October 17, 2012
LIABILITY FOR DOG BITES
By: James Orlando, Associate Analyst
This report provides a brief overview of Connecticut law on liability for dog bites. Please note that the Office of Legislative Research is not authorized to provide legal opinions and this report should not be construed as such.
Subject to certain exceptions, Connecticut's dog bite statute (CGS § 22-357) makes a dog's owner or keeper liable for injuries caused by the dog to someone else's person or property. This is a strict liability statute – in other words, it does not require the victim to prove that the dog's owner or keeper (1) knew that the dog was vicious or (2) was otherwise negligent.
A person injured by a dog bite could also proceed under a common law negligence theory. To succeed in such a case, the injured person must prove that the defendant knew or should have known that the dog was vicious. Under the common law, unlike cases brought under the statute, someone other than a dog's owner or keeper could be liable for a dog bite in certain circumstances. For example, the Connecticut Supreme Court recently held that a landlord could be liable for a bite by a tenant's dog if the landlord was aware of the dog's vicious tendencies and did not adequately act to alleviate the known danger.
DOG BITE STATUTE
By law, a dog's owner or keeper is liable for any damage caused by his or her dog to a person's body or property, unless the damage was sustained while the person was committing a trespass or other tort or was teasing, abusing, or tormenting the dog. The law presumes that anyone under the age of seven was not committing any of these actions (such as trespassing or teasing the dog) unless the defendant can prove otherwise (CGS § 22-357).
If damage has been caused by two or more dogs at the same time, and the dogs are kept by more than one person, the dogs' owners or keepers are jointly and severally liable for the damage (CGS § 22-356). In other words, each owner is responsible for the entire amount of the damages, although he or she may be able to sue the other owner to recover a portion of the damages he or she had to pay.
Several court cases have construed various elements of the statute. For example, courts have interpreted the “trespass” exception as requiring something more than uninvited entry onto the land. Discussing earlier cases, the Connecticut Supreme Court noted in 1953 that:
the word 'trespass' as employed in the exception refers to something more serious than the mere technical trespass of entering upon the land of another where neither intent to damage nor damage in fact is involved, and where no acts are committed which would naturally arouse an ordinary dog to action to protect its owner's property or family (Verrilli v. Damilowski, 140 Conn. 358, 363 (1953) (citations and internal quotations omitted)).
More recent cases cite back to this language in Verrilli to require more than mere technical trespass for this exception.
Courts have also interpreted what it means to tease, abuse, or torment a dog for purposes of the statute. For example, the Connecticut Supreme Court has held that a two-and-a-half year-old girl who threw a rubber bone for a dog to retrieve was not teasing the dog within the meaning of the statute, and thus the dog's owner was liable when the dog injured the girl (Weingartner v. Bielak, 142 Conn. 516 (1955)).
To succeed in a common law negligence action for injuries related to a dog bite, the injured person must prove that the defendant knew or should have known that the dog was vicious. This requirement does not apply to cases brought under the statute.
In certain circumstances, someone other than a dog's owner or keeper could be liable under the common law for injuries resulting from a dog bite. The state Supreme Court recently addressed the issue of a landlord's liability, under a theory of common law premises liability, when one tenant's dog bites and injures another tenant and the landlord knew of the dog's dangerous tendencies (Giacalone v. Housing Authority of Town of Wallingford, 306 Conn. 399 (2012)).
In Giacalone, the plaintiff alleged that the landlord negligently failed to take various actions in response to the dangers posed by the dog, such as warning the plaintiff that a dangerous animal was present and ensuring that the dog was removed after the landlord, two years prior, had ordered it removed. The court agreed that a landlord can be held liable for failing to take reasonable steps to alleviate a known danger caused by a vicious dog on the common part of the property over which the landlord retains control.