Who Is Liable For Dog Bite Incidents In Public Spaces?

Imagine enjoying a sunny day in the park, reading a book, or jogging when a dog suddenly bites you out of nowhere. It’s an unexpected and frightening experience, leaving you not only physically injured but perhaps also emotionally shaken. After you seek medical attention if necessary, you might start questioning what you should do next and who is responsible.  You might ask yourself: Can I seek compensation for my injuries?” A discussion of liability and compensation now comes into play. The dog’s owner controls the pet and may be liable for your injuries. However, laws and regulations can vary widely depending on where the incident occurred.

Rhode Island Laws On Dog Bites In Public Places 

State statutes, local ordinances, and principles of common law negligence primarily govern the responsibility for dog bite incidents in Rhode Island. Understanding the different laws is critical to determining how to proceed if a dog bite occurs.

Rhode Island State Statutes And Local Ordinances

Rhode Island follows a mixture of a “strict liability” doctrine and a “one-bite” rule under certain conditions for dog bite incidents. This is codified in the Rhode Island General Laws.

  • Strict Liability for Attacks in Public or Non-owner’s Property: Under Rhode Island law, the owner of a dog that attacks a person in a public place or while the person is lawfully on private property (other than the dog owner’s property) is strictly liable for injuries. This means that the victim does not need to prove negligence on the part of the dog’s owner to claim damages for their injuries. (Rhode Island Statutes Section 4-13-16.) The owner or keeper of a dog is held liable for any injuries and damages sustained by a victim when the attack occurs outside of an enclosure. The owner or keeper must pay double the damages if the same dog bites someone again. This is known as the “strict liability” theory in Rhode Island. 
  • One Bite Rule for Incidents on the Owner’s Property: If the dog bite occurs on the owner’s property, and the dog has not previously shown a tendency to be dangerous, the owner may not be held strictly liable unless the victim can prove that the owner knew or should have known of the dog’s aggressive tendencies, essentially applying the “one-bite” rule.

Local Ordinances

Local municipalities in Rhode Island may have ordinances that affect responsibility for dog bite incidents. These local laws can impose additional requirements on dog owners, such as leash laws, restrictions on certain breeds, or stricter liability standards. As a result, dog owners and residents need to be aware of the specific laws in their locality.

Common Law Negligence As Applied To Dog Bites 

Outside the statutory framework, dog bite victims can also pursue claims under common law principles of negligence. Under this approach, the victim must prove that the dog owner failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent the dog from biting others and this failure was the direct cause of their injuries. This could include situations where an owner negligently failed to secure a known dangerous dog, leading to an attack.

Defenses to Dog Bite Claims

Dog owners in Rhode Island may have several defenses available in a dog bite case, such as:

  • Provocation: If the victim provoked the dog, either intentionally or negligently, this can be a defense to a dog bite claim.
  • Trespassing: If the victim was trespassing on the dog owner’s property without a lawful reason, the owner might not be liable for the dog bite.
  • Comparative Negligence: In some cases, the victim’s negligence may reduce the damages they can recover.

Potential Compensation For Dog Bite Injuries In Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, if you are a victim of a dog bite incident, the types of compensation you may be eligible to receive generally fall under the categories of compensatory damages and in some rare cases, punitive damages. Here is a breakdown of the different types of compensation you might be able to receive:

  • Medical Expenses: This includes the cost of medical treatment immediately after the dog bite, as well as any ongoing medical expenses related to the injury, such as surgeries, physical therapy, and medication.
  • Lost Wages: If the injury caused you to miss work, you could be compensated for lost income. This also covers loss of earning capacity if the injury impacts your ability to earn a similar income in the future.
  • Pain and Suffering: This covers physical pain and emotional distress caused by the dog bite. It can include compensation for fear, insomnia, and the loss of enjoyment of life.
  • Property Damage: If any of your property was damaged during the incident (such as clothing, glasses, or personal belongings), you could be compensated for the repair or replacement of these items.
  • Punitive Damages: Though less common in dog bite cases, punitive damages may be awarded if the dog’s owner’s actions were particularly reckless or intentional. These are not tied to the victim’s actual losses but are intended to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar behavior in the future.
  • Scarring and Disfigurement: If the dog bite leaves scars or causes disfigurement, additional compensation might be awarded for these permanent changes’ physical and emotional impact.
  • Other Liability Beyond Dog Bites: The owner may also be responsible for other damages caused by their dog, such as injuries resulting from a dog knocking someone over or damages to personal property. This aspect of the law recognizes the broader scope of potential harm a dog can cause beyond biting​ 

Contact a Rhode Island Personal Injury Attorney

Responsibility for dog bite incidents in Rhode Island involves a combination of statutory law, local ordinances, and common law principles. These laws give victims of dog bites a legal framework, along with the specifics of their case, when seeking compensation. Conversely, dog owners should be aware of their responsibilities and potential liability under Rhode Island law to prevent such incidents and defend themselves if necessary. It is always advisable for both victims and dog owners to consult with attorneys experienced in personal injury or animal law to navigate these complex issues effectively. The office of Palumbo Law can help you understand your rights and the potential for recovering damages if you have been the victim of a dog bite in Rhode Island. Contact our office for an initial consultation.

The content of this blog is intended to be general information and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with a qualified lawyer regarding your specific situation.