Dog Bites An Intruder: Could I Be Liable?

Nicholas A. Battaglia
Reviewer Details

This post was reviewed by Nicholas A. Battaglia, Esq., an attorney licensed in New York and New Jersey.  He is owner and legal content writer for a law practice marketing firm and a realty group focusing on new construction builds in upstate New York, where he lives with his lovely wife and his counselor-at-bark Flora, a mixed breed rescue.

Getting compensation from a dog bite is a right for an injured person, but could you be liable when a dog bites an intruder? There is usually no liability when your dog bites a criminal or a trespasser in your home.

Well, most people have dogs to protect their homes and, of course, to be a part of their family as well.

Still, whether your pet is a guard dog or a house dog, there will be instances that it will bite someone it doesn’t know, most especially when that person intrudes your home, no matter how friendly your canine might be.

But, there are some states that could hold you accountable. So, continue on scrolling to understand the topic.


Liability For Dog-Bite: Are Intruders Also Protected?

As I’ve said earlier, a dog owner won’t be liable when a dog bites an intruder.

There are countries like Maryland that have laws that protect owners when their dog bites a trespasser or criminal; here’s the rule for it, under subsection C (1) and (2).

Especially when there is a question of fact, or the plaintiff couldn’t prove that the dog owner is negligent or is at fault, the jury will most likely go side to the dog, such as in Hawaii where a dog that bites trespassers or criminals are protected, here’s the law.

However, in states like California, dog bite attorneys will hold you accountable for the damage your dog caused because of their strict liability laws.

So, a trespasser might get compensation from a dog owner when proven negligent in handling their pet.

For instance, if you placed a guard dog in your yard where children would pass through as a short cut will not keep you from a possible dog bite liability.

However, if the kids provoked or break into your house, then that’s a different case to solve. Nevertheless, here’s a law you want to review.


Case Of A Dog Bite: A Friend Who Was Thought To Be An Intruder

A parent from New Jersey asked if they are liable for their daughter’s friend’s injury after their German Shepherd hurt the boy. please read here can electric fence hurt dog 

It goes this way, their older daughter brought home friends around 3 A.M. You can say that it was dark, and they were in the living room where the homeowners’ dogs reside. please read here when to put a dog dwon act torn acl.

One of her male friends decided to get closer to the family’s four-year-old male German Shepherd/Husky mix dog, a four-year-old male.

The dog was at peace on his dog chair when the 24-year-old boy pets him, thinking that the boy was an intruder because the dog doesn’t know him in the first place, bites their daughter’s friend on his nose.

The dog didn’t attack the boy, but since it was dark and unfamiliar, it was a reaction because it got startled.


Is the family liable?

So, will the homeowners be liable in this situation? The discussion’s response was mostly to contact their homeowner insurance since they can sue anyone at this point.

Since New Jersey has a strict dog bite liability statute (NJSA 4:19-16.), the state would usually hold the dog owners accountable for the damages their dog caused even if the dog doesn’t have vicious behavior from the past or has bitten anyone.

However, the boy was not a trespasser since the daughter brought him. Yet, he went to the dog himself without thinking about what it would do, mostly that he was new to the home.

Nevertheless, the dog owner will only be held accountable when the plaintiff will be able to prove the dog owner:

  • The defendant owns the dog;


  • That the plaintiff was welcomed in a private place, which includes the property of the defendant; and finally


  • That the plaintiff was bitten on the said area of the defendant.


With that, you can tell that the plaintiff quickly proves these three elements because he was lawfully in the house and was bitten by the dog of the said home.

But the defendant can counterpart the claim by proving that the plaintiff exposes himself to risk knowing that the dog will bite or because the plaintiff caused the dog to injure him by tormenting or beat the canine.

In contrast, the plaintiff did both none. Therefore, the family’s insurance company will most likely pay on this claim, meaning that the dog owners are liable for their daughter’s friend’s injury.

Now, you can tell that not all states are dog bite friendly, as there are some places where strict dog-bite liability is implemented.

But, I understand that not all states have the same law regarding dog bites or superficial injuries caused by dogs, which I will discuss with you in this article.

In contrast, you first want to know how someone will be considered a trespasser and your duties if they got bitten by your dog. So, read on!


What Is A Trespasser?

Such a case can be quite challenging, especially for the dog owner since most states are strict regarding dog bites or dog-related injuries.

But if a dog attacked a trespasser, it would be a different case to settle, and the dog owner could have a higher chance of avoiding compensation.

With this, the court would want you to prove that the plaintiff was indeed a trespasser, as it will determine whether the dog owner owes the injured person and if the court can apply the state’s dog bites law.

So, how can one be considered as a trespasser? You will be considered as a trespasser if you unlawfully break in a private property, land or home.

Yet, there are exceptions for that. For instance, a mailman who leaves mail near your door, or a salesman who comes door-to-door unless you have a sign posted states “no soliciting” or the gate is locked.

So, a person who enters private property without the owner’s knowledge does necessarily count as trespassing.


Will there be any legal responsibility owed to trespassers?

Dog owners are responsible for their dog’s action and behaviour and how your pet act can already be a negligence sign.

Suppose the homeowner happens to be present when trespassing happen, or maybe a person happens to be in their property and hasn’t done any appropriate action during the situation.

In that case, the court can potentially declare the owner negligent for the injuries and damages caused by their dog to the victim.

It’s a homeowner’s obligation, so they can be liable if an injury takes place in their property.

Compared to the duty of care you could owe when an invited friend or visitor is bitten, a homeowner usually owe a trespasser in accordance to the limited duty of care.

Yet, there are times when a trespasser can acquire legal protection, here’s an example:


Trespasses for a shortcut

When a homeowner realises that their property is a shortcut, then he will most likely be liable for a trespassers injury.

The dog owner could post warning signs such as “beware of dogs,” or if their dog shows vicious tendencies towards strangers, the owners have to put their pet in a cage, inside their house, or leash them to keep their dog from hurting people.

Since some state has laws on having a “dangerous” dog could contribute to your case if it injured or bitten someone, you can be declared accountable. Even their breed per se can be used to determine a vicious dog in a few states.  Although states like New York have expressly said that breed alone is insufficient to pin liability on a dog or dog owner.

To make things simpler to understand, dog owners should take precautionary measures will keep them away from liability to a trespasser.

For instance, if there is a warning sign that a “dangerous” dog exists and the dog is chained up, but the trespasser exposed themselves for possible danger, then he or she cannot claim compensation from the owner.


“Wanton or willful ” conduct

Some owners would let their dog run loose around their property to intentionally hurt a trespasser. It’s known as “wanton and willful” and homeowners must not engage from such act.

Even if an unwanted person is in their property, a homeowner can’t go his way to scare and hurt a person, they must contact the authorities immediately or they will be held accountable if their dog attacked the trespasser.


Does having “strict liability” protect trespassers?

There are some states that dog owners are automatically charged when it comes to dog bites; this is known as “strict liability” dog bite statutes. However, in some cases, the said law wouldn’t be strict at all.

Usually, strict liability is implied to dog owners automatically without the injured person proving their negligence once the elements require are met, so dog owners should cover the victim’s bills or other damages that their dog did.

But, “strict liability” wouldn’t be applicable if the injured person was proved to do crimes, trespassed, or provoked the dog.

Here are two states with laws on dog bites for trespassers:


New Jersey

You can allege trespassing as a defense to this strict liability rule if there is criminal intent on the part of the trespasser. If the trespasser further provoked the dog, that only strengthens your case.  If you had no knowledge that the dog could be aggressive of have a propensity to bite, that could even further help your case against a trespasser and New Jersey’s strict liability statute. please read here