The Basics of Dog Bite Laws in Colorado
As the old adage goes, dogs are man’s best friend. There are perhaps only a few places 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 that there only needs to be proof that your dog was responsible for the attack. More specifically, if your dog bit someone who was lawfully occupying the property and the attack inflicts serious bodily injury or death, then you will be held liable.
However, some exceptions still apply. For instance, the statute only covers dog bites (as opposed to general attacks). Only physical injuries will count under the definition of 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 in cases where the state’s dog bite statute does not apply. It is under this rule that 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:
- Becoming very rigid
- Guttural, threatening bark
- Lunging forward or charging toward a potential victim
- Punching with nose
- Quick nipping
- Showing teeth
Even those who do not own dogs can benefit from recognizing these behaviors. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, most dog bite accidents are preventable. Unfortunately, many people do not know how to recognize the warning signs beforehand. There are many different classifications of dog aggression. 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.
- 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 found guilty of owning a dangerous dog may be subject to a variety of criminal charges. If the dog has caused bodily injury, then the dog owner may face misdemeanor penalties. If the dog has caused the death of a person, then the dog owner may face felony charges. Dog owners are also 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. There are many things you can do 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 that are sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies may become especially frightened or defensive, so heed extra caution with them. 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 refrain from making any 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, then 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. 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 be the ones paying 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 some 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.