Legal Q: My own dog bites me

This should be a simple one.

So to start this isn’t based on anything involving me, it is 100% hypothetical (based partly on a recent episode of “Judge Judy”), but I know you’re not my lawyer.

Suppose Mr X and Mr Y each have a dog. Mr Y allows his dog to fall out of his control and his dog attacks Mr X’s dog. Mr X tries to break up the fight. Mr X claims that Mr Y’s dog bit him. Mr Y claims that Mr X’s dog bit him and so he isn’t responsible.

Does it matter which dog bit Mr X? Wouldn’t Mr Y be responsible either way?

  1. was there a duty of care?

  2. was there a breach of that duty resulting in injury?

  3. was that breach both the actual and the proximate cause of the injury?

  4. did the injury cause damages?

If you can answer yes to each of these questions, you have liability by negligence.

I think, right off the bat, you’re overconfusing the situation. ISTM the question is ‘what if your dog bites you*’ and everything else (ie the other dog biting you) is a civil/criminal matter.
If your dog is up to date on vaccines and the bite doesn’t require medical care (and the other person leaves alone). That would be the end of it.
If it’s particularly bad, that is, if it ‘mauled’ you or did enough damage that someone at the hospital felt the need to report it to the powers that be, it would probably depend on a few other things. Was it provoked? Does it have a history of doing this? Are there kids in the house? How extensive are the injuries? What is the dog’s home environment like? Was it off-leash in a neighborhood that requires a leash (not that that would stop it from biting an owner, but in the hypothetical it may have prevented it from getting worked up by interacting with the other dog).
And, probably the biggest one, who presses charges in these cases, the person that was injured or the state? If the state (city/county) presses charges, the owner might not have any choice, if it’s the owner, they can just leave it alone. But, as I alluded to earlier, if the dog lashed out due to mistreatment or there are kids in the house Animal Control and/or CPS may step in.

*One of the reasons I’ve never been a fan of Mr X, Mrs Y, Coworker R, Person 2. It’s confusing enough with the fake names, it doesn’t help when they’re not even needed.

To expand a little on DSYoungEsq’s answer, I think that the question boils down to “is there a duty of care to control your own dog at home?”. (I am assuming that Mr. X had his dog at home, and allowed it to run onto Mr. Y’s property to get in the fight with Mr. Y’s dog.) It seems like there ought to be such a duty, but I haven’t looked it up, and it may vary from state to state.

Sounds like for most of the plausible ways the OP’s scenario plays out 1, 2, and 4 are slam dunks. Not all, but most.

What gets tough is the actual and proximate causes. There’s certainly “but-for” causation, but that’s not the relevant standard. Clearly Y’s dog biting X would be proximate enough. But X’s dog biting X? Maybe not.

There’s also countervailing theories of contributory negligence on X’s part. Which may play in some jurisdictions.

Choosing to voluntarily enter a fight between two dogs is choosing to run a risk of getting bitten. Absent some truly overwhelming consideration, such as X’s toddler being in the middle, X *could *have chosen to stand back and wait for the hostilities to take their course. His crappy judgment in joining a fracas between two e.g. pit bulls is well on him. “But your Honor, he made me do it!” is not usually a winning strategy at trial.

Here locally this is damning … dog owners are required to control their animal at all times by regulation … so we have cause-and-effect, Mr Y violated the law and Mr. X got bit … in civil court the preponderance of evidence lies in favor of Mr. X whichever dog actually bites Mr. X …

Similarly if I swerve over into on-coming traffic, and you have to roll off the road to avoid me, and hit a tree … you bet I’m going to have to pay for your medical bills and another car … I broke the law and you suffered economic damages because of that violation …

It’s the same as when your bike throws you to the ground: evaluate the bike and decide if it’s time to get a new one.

Seems to be a lot of folks mixing criminal action, or at least code violations, with civil negligence. The mere fact you did something which was a code violation does not turn everything that follows into a slam dunk loss in a civil action.

For sure, it’s unhelpful to your cause that some of your behavior was against some level of code or law. But it’s no free lunch for the other side either.

What I think you’re getting at is called negligence per se, which is a doctrine that says that a person who violates a law is deemed to have have violated the relevant standard of care. But it’s not nearly as simple as you make it out to be. For one thing, the harm that resulted from the breach must be of the type that the statute was enacted to prevent.

“But-for” causation is exactly what the “actual cause” requirement means. But you are correct in noting that the proximate cause analysis is the difficult one. It’s really a misnomer, though; proximate causation does not really have anything to do with causal analysis. It’s actually about whether an event is a foreseeable result of a breach.

The critical question in this case is likely to be where the attack occurred, and why both dogs were in the same place. If they’re in Y’s home/yard and X comes over uninvited, X likely owes him no duty of care or a slight duty of care. If they’re in public, it is likely to be irrelevant which dog bit X as the bite was a foreseeable consequence of Y’s negligent dog handling.

Suppose I rear-end your car, and you break your arm. An ambulance takes you to the hospital. During surgery to repair the fracture, you die. Guess what? Unless the surgeon’s negligence was greater than mine, I’m legally liable for your death! Why? Because death resulting from negligent medical care is a foreseeable consequence of injury by accident that resulted from my own negligence.

Funny, I figured this one would be easy. I think the most common question type I ask in GQ is legal questions, and it is fascinating that the answer can vary by jurisdiction. For these things I always expect the principles to be common. I appreciate the replies so far, any further insight is very welcome. Any Canadian lawyers know how this would be resolved up here in our frigid homeland?

In the case that I’m deriving this from on “Judge Judy”, the attack was either on a public sidewalk or in Mr. X’s yard. I’m not too sure because it was a very quick case with Judy stating (paraphrasing) “You let your dog get out of your control and therefore you’re responsible.” As Judy was leaving the defendant said (paraphrasing) “But your honor, it was his dog that bit him!” And Judy said “I’ve made my ruling.”

Now I know the “Judge Judy” show is just that a show so I try not to learn any legal facts from the show, I just find it amusing, guilty pleasure I guess. But it did raise for me the thought behind the question, if it were a real court, would it have mattered?

And again, I really appreciate the replies so far. When I went to grad school, I was very close to applying to go to law school because I love the law and when I was a kid I wanted to become a lawyer. So I very much appreciate the insight of the lawyers on the board.

Do I have a right to protect my property? You hit a baseball in your front yard that is headed to my priceless Chihuly art in my living room (window is open). I run over to block it and get hit in the face. Even if it were an accident, are you not responsible for my injuries? NB: This is an honest question not a rhetorical one. I don’t know the legal answer.

ETA: Does RNATB’s answer about “forseeable” answer this?

Yes, locally this is the reason the regulation was enacted … we’re very tight with “vicious dogs” … in the simple case of the OP we do have this simple interpretation …

A friend of mine was on a “Judge Judy” type show and the producers told my friend explicitly to act out … which he did … to the point the judge told the bailiff to pull out his gun and shoot my friend … yeesh … but in general, setting aside behavior issues, these shows do stick to the law … so Judge Judy’s ruling “You let your dog get out of your control and therefore you’re responsible.” was the correct one …


IANA lawyer, though I live with one. :slight_smile:

Often when people say “I have a right to X” they mean they have an *absolute *right to *completely unhindered *X.

The reason lawyers so often answer questions with “It depends” is that very few things in the law are that absolute. Any case worthy of discussion (or of taking to court) consists of a situation involving competing rights of the various parties to do X or not do Y and competing responsibilities for them to do A or not do B. Even beyond the more basic questions of fact: what really transpired here in what sequence?

The law, through code, practice, and precedent, provides an organized way to discern the relevant rights and responsibilities and place them in some semblance of a priority order. Then tot them up and see where the balance falls. Plus of course an equally organized way to discover as closely and as honestly as practicable what really transpired when to/by whom.

It’s not nearly as mechanistic as that description makes it sound. But something close to that is the guiding skeleton in the center of a much larger more amorphous blob of directed human effort.

Late add:

The tendency of amateurs (including me) is to search for a knockout punch; some single fact or legal principle that guarantees a win for side A or B. The reality is much more subtle. Knockout punches are rare and the decision almost always rests on the judge(s)’ scorecard(s) over many rounds of competing issues & facts.

In the case as described, it sounds straightforward to me that Y is liable. Each man claims that the bite was inflicted by the other dog. If there’s no way to distinguish, then either is 50% likely. But given that we’ve established that Y allowed Y’s dog to fall out of control, it’s at least marginally more likely that the bite was inflicted by Y’s dog (both because the dog is less controlled, and because the human is less reliable). In other words, the probability that the bite came from Y’s dog should be regarded as some amount over 50%, which is the standard of evidence for a civil trial.

The question only becomes interesting if we have evidence (a video, maybe, or a comparison of the wounds to the dogs’ mouth shapes) that the bite really did come from X’s dog.

It’s just a show, but also a binding arbitration proceeding, which has much the same effect as a court ruling on the issues. Judge Judy’s cases always involve disputes in states where the applicable rule of law is the “majority rule” among the states. So there is a good chance that whatever rule she announces in a case is the law in your state. The basic principles of negligence evolved over centuries and mostly derive from English law. As a result, they’re very similar across states, with the notable exception of Louisiana.

Assuming Y was in X’s yard as an invitee, or the attack happened on a sidewalk, it really doesn’t matter which dog actually did the biting.