your state, and whether you can prove that the animal really does belong to your neighbor. These are some things that you should know.

Dog bite laws are the best defined.

All states have some form of law on the books regarding dog bites, but the laws can vary quite a bit, which makes the circumstances of your case important. If you're bitten in a state that has a "strict liability" rule for dog bites, you generally have a good case as long as

  • you were legally allowed to be where you were at when you were bitten, 
  • and you didn't provoke the dog into biting you.

If you're bitten in a state that that has what's known as a "one bite" rule, the case can be more complicated. The rule doesn't mean that every dog gets one free pass -- if an owner knew that the dog was aggressive, and you can prove it, you can still win your case. You may end up seeking testimony from neighbors and relatives of the owner in order to prove the dog was known to be aggressive.

Some dogs are also simply considered to be more aggressive than others. As a result, many cities and states have "breed specific" laws that restrict their ownership. For example, almost all of Ohio's large towns and cities ban pit bulls. If your neighbor was keeping a banned dog in spite of the law, or a breed of dog that commonly considered dangerous, you have a very strong case.

If you have any questions about a dog bite and whether or not you have a case, consider contacting a specialist, such as Scherline And Associates, to discuss your concerns.

Cat bites can present some legal difficulties.

Most states don't have specific laws regarding cats, but that doesn't mean an owner isn't liable. Ownership of a pet conveys a responsibility to control that pet. If a cat bites or claws you, the courts will generally take a look at the circumstances of the case and question whether or not the owner knew the cat wasn't friendly (or only intermittently so). If so, and you weren't warned, you have a good case (again, assuming you didn't deliberately provoke the cat).

The legal difficulty you often run into is proving that the cat that bit you was your neighbor's cat. A lot of bites happen when cats are allowed to roam free -- unless you were able to capture the cat when you were attacked and got the police involved right away, there's probably little proof exactly which cat roaming the neighborhood bit you. If your neighbor won't admit that it was their cat, you may have to try to prove it through the use of photographs and film that the cat comes and goes from your neighbor's house. You may also need witnesses to the attack who can verify the identity of the cat.

Exotic animal bites are almost always covered under the law.

If your neighbor was keeping a pet alligator or a bobcat that got loose and bit you, you probably have a very good case, no matter what the exact circumstances of the event. Whether or not the animal had ever attacked anyone is usually irrelevant, because exotics are generally considered to have dangerous characteristics that make them unsuitable for domestication. You also aren't usually required to prove that you didn't provoke the animal; even something like just running away can provoke a response in some species that leads to an attack.

The biggest hurdle that you may have, again, is proving who owns the animal. If it's illegal to keep a chimp or a mountain lion in your area as a pet, the owner may not come forward if it gets loose. You may have to do some investigating to find out who is responsible for it being in the area.

If you've been the victim of a bite (or even a vicious scratch from some claws) and are injured, talk to an attorney about your case today.