Laws determining a dog owner’s liability for bites and other injuries vary from state to state. Some states follow a strict liability law, while others operate under a negligence rule for dog bites. Strict liability states hold the dog owner responsible for any damages their dog causes. In these states, an injured dog bite victim doesn’t have to prove that the dog owner was negligent or knew of the dog’s aggression. They simply have to show that they were seriously injured by that dog. This law applies only to injuries caused by dog bites.
For states that apply the negligence rule, dog bite victims must show that the dog owner knew or should have known of a dangerous tendency or that the dog had previously attacked others. Unlike the dog bite statute, the negligence rule may be used in cases where a dog causes injury through behavior other than a bite. For example, if a dog knocks a person down and causes injuries, that person may be able to seek compensation via a negligence-based claim.
Some states, on the other hand, use a combination of both rules. Colorado is one of those states.
Understanding Colorado’s Dog Bite Laws: Strict Liability and Negligence
Colorado’s dog bite statute (C.R.S 13-21-124) is a strict liability statute that governs dog bites in Colorado. When a dog bite causes serious injury or death in Colorado, this statute applies a “strict liability” rule to hold the dog’s owner liable. Strict liability under Colorado dog bite law means that an injured person does not have to prove that the owner of the dog was negligent, just that serious bodily injury or death occurred.
The liability applies 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. The dog owner also remains liable even if the dog never bit someone or displayed violent tendencies in the past.
Under statute C.R.S 13-21-124, Colorado dog owners can be held liable if:
- your dog bites someone who was lawfully on public or private property at the time, and
- if the bite causes serious bodily injury or death.
When a Dog Owner Is Not Liable in a Dog Bite Case
Conversely, the statute outlines the following six circumstances where a dog owner will not be liable to a person who suffers serious bodily injury or death after being bitten by a dog:
- If the person is unlawfully on public or private property;
- If the person is on property of the dog owner and the property is clearly and conspicuously marked with one or more posted signs stating “no trespassing” or “beware of dog”;
- While the dog is “on duty” and being used by a police or military personnel in the performance of police or military personnel duties;
- If the person purposely and knowingly provoked or incited the dog;
- If the person is a veterinary health care worker, dog groomer, humane agency staff person, professional dog handler, trainer, or dog show judge acting in the performance of his or her respective duties; or
- While the dog is working as a hunting dog, herding dog, farm or ranch dog, or predator control dog on the property of or under the control of the dog’s owner.
In order for Colorado’s strict liability statute to apply, these conditions must be met and the injured person is entitled to bring a civil action for economic damages against the dog owner.
What Does “Serious Bodily Injury” Mean Under Colorado Dog Bite Law?
To collect damages under the statute, a person must have suffered a “serious bodily injury.” Serious bodily injuries are defined as those involving:
- a substantial risk of death;
- a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement;
- a substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, or;
- breaks, fractures, or burns of the second or third degree.
Compensation for Colorado Dog Bite Injuries
Under Colorado’s dog bite law, victims who have suffered serious bodily injuries can be compensated for economic damages such as current and future medical bills, surgery, rehabilitation, pain medication, current and future lost wages, loss of earning power, and other costs without having to show any fault on the part of the dog owner.
Non-economic damages, like pain and suffering and emotional trauma, are not covered under this strict liability statute. However, individuals injured from dog bites may be entitled to compensation for non-monetary damages under a negligence claim if they are able to prove that the owner knew or should have known the dog had dangerous tendencies and failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent the bite.
In cases when a person is bitten by a dog and sustains a bodily injury that does not reach the level or satisfy the definition of “serious” according to the terms of the statute, he or she may still be eligible to collect compensation by filing a negligence claim. Colorado’s negligence rules require the plaintiff to establish that the owner failed to properly control or restrain their dog. And in order to prove negligence occurred, the plaintiff must prove:
- that the the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff;
- that the defendant breached that duty of care;
- that the defendant’s breach was the cause of the injury; and
- that the plaintiff sustained injuries that can be quantified in terms of monetary damages.
For example, a dog owner might know of their dog’s dangerous tendency even if the dog has never bit. Perhaps it always snarls and shows its teeth at kids passing by, but can’t attack because it’s behind a fence. That owner has knowledge of the dangerous tendency notwithstanding that the dog has never actually bitten anyone, and could be liable if they let the dog out off leash and it bites a child.
Generally, bodily injuries that are not considered “serious” include any physical injury that:
- results in muscle tears, severe bruising, or skin lacerations that require professional treatment; or
- requires cosmetic or corrective surgery.
Furthermore, unlike the dog bite statute, the negligence rule may be used in cases where a dog causes injury through behavior other than a bite. For example, if a dog jumps on a person on a sidewalk and subsequently causes the person to fall down and break an arm, that person may also seek compensation via a negligence-based claim.
What Can I Recover for a Dog Bite Injury in a Negligence Action?
If an injured person can prove that an owner was negligent in supervising or controlling the dog, he or she can collect compensation for both economic and non-economic losses.
Non-economic damages in negligent dog bite claims include:
- pain and suffering;
- loss of consortium;
- loss of enjoyment;
- sorrow; or
- psychological harm/emotional distress.
Time Limits on Colorado Dog Bite Lawsuits
All states have a statute of limitations that sets a time limit for filing a personal injury case. Colorado gives injured people two years from the date of dog bite injury to file a lawsuit in the state’s civil court system. If the lawsuit is filed after the two-year deadline, the court will not hear the case and insurance claims will be denied.
Call us Today to Schedule a Consultation With a Dedicated Denver Dog Bite Attorney
To get an attorney on your side who understands Colorado dog bite cases, contact our Denver personal injury law firm today for a complimentary, no-obligation consultation. No matter the circumstances that led to your dog attack (or any personal injury related matter), it’s important to have a complete understanding of your legal rights and options. We can help determine what the best course of action may be and will fight to help you obtain the compensation you need to cover medical expenses, lost wages, and more.
We serve dog bite victims around the state of Colorado including Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Fort Collins, and Pueblo.