In general, the answer to this question is yes. An owner of a dog, or any animal for that matter, may be held liable for injuries the animal inflicts on others. However, the ease with which a plaintiff can win a “dog-bite” lawsuit differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction depending on the legal theory of recovery available in the plaintiff’s location. Some jurisdictions require the plaintiff to show that the animal owner knew, or should have known, that the animal was inclined to attack or bite. In other jurisdictions, the plaintiff may only need to show negligence on the part of the owner in order to recover money for his injuries. If a wild animal, such as a lion, bear or monkey, injures the plaintiff, the animal’s owner may be held accountable under a theory of strict liability for plaintiff’s injuries regardless of the plaintiff’s conduct.
Some states have “dog-bite” statutes designed to address these matters. Additionally, some municipalities may also have their own statutes which address the responsibility of pet owners to answer for the actions of their pets.
If the plaintiff is an adult, the owner of an animal may offer as a defense to the plaintiff’s claim that the injured party provoked the animal. Where the plaintiff has been given clear warning that an animal should not be approached, petted or talked to, and still proceeds with that action, the owner may be able to avoid responsibility if the animal thereafter attacks the plaintiff. This defense is not available, however, if the plaintiff is a child.
Once the plaintiff has established that the animal owner is liable for his injuries, the plaintiff must also establish the amount of his or her damages. The plaintiff should introduce evidence of how much it has cost to treat the injury, such as doctor and hospital bills. In addition, the plaintiff may be able to recover lost wages if the injury kept the plaintiff out of work. The plaintiff is entitled to compensation for any permanent disability caused by the injury, as well as compensation for pain and suffering.