Iowa dog bite law incorporates some of the broadest language in the nation in terms of what kind of behavior by a dog is enough to trigger civil liability. Depending on the circumstances, a dog bite victim can rely on either Iowa’s dog bite statute or general principles of personal injury. Even bystanders can sue if certain conditions are met.
The Iowa Dog Bite Statute
The Iowa dog bite statute holds dog owners strictly liable for injuries or property damage caused by their dog, even if they took reasonable precautions to prevent the dog from hurting anyone, and even if the dog did not appear to be dangerous before the attack. To trigger liability, a dog must cause damage by:
- Attacking or attempting to attack a person, or
- Harassing, attacking or killing a domestic animal
Although physical injury is normally required to establish liability, the dog need not have even touched its victim – frightening a child into the street, for example, could cause the child to get hit by a car without any actual contact between the child and the dog. The only major exception to the applicability of the Iowa dog bite statute is when the dog has rabies.
Negligence law is judge-made law rather than statutory law. If a dog with rabies attacks someone, Iowa’s strict liability statute does not apply and the dog owner will be found liable for negligence only if he knew the dog had rabies and did not act reasonably to prevent an attack. The Iowa dog bite statute also does not apply when the defendant is someone other than the owner of the dog – a sitter or a kennel, for example. If the defendant is not the dog owner, the victim must prove negligence. Liability might be established in the following ways:
- The defendant had reason to believe that the dog was dangerous based on previous behavior, such as biting, that the defendant knew about.
- The defendant violated a state law or a municipal ordinance (usually an animal control law), and this violation led to the attack.
- The defendant caused the attack by failing to observe reasonable safety precautions, whether or not the dog was known to be dangerous.
Iowa law allows a bystander to sue for damages due to a dog attack even though the bystander himself was not attacked. To win, the bystander must prove:
- The bystander was near the scene of the attack and witnessed it personally,
- The bystander suffered emotional distress due to witnessing the attack (rather than due to, for example, a telephone call from the hospital reporting on the condition of the victim),
- The bystander was a relative of the victim or was the victim’s spouse,
- The bystander reasonably believed that the victim would be killed or seriously injured by the attack, and
- The bystander suffered severe emotional distress that was accompanied by objective physical symptoms (panic attacks, for example).
Statute of Limitations
Under most circumstances, the Iowa statute of limitations requires you to file a personal injury lawsuit within two years of the date of the attack or, in the case of a wrongful death lawsuit, within two years of the victim’s date of death.
If you or a loved one have been injured, find an Iowa dog bite lawyer today.