New Missouri Dog-Bite Law Gives Victims a Helping Hand

Dog attacks can be incredibly frightening experiences, and their consequences can last a lifetime. After a dog bite, medical treatment and surgery are often necessary, and a relatively new law in Missouri helps people injured in dog attacks get the compensation they need to pay for medical bills and other expenses resulting from the bite through a dog-bite lawsuit.

Previously, in addition to working on their medical recovery, dog-bite victims had to prove the dog had a vicious propensity before they could recover any money from the dog's owner. Under the new Missouri dog-bite law, however, dog-attack victims will not have as much to prove before they can get the compensation they deserve.

Dog Bite Statistics

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Of these people, 800,000 seek medical attention, and about half are children. More than a third of the injuries caused by dog attacks require emergency department care.

The CDC also states that children ages 5 to 9 are the group most often bitten by dogs. In addition, when children 4-years-old or less are attacked by dogs, most of the injuries are to their heads and necks. Boys are more often injured by dog bites than girls.

Dog Bite Injuries

Dog attacks can cause serious injuries, especially to younger children who may not know how or be able to protect themselves. Some common dog bite injuries include:

  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Puncture wounds
  • Tissue loss
  • Muscle loss
  • Nerve damage
  • Fractures and broken bones
  • Hair loss
  • Disfiguration
  • Infection

The dog attack and these injuries can also lead to mental-health concerns like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, fear, depression and embarrassment. Following serious dog attacks, victims may need emergency medical treatment, surgery, rehabilitation and therapy.

Old Missouri Dog-Bite Law

The previous dog-bite law in Missouri was the "one bite rule," which is sometimes known as the free bite rule. Under the old Missouri dog-bite law, dog-attack victims had to prove that the dog's owner knew or should have known the dog was potentially dangerous based on its past behavior in order to hold the dog owner responsible for the attack.

Essentially, under the one bite rule, dog owners generally could not be held liable for a dog's first bite. Instead, that first "free bite" was the behavior that gave the owner notice that the dog had a propensity for violence, and the owner could be held liable only for subsequent dog attacks. This old rule used a negligence standard that judged the legal liability of a dog owner by determining whether his or her action (or inaction) was what a reasonable person would have done considering the circumstances.

New Missouri Dog-Bite Law

The new Missouri dog-bite law eliminated the negligence standard and the one bite rule. In 2009, the Missouri legislature enacted a new law that established a strict-liability standard for dog bites, making it easier for dog-attack victims to hold the dog owner accountable.

The new law states that the owner or possessor of any dog that bites, without provocation, any person while that person is on public property or has been invited onto private property is strictly liable for damages suffered by the victim, "regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's or possessor's knowledge of such viciousness." Further, a dog owner or possessor held liable under the law also will be fined up to $1,000.

Accordingly, dog-bite victims do not need to prove that the dog's owner knew or should have known the dog was potentially dangerous before the victim may hold the owner responsible for the attack. Instead, victims only need to prove two things:

  • They were on public property or lawfully on private property when the attack occurred
  • They did not provoke the dog before it bit

If these two requirements are met, the dog owner will be held strictly liable for the attack and the victim may be awarded monetary compensation, called damages, for his or her injuries and related expenses. However, if a judge or jury determines that the victim was partly at fault for the attack, the damages recovered by the victim will be reduced by victim's percentage of fault.

For example, assume a dog-bite victim sues a dog owner for an attack and a judge or jury finds the dog owner liable, awarding $100,000 in damages to the victim. If the judge or jury also decides that the victim was 25 percent at fault for the attack, the victim's damages will be reduced by 25 percent so he or she ends up with $75,000.

If you or a loved one was injured in a dog attack, contact a skilled dog bite attorney to discuss your legal options and the compensation that may be available to you.