Our Colorado Dog Bite Attorneys Discuss Defending Against Criminal and Civil Charges

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By: Bill Henry
PublishedAug 20, 2018
7 minute read

Our criminal defense dog bite attorneys are experienced in defending against both municipal and state allegations

Coloradans love their dogs; for many, dogs are loyal companions, adventure buddies and beloved members of the family. Unfortunately, sometimes those loyal buddies react to a situation where they feel scared or threatened by biting a person or another dog. Therefore, it’s important that Colorado dog owners understand our state’s dog bite law and how it might impact them in the event their pet injures someone.

It’s also important that in the event your dog does cause harm to a person, or even another dog or other animal, you schedule an assessment right away with an attorney in Robinson & Henry’s Denver, Castle Rock or Colorado Springs criminal defense practice. Contact us at 303-688-0944 to request an appointment now.

Colorado’s Revised Statute for Dog Bites

Colorado’s dog bite statute (C.R.S 13-21-124) is a strict liability statute; for Colorado dog owners, this means if your dog bites someone you could be held liable, even if you were unaware that your dog was dangerous, aggressive or capable of the offense and even if you tried to restrain the dog.

Under this statute you can be held liable if:

  • your dog bites someone who was lawfully on public or private property at the time, and
  • if the bite causes serious bodily injury or death.

The statute defines bodily injury as, “any physical injury that results in severe bruising, muscle tears or skin lacerations requiring professional medical treatment or any physical injury that requires corrective or cosmetic surgery.”

A serious bodily injury is defined as, “an injury that involves a substantial risk of death, serious permanent disfigurement, loss or impairment of a bodily function or organ or a break, fracture or second- or third-degree burn.”

What it does and does not cover:

  • This statute covers dog bites only; it does not apply if your dog jumped on someone and knocked them over but did not bite anyone.
  • It strictly covers only physical injuries covered under the definition of bodily injury and severe bodily injury. Mental or emotional distress would not be covered, for example, unless the distress resulted directly from a physical injury.
  • Working dogs, like police or military dogs while performing their police officer or military personnel duties; also exempt are dogs working as a hunting, herding, farm, ranch or predator control dog on the owner’s property or under the owner’s control.
  • It does not cover people who are unlawfully on public or private property.
  • It does not prevent other lawsuits from being brought based on negligence.

Potential consequences for dog owners

If your dog has bitten someone, and the bite resulted in a serious injury, then the person your dog bit can file a lawsuit against you, which could result in you having to pay a significant sum or euthanasia for your companion. You may also face criminal charges from the State of Colorado for owning a dangerous dog.

If your dog has bitten someone and you are facing a lawsuit or criminal charges, it’s important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible to protect both yourself and your dog. Robinson & Henry’s criminal defense team can help. Contact us to request an assessment.

Colorado One Bite Rule

Colorado does have the one bite rule, which is a common law rule that becomes relevant when a state doesn’t have a dog bite statute or in cases where the state’s statute doesn’t apply. The one bite rule allows a dog owner to assume his/her dog is not dangerous until the dog displays behavior that proves otherwise.

That being said, Colorado’s revised statute for dog bites (C.R.S. 13-21-124) means that the one bite rule no longer applies in all cases. If a dog bite causes serious bodily harm, a dog owner could be liable regardless of whether he/she knew the dog was dangerous.

While the rule is casually referred to as the one bite rule, this doesn’t necessarily mean a dog gets one “free” bite. On the contrary, there are a variety of behaviors – in addition to biting – that should put a dog owner on notice that his/her dog is dangerous and has the potential to harm someone.

It’s important for Colorado dog owners to be aware of which types of behaviors could be labeled as dangerous, including:

  • Lunging, growling or snapping at people who come near the dog in public.
  • Jumping on people. If the dog is large and tends to jump on house guests, even if the dog is friendly, you should be cautious and aware that the jumping has the potential to cause injury.
  • Scaring people. For example, the dog frequently chases runners or cyclists, or barks fiercely from behind a fence at pedestrians.
  • Fight training. If the dog has been trained to fight, an owner is generally assumed to have known the dog could be dangerous.
  • The neighbors are complaining. If your neighbors, or others, have complained that the dog bit or threatened someone, you could be presumed to have known the dog was dangerous.

Colorado Dog Bite Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations for a dog bite (or other injury caused by a dog) in Colorado is two years. That means an individual has two years from the date the injury occurred to file a lawsuit against the dog’s owner if he/she believes the owner is responsible for the injury. If the person who was bitten attempts to file a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has passed, the court can and likely will throw out the case.

Ownership of a Dangerous Dog

Dangerous dog definition

Colorado’s Dangerous Dog Statue (§ 18-9-204.5), “Unlawful ownership of a dangerous dog,” defines a dangerous dog as one that meets one or more of the following criteria:

  1. Inflicts bodily or serious bodily injury on, or causes the death of a person or domestic animal (meaning any dog, cat or other animal kept as a household pet or livestock).
  2. Demonstrates tendencies that would cause a reasonable person to believe that the dog may inflict bodily or serious bodily injury on, or causes the death of a person or domestic animal.
  3. Engages in or is trained for animal fighting.

Under this statute, an owner is “any person, firm, corporation or organization owning, possessing, harboring, keeping, having financial or property interest in or having control or custody of an animal.”

This statute makes it a crime to own a dangerous dog.

Colorado dangerous dog breeds

Some cities in Colorado have breed-specific legislation, wherein in specific breeds are considered dangerous and residents are banned from owning them.

The following Colorado cities have banned pit bull breeds (American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier): Aurora, Castle Rock, Commerce City, Denver, Fort Lupton, Lone Tree, Louisville and the Town of Simla.

Penalties for owning a dangerous dog

Dog owners found guilty of ownership of a dangerous dog face criminal punishment, the severity of which depends on the severity of the injury or damage caused by the dog, as well as the number of times the owner has violated the Dangerous Dog Statute. If the dog causes bodily injury to a person, the owner could face misdemeanor penalties. If the dog causes the death of a person, the owner could face felony charges, with punishment ranging from steep fines to prison time.

These charges range from a fine of $50 to $750 and/or up to six months in jail for first-time, non-aggravated, non-serious injuries, and go as far as $1,000 to $100,000 and/or one year to three years in prison for injuries that cause death.

Punishment typically always requires the owner to pay restitution. In the case where the dog harms a person, restitution covers out-of-pocket medical expenses, plus any anticipated future expenses. In addition, the victim could file a civil suit against the owner to recoup damages for pain and suffering.

If the dog injures another dog or other domestic animal, restitution will cover medical expenses or, in the event that the dangerous dog kills a domestic animal, the replacement cost or fair market value of the animal.

Similarly, if the dangerous dog destroys property, the owner will likely pay restitution for the fair market value or replacement value of the property.

Many homeowner’s insurance policies will cover injuries and property damage caused by dogs, even if the policy owner’s dog is at fault, though most exclude dangerous breeds.

Colorado dog bite euthanasia

In addition to the penalties listed above, the Dangerous Dog Statute requires that the dangerous dog be confiscated and placed in a public animal shelter at the owner’s expense.

The dog could subsequently be ordered to be euthanized by a licensed veterinarian if the owner pleaded guilty, was found guilty or entered into a deferred judgment or deferred prosecution agreement of a charge that resulted in:

  • Serious bodily injury to a person;
  • Death to a person or domestic animal; or
  • A second or subsequent violation for the same dog causing bodily injury to a person or death to a domestic animal.

The owner does have the right to appeal the decision and the dog will not be euthanized until the right to appeal is exhausted or the conviction is successfully appealed.

Dangerous dog owner responsibilities

In cases where the dangerous dog does not cause serious bodily injury or death and the dog is not confiscated, the owner is required to take certain precautions to both confine the dog and to register it with the state. Those precautions are:

  • The dog must be confined in an escape-proof building or enclosure.
  • The dog must be on a leash when it is outside of the enclosure.
  • The dog must be muzzled when it’s outside of the enclosure if the owner has been convicted of violating the dangerous dog law more than once.
  • The owner must report to the Bureau of Animal Protection if the dog escapes, dies or has a change of address.
  • The owner must have a microchip implanted in the dog by a licensed veterinarian or licensed shelter and the microchipping must be reported to the Bureau of Animal Protection within 10 days of implantation so the dog can be permanently identified. The owner of the dangerous dog pays the $50 microchip licensing fee.
  • The owner must disclose in writing that the dangerous dog has been the subject of a conviction to any treatment or service provider including, but not limited to, a veterinary health care worker, dog groomer, humane agency staff person, pet animal care facility staff person, professional dog handler or dog trainer.
  • The owner must disclose to a new prospective owner that the dangerous dog has been the subject of a conviction before a transfer of ownership.

Defenses to a Colorado Dog Bite Claim

If you’ve been charged with ownership of a dangerous dog and/or if you’re facing civil charges as a result of your dog’s actions, it’s important to call Robinson & Henry right away to schedule an assessment with an attorney in our criminal defense practice. Given the stakes – steep fines, possible jail time or even your dog’s life – it’s critical to hire an experienced attorney, who will be able to build a defense based on a clear understanding of the law and knowledge of past cases.

Dog bite cases in Colorado are brought under either Colorado’s strict liability statute or as a common-law negligence claim. A dog owner’s defense strategy will depend on which claim type the case falls under.

In a strict liability case, the focus will be on proving the dog owner is not liable. Typically that means proving one of the following circumstances were in play at the time of the incident:

The dog:

  • was working as a hunting, herding, farm, ranch or predator control dog on the owner’s property or under the owner’s control, or
  • was working as a police or military dog.

The injured person:

  • was trespassing,
  • was on the owner’s property and ignored posted signs warning “no trespassing” or “beware of dog,”
  • knowingly provoked the dog, or
  • was a veterinary health care worker, dog groomer, humane society staff member, dog handler, dog trainer or a dog show judge who was performing those duties at the time of the incident.

In a negligence-based case, the defenses commonly used are “comparative negligence” and trespassing.

The trespassing defense is used when the injured person was on the dog owner’s property without permission and without another legitimate reason for being there.

If the injured person provoked the dog, then the comparative negligence defense may be used. Colorado’s has a modified comparative fault rule, which can be used when more than one individual is to blame for an injury. Under this rule damages can be reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to the injured person as long as that percentage is less than 50 percent; if it’s greater than 50 percent, then the injured person is unable to collect damages.

Call 303-688-0944 to request an assessment with one of our Denver, Castle Rock or Colorado Springs criminal defense attorneys.

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