December 11, 2019
For years, the owner of a dog was protected from liability for injuries caused by the dog. This protection from liability was typically referred to as the “one free bite” rule. The rule essentially was self-explanatory. A dog owner could only be liable for injuries to others if the owner had reason to know that the dog was dangerous. If the dog had never bitten or injured anyone in the past, so the argument went, the dog owner would have no reason to anticipate future injuries by the dog. Therefore, the dog owner was not liable.
However, if a dog had displayed a past propensity to bite, then the dog owner was on notice of the dog’s nature and the owner could be held liable for any injuries to person or property. Thus, the dog had “one free bite” before the law would hold the owner liable. If you were the victim of the first bite, you were out of luck.
Then, the Kentucky legislature passed KRS 258.235(4) which states in pertinent part, “any owner whose dog is found to have caused damage to a person, livestock, or other property shall be responsible for that damage…” In 2018, the Kentucky Supreme Court formally interpreted the statute to mean that the “one free bite” rule was dead and that now an owner of a dog was strictly liable for injuries caused when their dog attacks a person. An injured person need only show that they were injured by a dog and the owner became automatically liable.
There is now no legal requirement to show that the dog owner was negligent. A dog owner can do everything correctly and still be liable if their dog injuries someone. In fairness, the Supreme Court also held that the amount of liability against the dog owner could be reduced by a jury depending upon any facts that would place blame on the injured person for the injury i.e. trespassing, reaching through the fence, teasing, etc.
Homeowners insurance typically covers a dog owner for injuries caused by a dog. Therefore, it is a good idea for dog owners to make sure they have adequate homeowners’ coverage in the event of an injury.