With thirty percent of Utah households owning dogs, it is important for both dog owners and others to know what their rights are on both sides of Utah dog bite laws.
Dog bite statistics
Over four million dog bites occur each year around the country and many more go unreported. Dog bites can range from a minor nip that doesn’t break the skin to a severe mauling that results in the victim’s death. Under Utah law, dog owners are responsible for the actions of their pets and may face bodily injury claims and criminal charges if their dog attacks.
Liability of owners
Most dog owners are surprised when their furry friend turns vicious. Many times the owner claims that the dog is “well-mannered” or “would never hurt a fly”. Regardless of the dog’s previous good behavior however, the owner is liable for any harm caused by their beloved pet-even on the first bite. Utah Code 18-1-1 states: “Every person owning or keeping a do is liable in damages for injury committed by the dog, and it is not necessary . . . to allege or prove that the dog was of a vicious or mischievous disposition or that the owner or keeper of the dog knew that it was vicious or mischievous.”
When dogs bite
Far too often dog attacks on persons are seen on the news. Sometimes the dog turns on their own people while other times the victim is a friend, neighbor, or random individual in the wrong place at the wrong time. Dogs are also known to turn on their own kind. Twice this month a dog attack has been reported in Utah that resulted in the death of someone else’s canine companion. In a residential neighborhood in Salt Lake City, a Chihuahua and Shih Tzu were being walked on leashes when they were attacked and killed by two larger dogs who had escaped from their own leashes. Another incident in St. George occurred when two dogs, one described by police as a pit bull breed, attacked a poodle being walked on a leash, resulting in the death of the leashed animal.
Dog at large or at home
Dog bites may result in criminal charges depending on the circumstances surrounding the attack. If like the above incidents a dog is roaming around unleashed when it attacks an animal or person, the dog owner may face criminal charges for allowing a vicious animal to go at large. Utah Code 76-9-304 states “Any owner of a vicious animal, knowing its propensities, who willfully allows it to go at large or who keeps it without ordinary care, and any animal, while at large, or while not kept with ordinary care, causes injury to another animal or to any human being who has taken reasonable precaution which the circumstances permitted, is guilty of a class B misdemeanor unless the animal causes the death of a human being, whereupon the owner is guilty of a felony of the third degree.” If a person is bitten while in the home of the dog owner, the victim may file a claim for damages and injuries which the homeowner’s insurance or the dog owner themselves would be fiscally responsible for. The owner may not face criminal charges as long as the dog is not at large, is properly licensed, and hasn’t been mistreated or bred for fighting that would increase its likelihood to attack. If a dog attacks a person and not another animal, that animal may be euthanized regardless of its location when the bit occurred.
Defending a bite
Having a dog that used to be well mannered is not a defense, unless the owner can prove their dog was provoked into biting. While most dog bites are accidental, there are occasions where a person may incite a dog into biting them- possibly hoping for a financial payout or to get rid of a “nuisance” neighbor dog. If this is suspected, the dog owner is encouraged to discuss their options with an attorney. Additionally, if a bite occurs but there is no physical harm done to the victim (the bite/nip doesn’t break the skin), it is best to obtain legal counsel to discuss whether or not that fits in the parameters for Utah’s dog bit laws. Different cities and municipalities may have additional laws in place regarding licensing, leash, and bite laws. It is recommended to always check with local codes for the full scope of the law pertinent to the dog and owner’s location.