Personal injury law is designed to compensate victims of injuries that were caused by wrongful behavior on the part of someone else. Normally, personal injury law is mostly common law (judge-made law) – a court will refer to the results of previous lawsuits to determine how to resolve each new case.
New Hampshire, however, has followed the lead of most states by enacting a specific statute dealing with the liability of dog owners for injuries caused by their pets. In circumstances where the statute doesn’t apply, a dog bite victim is still free to file a lawsuit based on common law.
Strict Liability under the Statute
The New Hampshire “dog bite statute” imposes strict liability on dog owners (including keepers and possessors of dogs) who injure a victim. As long as the victim can prove that the dog injured him and that it belongs to the owner, the owner cannot defend the lawsuit by proving that he took appropriate precautions to prevent the dog from injuring anyone – he can be held liable without fault. The owner’s only defense would be that the victim was trespassing or committing another wrongful act (something the victim could be sued for) at the time of the attack.
The New Hampshire dog bite statute covers more than just dog bites. It could also cover the following circumstances:
- A large, playful dog knocks the victim down and he hits his head on asphalt
- A dog chases the victim into the street, where he is hit by an oncoming car
- An exuberant dog scratches the victim and causes a serious infection
- An aggressive dog frightens a bicyclist into crashing (Bohan v. Ritzo, 1996)
Injuries to Other Animals
The New Hampshire dog bite statute covers not only injuries to humans, but also injuries to pets and livestock, as long as they are someone’s property.
A trespasser cannot sue under the New Hampshire dog bite statute. If it weren’t for the availability of other remedies, this might result in injustice if, say, a child was mauled by a vicious dog while innocently trespassing. Fortunately, a trespassing victim might still be able to win a lawsuit against the dog owner by suing under New Hampshire common law.
Typically, such a lawsuit would claim that the dog owner was negligent (careless) under the circumstances, and that the victim’s injuries were caused by this negligence. A dog owner might allow his dog to run free, for example, and the victim might have been injured while trespassing on a third party’s property. It is even possible (although highly unlikely) for a burglar to win a lawsuit against a homeowner under negligence law.
You cannot sue a landlord under the New Hampshire dog bite statute, unless the landlord actually owned the dog. You might be able to sue a landlord, however, for negligently allowing a vicious stray dog into a common area of an apartment complex, or for allowing a tenant to keep a dog that the landlord knows to be vicious.
The New Hampshire Statute of Limitations
In New Hampshire, you generally have three years from the date of the injury to file a dog bite lawsuit. An exception might apply under rare circumstances – if, for example, you hit your head on asphalt and suffered a brain injury that was not diagnosed until six months later. In this case the three-year window for filing a lawsuit would probably begin running on the date of your diagnosis.
For more information about New Hampshire dog bite law, talk to an attorney in your area.