Oregon Dog Bite Laws: Understanding the Different Levels of Accountability
We often hear the phrase that dog owners get “one free bite.” In other words, unless the dog bit someone in the past, the owner will state, “how else would I know that my dog would bite somebody?” That was true to a certain extent, but not totally accurate to Oregon law prior to about seven years ago.
A recently added piece of legislature in regards to economic damages has changed things up a bit — especially in regards to the “one free bite” mentality. Before we get this, let’s go over the two main levels of liability that have been in place for years in the state of Oregon. Understanding these two levels will help give you a better understanding of how dog bite cases tend to unfold.
Level #1: Common Law Negligence. If it was foreseeable that the dog would bite and the owner didn’t take precautions from preventing it from biting, then the dog owner is responsible. Most cases will come down to the foreseeable analysis. In other words, the question that needs to be asked by the dog owner is this: “Is my dog a biter?” For example, if the owner’s dog doesn’t normally bark aggressively, doesn’t act aggressively towards others or become possessive over food, then arguably, the dog’s owner will not be liable if the dog bites someone.
Level #2: Strict Liability Cause of Action. This works on a higher level in terms of holding someone accountable in regards to a dog bite case. If a dog has dangerous propensities that are abnormal to its class, then the dog owner will be held responsible for any injury that occurs to someone — no matter what the surrounding circumstances. In other words, this applies to a dog that is likely to bite. So if the action that causes the injury is a result of these dangerous propensities, then it is strict liability. Again, it doesn’t matter if the owner tried to prevent the injury from taking place if it occurred through a liable period. The idea is that if you are going to voluntarily maintain a public hazard, then you are going to take responsibility if the public hazard causes harm to another. In these cases, the public hazard is the dog that is considered likely to bite someone.
For example, let’s say the dog owner puts a muzzle on the dog and keeps the dog locked in a crate. Then the dog rips off the muzzle, escapes the crate, gets loose outside and bites someone. The owner is still held responsible. Again, the owner voluntarily maintains a public hazard. It does not matter what precautions the dog owner made in an attempt to keep the dog from biting someone.
Level #3: Economic damages. In recent years, the legislature changed the above analysis by creating a third level that falls somewhere in between those two levels. It’s referred to as an economic damages analysis. Economic damages are things like medical expenses, future medical expenses, psychological counseling expenses, lost wages, and financial losses. Non-economic damages would be pain and suffering and other damages related mental and physical suffering. Non-economic damages will still fall into the two tiers that were mentioned above.
Everybody who owns a dog is now charged with the knowledge that the dog might bite. In other words, there is no more “one free bite.” It is up to the owner to take the proper precautions from keeping the dog from biting other people — even if you had no outside indication that the dog would ever bite.
It all comes down to the facts
These dog bite cases are very fact-dependent on what the owners knew and what the owners should have known had they been paying attention. Those facts will then get applied to the law on the three levels related to the economic damages and the two levels related to non-economic damages.
If you or anyone you know was injured due to a dog bite here in the state of Oregon, contact us today at Dwyer Williams Cherkoss Accident Injury Attorneys for a free case evaluation. You can also reach us directly at: 1-800-285-8678. With over 100 years of combined experience, our team of highly skilled personal injury attorneys will work hard to ensure that you receive the justice that you deserve!