Are Doggie Play Bites Lawsuits Waiting To Happen?

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.

Are doggie play bites lawsuits waiting to happen? Usually, a play bite comes with no liability since dogs are playful. Their behavior like chasing a squirrel, biting toys, and even mouthing your hand is not considered vicious.

Taking care of a dog comes with lots of responsibilities and considerations, and also possible lawsuit if you are not careful. That is why you should be aware of particular laws like this play-bite liability that we will talk about in this article.

So, stay focused and understand for you to avoid your pet from getting into trouble.


Dogs And Their Playful Nature

We usually think of dogs as happy and excited animals that jump on their owners when they come home after work hours. Moreover, they enjoy chewing on bones and treats after doing the trick you thought, or just being a good girl or boy. please read here How To Stop A Dog From Chewing On Wood Trim

However, there are times that they would chew, mouth, or even bite their owner’s clothes, limbs, and hands; not because of their aggression, instead their way of playing.

It’s alright for puppies, but it can be painful for bigger dogs because their jaws are enormous. And worse, it could cause severe injuries if they get overly excited with their new human friend.

Yet, this kind of behavior is hard to control, especially if your dog is already old. If you’d only teach your dog while still a puppy, it would be a lot easier.


Are Play Bites Considered Aggressive Behavior?

Play bites or mouthing is usual for dogs. That is how they play with their pals. Yet, there are times that dogs would respond out of fear through biting. And that can be considered vicious.

But it’s hard to differentiate a play bite or usual mouthing from an aggressive one because they are almost the same.

What I usually do to identify if a dog is playful is looking at its body and face; these should be relaxed. Although its muzzle is a bit wrinkled, there should be less tension on your dog’s facial muscles. When it starts to mouth your hand, it would be less painful.

However, if a dog is aggressive, the first thing it would do is growl. Its body will become stiff, and when it bites, it will be painful compared to a play bite. And the aggressive bite is usually the cause of dog bite liability.

So, if you observed your dog showing such behavior, especially towards others, you want to do something to stop it. I suggest you talk with someone who specializes in dog behavior. please read here  Knocked Down By A Dog: Do I Have A Case

Here are the people to go to when your dog shows problematic behaviors:

  • Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist; or
  • Board-Certified Veterinary Behaviorist.

But in some areas, these people are hard to find. Maybe, you can ask dog trainers who are certified professionals. However, please ensure that they have the proper knowledge and have the qualifications to help your dog with its behavior.

Since some trainers don’t need Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) certification, you want to make sure that the person you are asking has the experience and treated a dog’s aggression.

If you don’t stop your dog from mouthing other people, or worse, stop its aggression, you might end up like the dog owner of the case I will tell you. So, read on.


A Case Of Playbite

In the case of Campo v Holland (32 AD3d 630 [3d Dept 2006]), the dog owners seek for help from a group of people to install their waterline. Unfortunately, one of their crews was bitten on his right forearm by a black Labrador retriever. please read here Why Does My Dog Wrap His Paws Around My Arm?

What’s worse, the bite made two deep punctures, and the victim stated that it triggered a pre-existing nerve injury, which pushed the plaintiff (the victim) to commence a lawsuit against the homeowners.

As the homeowners’ defense, they claimed that they have never found their dog, Misty, with any vicious propensities for the four years they owned her, and this was the first incident. Even his wife and some other witnesses claim that Misty is a good dog.

And the Supreme Court sees that the defendant (the homeowner) had no prior knowledge or that they could not have known that their dog had vicious propensities. However, the plaintiff contended Misty would jump up on people, chase birds and squirrels, or bark at strangers, attempting to show the court that the Misty did have vicious behavior.

The defendant responded that their dog would jump on visitors only because she is excited and will eventually calm down, which is not considered aggressive behavior. So is the chasing of a squirrel or maybe a cat. It’s natural for dogs to do.

It is worth to note that if the dog’s playfulness caused the injury, the dog owner is not always liable. The plaintiff further recites some evidence that the dog owner asked them if they were afraid of dogs and was told to wait outside to give them time to take Misty and their other dog away from the work area.

With that action, the court interpreted it as a way of courtesy to the workers. And the fact that the dogs were confined away from them was an example of safety precaution, not necessarily that the dog was vicious

It’s not like that the dogs were aggressive, but the owners were considerate enough to ask the crew and make sure that the dogs were away from their sight. After this, the Supreme Court dismissed the complaint on the grounds that normal canine behavior such as chasing small animals, barking, and jumping when excited is not enough to trigger vicious propensities.  Therefore, the injured plaintiff was without the ability to recover compensation.


Dog Owners Liability

From what you have read, even though the dog in Campo was did not result in liability for the dog owner, there are other instances where the dog caused the injury of play-bite and a dog owner could still be held accountable. This is when the state has a strict dog bite statute liability.

So, that is a dog owner’s responsibility to keep their dogs from harming others. The question is, are doggie play bites lawsuits waiting to happen?


How to prove the liability of the dog owner

A dog owner will be liable for their dog’s action if the following is proven:


#1. If the victim could prove the dog owner’s negligence

The victim must prove that the injury occurred because the dog owner was negligent. For instance, the owner let the dog run lose the street and chased passerby or violating a local leash law, or maybe leaving their gate wide open.


#2. When a dog-bite law statute is applicable

Most states treat dog-bite cases seriously because of the damage and trouble it causes the victim; it may be financially, emotionally, and physically.

So, if your place happens to impose strict dog bite liability laws, you will be held responsible for the injury whether you know that your dog could hurt someone or because of your carelessness.


#3. If the owner is proven to know about the dog’s vicious tendency

The one who sued the dog owner should convince the court that the owners are aware of their dog’s aggressive behavior, which caused the damage or injury.

This one is often applicable to states which follow the “one-bite rule” that makes dog owners liable if they knew that their pet could cause such injury or damage. Yet, dog owners have the chance to defend themselves and avoid liability.

If the person being sued can prove that the victim committed a crime such as trespassing or provoking the dog, which caused them to get bitten, the dog owner might get away with possible compensation.

Even though the state has strict dog-liability laws, if the victim was considered partly at fault, then the owner’s responsibility could lessen.


Can a dog owner be liable for criminal liability?

A dog owner can be liable for criminal liability. Are you familiar with the law related to dangerous dogs in your city? Well, you might want to know about it.

The law is typically applied when a dog has bitten or threatened a person; this situation will make the dog owners responsible as they are required to observe certain precautions to keep their pet