Utah Dog Bite Laws

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

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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

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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.

Criminal Defamation Through Social Media Comments

Many individuals are more open to share their opinions when it is done through social media posts or comments, yet is there a point when their views could be seen as defamation of character?

Immediate judging by the public

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In a court of law, someone is innocent until proven guilty. When it comes to social media however, people are often figuratively burned at the stake the second they are accused of a crime. It doesn’t help that local news sources appear quick to run stories online the second they catch wind of a crime, especially one that is likely to result in a lot of judgmental chatter. Even if court proceedings exonerate a defendant, the sting of being deemed a criminal in the social media limelight is slow to heal. Things said either vocally or by the written word can damage the public outlook on that person with the ability to ruin their reputation forever, regardless of whether or not the comments are true.


Social media witch hunts often occur when an arrest is reported, yet they can also happen when any story of interest hits social media news feeds. Recently a local high school football coach in southern Utah was relieved of his duties while school officials assured everyone he was not being disciplined for anything and would continue teaching classes. Despite the school’s attempt to limit possible rumors that would fan the fire for slanderous comments, a twist on the story from multiple news stations quickly threw the story out to the allegorical wolves.

Opinions or fabricated facts

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Within a short amount of time of the story hitting social media, hundreds of comments from the public followed on the public post. Some of these comments were speculations onto the reasons for the loss of the coach’s position, while others made blatant attacks on the coach’s character, making claims that were severe in nature and could possibly alter the way other’s regarded him. One individual claimed the coach “tortured” her family, which is possibly an exaggeration from an offended parent whose kid sat on the bench, not an actual claim of physical assault. That comment had the potential to cause others to be concerned about the possibility of the coach being violent towards his students and therefore could be seen as defamation.

Freedom of speech or criminal defamation?

According to Utah law, there is a fine line between stating opinions and spreading false information. When someone crosses that line and spreads rumors that could hurt another person, they may end up facing criminal charges for defamation. Utah Code 76-9-404 states, “A person is guilty of criminal defamation if he knowingly communicates to any person orally or in writing any information which he knows to be false and knows will tend to expose any other living person to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.” Section 76-9-404 goes on to warn the public that “[c]riminal defamation is a class B misdemeanor.” According to Utah State Courts, if someone is convicted of criminal defamation, they may face “[u]p to six months in jail” as well as a fine “up to $1,000”. Defamation may also be prone to result in civil charges as well as criminal.

Nothing but the truth

If a person makes a statement about another that has the potential to greatly damage that individual’s reputation, they had better be sure what they are saying or writing is true. In fact, the truth is the best defense in cases of criminal defamation. For more information on criminal defamation or other offenses against public order and decency, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Theft of Motor Vehicle Fuel in Utah

As fuel prices decrease in Utah, drivers may not be paying attention to the quantity of gasoline in their vehicles, unknowingly becoming the victims of theft of motor vehicle fuel.

Low gas prices could equal low awareness

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Gas prices throughout Utah have been at a bearable price for some time now with prices estimated to continue a downward trend. This decrease in fuel cost could lead drivers to lower their awareness of how fast they are burning through a full tank. Could it be that drivers feel more at liberty to take the long way to work or an extended lazy Sunday drive or could they actually be working with less gas than they realize?

Just a little off the top

Gasoline is a necessity for anyone with a vehicle and those strapped for cash after the holidays may borrow from others hoping it will go unnoticed. This can happen from a neighbor, a passerby, or even by an employee to a company vehicle. While the theft of motor vehicle fuel at these low prices wouldn’t amount to much of a dollar amount, it can still result in at least a class B misdemeanor for theft.

Theft of motor vehicle fluid

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Another way fuel is stolen is straight from the pump. This can result in theft charges depending on the quantity and value stolen. Utah Code 76-6-404.7 states: “A person is guilty of theft of motor vehicle fuel who:

a) Causes a motor vehicle to leave any premises where motor vehicle fuel is offered for retail sale when motor fuel has been dispensed into:
(i) the fuel tank of the motor vehicle; or
(ii)any other container that is then removed from the premises by means of the motor vehicle; and
b) Commits the act (…) with the intent to deprive the owner or operator of the premises of the motor fuel without making full payment for the fuel.”

Loss of driving privilege

Beyond criminal charges, fuel thieves may also lose their driving privilege temporarily. That section also goes on the explain that “the sentencing court may order the suspension of the driver license of a person convicted of theft of motor vehicle fuel (…) for [no more] than 90 days”. Drivers in desperate need of gasoline are encouraged to seek other legal avenues for obtaining motor vehicle fuel or seek legal counsel if charges ensue.