Indiana’s dog bite law is a hybrid of several different theories of liability – strict liability, the “one bite rule”, negligence and negligence per se. If you can support your dog bite claim under one of these theories of liability, you can sue the dog’s owner (“owner” is broadly defined to include the dog’s “possessor, harborer or keeper”, as the case may be). In some cases you might even be able to sue the dog owner’s landlord.
The “Mail Carrier Rule”
Under the so-called “mail carrier rule”, a dog owner is strictly liable if his dog bites anyone during his execution of official duties. “Strictly liable” means that the victim doesn’t have to show that the owner was at fault or that it was known to be dangerous – instead, the dog owner is expected to provide, in essence, a financial guarantee of the dog’s good behavior. Although this rule was no doubt designed primarily to protect mail carriers, it would also apply to police officers, meter readers, firefighters and other government personnel.
The “One Bite” Rule
If the victim was not on official business when attacked, strict liability does not apply. Since Indiana law assumes that a dog is harmless until proven otherwise, a victim can recover damages for a dog attack if the dog had bitten before (and the owner knew about it) or if the owner otherwise behaved in a way that should have alerted the owner that the dog was potentially dangerous. If the owner had no reason to know of the dog’s dangerous tendencies, he will not be liable unless some other basis of liability can be established.
Even if the dog had no prior history of aggressiveness, the victim can win an Indiana dog bite lawsuit if he can show that the victim was negligent (careless) in some way, and that the negligence caused the attack. Throwing a small dog onto someone’s body, for example, might support a negligence claim if the dog responded by biting the victim.
“Negligence Per Se”
Indiana’s “negligence per se” rule asserts that conduct that is illegal is automatically considered negligent conduct. It is a Class C misdemeanor in Indiana, for example, for a dog owner to allow his dog to leave the owner’s property without remaining under the owner’s reasonable control (a leash or some other form of restraint). If a dog attacks someone while the owner is violating this statute, the attack victim could sue the dog owner under a negligence per se theory of liability.
Landlord Liability for Tenant’s Dog
In Indiana, a landlord can be held liable for allowing a dangerous dog to enter or remain on his property, as long as the landlord has reason to know of the dog’s dangerous tendencies. Under these circumstances, although you could also sue the tenant who owned the dog, the landlord might turn out to be a wealthy property developer who would be in a better position to pay a large verdict or settlement.
For more information, talk to an Indiana dog bite lawyer now.