Colorado is one of those places where it seems like everyone you meet has a dog and everywhere you go is dog-friendly. But sometimes, man’s best friend isn’t so friendly in return.
Imagine this: one day you’re out for your daily jog through your neighborhood, passing by the house with the aggressive dog who is usually contained by an electric fence. But on this day, the fence isn’t working properly so there’s nothing stopping Fido from leaving his yard. You’re not even paying attention to the dog as you jog past and then next thing you know, you’re on the ground and Fido’s on top of you.
Fido’s owner runs out of the house and pulls the dog off you, but the damage is done: a bite on your leg, a swollen ankle and a sore knee from the force of the fall.
Various versions of this scenario happen with more frequency than you might expect. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur each year in the United States and 1 out of 5 bites becomes infected.
If you’ve been attacked and/or bitten by someone else’s dog, and through no fault of your own (meaning, you did nothing to provoke the animal), then you might be eligible to file a dog bite injury claim against the dog owner. A personal injury attorney can explain your rights, talk with you about what kind of compensation you might be entitled to, build a case against the dog owner and represent you in court, if necessary.
Colorado’s revised statute for dog bites
Colorado’s dog bite statute (C.R.S 13-21-124) is a strict liability statute, which means if a dog bites someone, then the dog’s owner can be held liable, even if the dog exhibited no prior behavior that would have led the owner to believe the animal was dangerous.
Under this statute a dog owner can be held liable if:
- the 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.”
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 a dog jumped on you and knocked you over but did not bite you.
- 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.
Colorado and the 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 – like jumping on people or lunging or snapping at people, for example – that should put a dog owner on notice that his/her dog is dangerous and has the potential to harm someone.
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 you have two years from the date the injury occurred to file a lawsuit against the dog’s owner if you believe the owner is responsible for the injury. If you attempt to file a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has passed, the court can and likely will throw out the case.
Do you have a dog bite case?
In a nutshell, dog bite cases come down to determining whether the dog owner can be held liable.
Following are circumstances in which a dog owner is not liable.
If 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.
- was working as a police or military dog.
- were trespassing.
- were on the owner’s property and ignored posted signs warning “no trespassing” or “beware of dog.”
- knowingly provoked the dog.
- are 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.
An attorney can help you definitively determine whether you have a case and advise you on how best to proceed. Contact us for a case assessment.