New Mexico is one of only a handful of states that has no “dog bite statute”. Instead, dog bite cases are handled under New Mexico law as ordinary personal injury claims based on state common law. Because of this, New Mexico law is rather less favorable to victims than the dog bite law of many other states.
The “One Bite Rule”
The “one bite rule”, as it has been adopted in New Mexico law, allows a dog owner to be held liable for a dog bite if and only if the owner either knew of the dog’s vicious tendencies or had reason to know of them before the attack took place. It is not necessary that the dog had actually bitten someone before – aggressive behavior toward humans is enough to establish liability, as long as the owner knew about it (a history of fighting with other dogs normally does not satisfy the “one bite rule”).
The consequence of this rule is that if a victim is bitten by a dog that had never acted aggressively before, the victim cannot win a lawsuit against a dog owner unless he proceeds under another theory of liability – namely, negligence.
“Negligence” is a legal term that essentially means carelessness. A victim can establish negligence against a dog owner in one of two ways: traditional negligence and negligence per se.
Traditional negligence: Under traditional negligence principles, the victim must show that the owner acted, or failed to act, in a way that carelessly endangered the victim’s safety, and that this endangerment was the proximate cause of the victim’s injury. The owner might have provoked the dog in the close proximity of the victim, for example, or he may have failed to prevent the dog from wandering into the presence of a child who was too young to know better than to provoke a dog.
Under traditional negligence principles, it is ultimately a judgment call whether or not a particular act or omission constituted “negligence” under the circumstances.
Negligence per se: Under the negligence per se principle, any violation of the law on the part of the owner automatically constitutes negligence if it leads the dog to attack the victim. In other words, negligence per se is not based on a judgment call once a violation of the law has been established. A dog owner, for example, may have violated a local leash law by letting his dog roam at large. If the dog then bites someone, the owner cannot defend himself by asserting that the dog had never acted aggressively before.
If a dog owner intentionally uses his dog to attack someone without justification (by inciting the dog), New Mexico essentially treats the dog as a weapon wielded by its owner. The victim may sue the owner for an intentional tort, and he might even be awarded punitive damages in addition to the usual compensatory damages. Intentionally inciting a dog to attack someone is also a crime under New Mexico law.
The New Mexico Statute of Limitations
In New Mexico, you must file the initial complaint to initiate a personal injury lawsuit within three years of the date that the bite occurred. Only very limited exceptions to this rule are allowed.
If you or someone you know has been injured, talk to a dog bite lawyer.