Approximately 69 million U.S. households own dogs according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2021-2022 Pet Owners Survey. A common question dog owners get is “Does your dog bite?”  And, while approximately 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year (according to the American Veterinary Medical Association) most dog owners will respond with a definitive “No”.  While dogs bring so much joy to our lives, the reality is they still have fears, uncertainty, frustration, and sometimes even behavioral issues, leading to dog bites under the “right” circumstances.

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If you are a dog owner in Arizona, here are five important things to keep in mind if your dog bites someone: 

Arizona law permits a strict liability claim for dog bites.  Unlike some states, Arizona does not give your dog a “free bite” before you are responsible.  Rather, you – as the owner of the dog – are generally strictly liable for any injuries/damages caused by your dog, as long as the strict liability claim is brought within one (1) year from the date of the incident (or 2 years if it’s a common law negligence claim), if the injured person can prove that the injury was caused by a dog bite, and, the bite occurred either in a public place or when the victim was properly and lawfully on private property.

Elliot Wernick is a Senior Member at The Cavanagh Law Firm.

There are generally two circumstances a dog owner may not be legally responsible. While often difficult to prove, if you can show that the injured person provoked your dog before being bitten, you may be able to avoid liability. In addition, if the person who was injured was not lawfully on your property (i.e., they were trespassing or entering your home or yard without permission to do so), you may also be able to avoid legal responsibility for the incident.  It’s important to be aware, however, that these defenses can be largely fact-specific and exceptions do exist. 

A person bitten by a dog in Arizona can recover the following damages:

• Medical expenses

• Lost wages

• Pain and suffering

• Punitive damages (if the owner intentionally caused harm, or was aware of prior incidents in which the dog bit someone else)

Always maintain control of your dog. When you are out and about, keep your dog on a leash (and, if appropriate, muzzled) and under control. When you’re at home, make sure your dog is comfortable around guests before allowing them to approach, pet or interact with your dog – even if you’re in your backyard.

Have appropriate and sufficient insurance coverage. If you are found liable for damages because your dog bit someone, those costs and expenses are your responsibility.  With Arizona ranking 10th in the average cost of dog bite claims in 2021, according to a survey by the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm (at more than $43,000 per claim), having sufficient insurance coverage through a homeowner’s or renter’s policy of insurance is the best way you can protect your and your family’s assets.  And, while some insurers may exclude coverage for certain breeds of dog, there are others without similar restrictions. There is legislation currently pending in the Arizona Senate that would keep insurance companies from excluding coverage for certain breeds.

Dogs are undeniably a wonderful part of our family, but we always need to be careful and cautious when around other people. If you happen to find yourself in an unfortunate situation with your pup, document the situation, never admit guilt and contact a personal injury attorney to see what steps you should take.

Author: Elliot Wernick is a Senior Member at The Cavanagh Law Firm specializing in complex personal injury and tort matters as well as insurance coverage analysis and litigation.