Dogs – Best Friend?

Dogs are said to be Man’s Best Friend
I’ll grant you all that much
It’s just hard for me to call him “Pal”
While he has my calf for Lunch…

One of the very first “bike law” pieces I wrote, back in the 1980s [written by candlelight on parchment with quill pen as I recall] was about Ohio’s DOG laws. A few things have changed since then… like this funky new-fangled FAX gizmo… but Ohio’s dog laws remain STRONG, especially when applied to situations in which a cyclist encounters a loose dog on the road – the cyclist WINS… period.

Ohio’s Dog Laws
Ohio law has a “strict liability” standard… that means you only have to prove the dog was out, and caused injury, and you win.

You do NOT have to prove “negligence” by the owner- to the contrary, the owner could be completely NOT negligent… using the strongest chain, the best state-of-the-art containment system…doesn’t matter… if the dog gets out and causes Mayhem, the owner is liable.

You do NOT have to prove “negligence” by the owner- to the contrary, the owner could be completely NOT negligent… using the strongest chain, the best state-of-the-art containment system…doesn’t matter… if the dog gets out and causes Mayhem, the owner is liable.

Further, the owner is liable and you WIN even if the dog NEVER TOUCHES you.

Often, crashes occur because the cyclist brakes hard to avoid hitting a dog. The dog then walks over and licks your hand…doesn’t matter… the CAUSE of your injuries was the dog, so the owenr is liable. Some states only impose liablity for a BITE and some, like Indiana, give the owner a free pass on the first bite…

Not Ohio…

I’ve had cases involving exuberant puppies and lazy old dogs that couldn’t get out of the way… KY BikeLawyer Chris Carville & I obtained a significant result for a pair of cyclists in KY last year who were injured when a dog jumped out into a group ride.

DAMAGES – What Do You Win?

WHAT is the owner liable for? That would be the usual “personal injury” damages – all medical bills, all out of pocket costs, all lost wages/income, and pain and suffering. If your injuries are minor, and heal up quickly, then good for you, you have a smaller claim” – folks who obtain significant awards have significant injuries…fractures…surgeries… months off work… permanent scars or limitations…

Who Pays?

Well dog incidents are covered under the dog owner’s Homeowner’s policy. Problems arise whent he owner is uninsurerd… many dog owners who live in apartments don’t bother with “homeowners” coverage, or renter’s insurance. Sometimes, in the right case, the landlord can be liable for the sins of the tenant’s dog… but those are difficult cases requiring good facts…

I’ve successfully litigated a few of those cases over the past few years and they are far more difficult…

A few years ago Ohio updated the Dog Laws to expand the ways the State can tag owners of bad dogs. Each county has a Dog Warden tasked with the job of enforcing these laws…our experience is that, like ALL areas of life, some Dog Wardens are better, more aggressive than others… and some don’t seem to do anything.

Rural counties in particular have been slow to enforce the newer dog laws. Dogs are just part of the landscape, running willy nilly…but we find cyclists more and more using rural roads due to the low traffic counts and the beauty of riding out in the country… adn more and more cyclists are encountering loose dogs. We had a situation in a rural county nearby a few years ago when a client of mine went to JAIL for trying to get the Dog Laws enforced in the county.

I took in a new case this week – a rider was hit by a dog and crashed, hitting his head. The dog owner came out and took the rider to his home. The owner never called police or EMTs despite obvious head injury symptoms. The owner NEVER TOLD THE FAMILY about the dog. The family figured it out and called the Sheriff. The Deputy then pooh-poohed their desire for an investigation… but he went out & talked to the owner… who admitted the dog probably got out…

I don’t think they realized the the client HAD A CAMERA RUNNING, front & back, that captured the dog attack…

Every once in a while dog owners try to escape liability by arguing “Wasn’t my dog” … that doesn’t work because Ohio law covers the “owner, keeper and harborer” of the dog… anyone who is watching a buddy’s dog is liable.

One owner out in rural Ohio had a problem dog & tried this “implied waiver” approach… not only was it ineffective, but the Sheriff told them to take down the sign! Ha

Sometimes, in the right circumstances, we can get the Landlord on the hook for problems caused by a tenant’s dog. This is not automatic, as the liability of the owner is, but there are cases which extend liability to the landlord when the landlord has knowledge of the dog and acquiesces in the dog.

I have had a few cases in which we’ve been successful with this approach. In one, a little dog came out and caused a bad crash. The dog owner was “renting” a house for his family from Dad…except… he did not carry homeowner’s insurance. When we dug into the facts in discovery we learned that: no rent was paid by son, Dad lived next door, Dad retained a key & the right of entry, Dad knew about the dog, Dad was OK with the dog, and Dad knew the dog would run between the properties. The court ruled that Dad, and Dad’s insurance, was liable.

In another case, an aggressive dog came out and caused a crash. The owner was a 35 yr old dude who was MAD that the client had hit the dog and demanded damages from the client to pay the dog’s medical bills! He refused to recognize any risk or liability and refused to notify the homeowners insurance so we sued him… and the homeowner…turns out the Dude was the son of homeowner’s girlfriend – homeowner knew about the dog & acquiesced – homeowner was rarely home as he was on the road a lot for work and Dude hadn’t told anyone about the incident… in fact, the Deputy who responded almost had to tase or shoot the dog! In the end, the homeowner’s insurer paid the claim. When we deposed the homeowner he was on the road in Wyoming, giving testimony from his car parked on the side of the road where he could get a signal!

Cameras are game-changers… we got 6 figures in a recent KY Dog attack case. KY law is a bit different but the camera showed exactly where the dog came from, and how it leaped in the group of riders, taking down our two clients…

Here’s an updated 2019 article I wrote on DOGS… and the Ohio Supreme Court’s recent pronouncement on how to enforce the new dog laws.

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