Colorado Dog Bite Laws

The Basics of Dog Bite Laws in Colorado

As the adage goes, dogs are man’s best friend. Perhaps only a few places exist where this is as true as it is in Colorado. The state’s open fields, fresh air, and beautiful scenery make dogs the perfect companions and adventure partners. Sadly, there are still instances where a dog’s aggression may take over and bite another dog or even a human being. Do you know what to do if you are ever the victim of a dog bite accident?

Colorado Dog Bite Statute

In the state of Colorado, dog owners do not need to have been aware of their animal’s aggression to be held liable for a dog bite accident. The state’s dog bite statute (C.R.S. 13-21-2124) is a strict liability statute, meaning there only needs proof that your dog was responsible for the attack. More specifically, you will be held liable if your dog bit someone who was lawfully occupying the property and the attack inflicts serious bodily injury or death.

However, some exceptions still apply. For instance, the statute only covers dog bites (as opposed to general attacks). Only physical injuries will count under bodily injury, excluding mental or emotional distress. Furthermore, working dogs (e.g., police or military dogs on duty) are exempt from the statute, as are victims who were unlawfully on the property at the time of the accident. You have two years from the date of injury to file a dog bite claim.

Colorado “One Bite” Rule

It is important to note that Colorado also has what is usually known as the “one bite” rule. This common-law rule is generally only relevant in states without dog bite statutes or where the state’s dog bite statute does not apply. Under this rule, a dog owner is allowed to assume that their dog is not dangerous until proven otherwise.

However, recent revisions to Colorado’s dog bite statute mean that the “one bite” rule no longer automatically applies. Thus, dog owners may now be held liable for any dog bite that causes serious bodily harm—even without having prior knowledge that their dog was dangerous. Colorado dog owners, then, should take even more care to note possible signs of aggression, including but not limited to the following:

  • Becoming very rigid
  • Growling
  • Guttural, threatening bark
  • Lunging forward or charging toward a potential victim
  • Punching with nose
  • Quick nipping
  • Showing teeth
  • Snarling

Even those who do not own dogs can benefit from recognizing these behaviors. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals states that most dog bite accidents are preventable. Unfortunately, many people do not know how to recognize the warning signs beforehand. There are many classifications of dog aggression, and understanding which types your dog is exhibiting can help you prevent problems before they happen.

“Dangerous Dogs” In Colorado

Colorado’s Dangerous Dog Statute (§ 18-9-204.5) also bars the “unlawful ownership of a dangerous dog.” Dogs may be classified as “dangerous” if they meet the following criteria:

  • Inflicts bodily or serious bodily injury on a person or domestic animal, and it causes the death of a person or domestic animal.
  • Demonstrates aggressive tendencies that would cause a reasonable person to believe the dog may inflict harm.
  • Engages in or is trained for animal fighting.

Moreover, some Colorado cities designate specific breeds of dogs as dangerous. Most commonly, these include various types of pit bulls. An individual guilty of owning a dangerous dog may be subject to multiple criminal charges. The dog owner may face misdemeanor penalties if the dog has caused bodily injury. If the dog has caused the death of a person, then the dog owner may face felony charges. Dog owners are typically expected to pay restitution for the victim’s damages and anticipated future expenses.

Preventing Dog Bite Accidents

Just the mere prospect of a dog bite can be terrifying. Finding yourself in such a situation can feel fraught with danger. However, most dog bite attacks are preventable. You can do many things to temper a dog’s aggression and de-escalate the situation. Make sure to practice safety from the get-go. Always ask the owner before touching a dog, and allow a dog to see and sniff you before approaching it. Dogs sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies may become especially frightened or defensive, so heed extra caution. If you suddenly encounter an unfamiliar dog, do not be afraid. Maintain a confident demeanor. Stop where you are, and remain calm. Avoid direct eye contact and stop making loud noises or sudden movements. You can make yourself seem less aggressive to the dog by standing with the side of your body facing it. Then, stand your ground and wait until the dog passes. If the dog does not pass by, you can begin backing away slowly. Never run, as that will encourage the dog to chase after you.

Seeking Legal Help

Dog bite accidents can be incredibly frightening, and sometimes, they are even life-threatening. The good news is that most homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies will cover dog bite liability expenses. As a result, insurance companies will generally pay off a dog bite settlement. However, as businesses, insurance providers have every reason to minimize your payout.

After going through such a stressful event, you deserve the peace of mind. Injury victim lawyers may be able to help. We believe you should never have to pay for someone else’s mistakes. Let us fight for you and get you the compensation you deserve.

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