Dogs are man's (and woman's!) best friend. Dogs are cute, loving, highly trainable, and, when necessary, they can be aggressive. But that last trait can present a problem. Even after millennia of domestication, modern dogs still have a wild streak in them. Each year, dogs bite more than 4.5 million Americans, of whom 800,000—half of them children—require medical care.
When that happens in Kansas, what remedies does the law provide for the injured person?
The short answer is that it provides the same types of remedies as in other personal injury cases: You can file a lawsuit to seek compensation for your damages, including medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. But there are some special rules that apply in dog bite cases, including who can be held responsible for a dog bite and how to prove liability.
Who is Responsible?
In Kansas, the owner, possessor, keeper, or harborer of a dog may be liable if the dog injures another person. Those first three terms are self-explanatory, but who counts as a “harborer”?
In dog bite cases, Kansas courts define “harborer” as anyone who makes a dog a part of her or his household. For example, if your neighbor's adult child lives with her at home and has a dog, then your neighbor would be a “harborer” of that dog. If the dog bites another person, both she (the harborer) and her child (the owner) could be liable for the injuries it causes.
On the other hand, Kansas does not impose liability on a landlord for the injuries inflicted upon a third party by a tenant's dog. Only the owner, possessor, keeper, or harborer of a dog can be liable for its actions and a landlord would not be considered a harborer of a tenant's dog.
Homeowner's insurance policies typically provide coverage to insureds for dog bite liability, but some policies restrict certain breeds from coverage or exclude animal liability coverage altogether. If there is no insurance coverage, the dog owner is personally responsible for paying for any damages, which may be difficult or impossible for the victim to collect.
Different states have developed different rules for liability in dog bite cases. Kansas follows the traditional “One Bite Rule.” Under this rule, a dog owner (or other responsible person) can be held liable for a dog bite if she or he knew (or should have known) that the dog was violent.
Loosely speaking, in Kansas a dog gets “one free bite” before its owner is legally responsible for the injuries it causes.
To better protect their residents, many states have adopted legislation to impose liability on a dog's owner regardless of what the owner knew. For example, a Missouri statute says that a dog's owner or possessor is liable for the damages caused by a dog bite regardless of the dog's prior viciousness or the owner's or possessor's knowledge of such viciousness.
Preventing Dog Bites
As we've seen, Kansas law allows you to sue to recover for injuries caused by a dog's bite. But whether you can actually recover from the owner depends on whether she or he knew that the dog was vicious and if so, whether the owner can pay for the damages or has the applicable insurance coverage. If you or a member of your family is injured by a dog bite, an experienced lawyer can help you navigate through the process of a potential claim.
To learn more about protecting yourself before a dog bite happens, check out the CDC's prevention webpage.