Dog Bites Pants
November 1, 2012 9:56 AM   Subscribe

What am I liable for if my dog damages someones property while they are on my property? I am happy to replace damaged property but can I be liable for anything else? I know YANAL or even my lawyer just wanting to know what to expect.

Long version with all the details following.

Had someone come to my door promoting some stupid Comcast thing yesterday, I don't have a peephole and was expecting a friend so got stuck talking to him. As I was heading back in a wind gust grabbed the door and made enough room for my dog to rush out. The dog was heading for the wild blue yonder but the man in a panic swung at him with his clipboard, as the dog was a rescue that had a history of being hit (including broken bones and teeth from being kicked) he panicked and snapped at the guy puncturing his pants but leaving the guy unharmed but shaken except for a small hole in the leg of his pants where one tooth broke through, the only canine tooth the poor dog has left did its job too well.

I grabbed the dog and took him inside and settled him and then headed outside to double check on the guy. By the time I got back outside I couldn't see the guy anywhere. I was going to offer to buy him a new pair of pants to replace the damaged ones as I didn't want it to become a big deal and it is the right thing to do.

I checked twice with the guy that he was unharmed before taking the dog inside. I am in Indiana and all I can find out about dog bite laws in our county is that they define a bite as breaking the skin and a lot of stuff about rabies, not damaging property/clothing and can find no legal info online about property.

Please no opinions about dogs fear biting that is not the question, the dog is seeing a very good trainer and has responded amazingly to training. We are buying a peephole and storm door this weekend so I don't have to step outside before the dog is restrained in future.
posted by wwax to Law & Government (16 answers total)
Best answer: Well, theoretically, you are responsible for all damages flowing from the dog incident, which theoretically include the cost of the pants/the damage to the pants, any medical bills, and any related mental damages (pain and suffering, emotional distress). The person could theoretically bring a claim in court against you to recover damages (money) to compensate for the injuries. Also, because the person was working when the incident occurred, they are also covered by their employer's workers' compensation insurance. Typically, where injuries are minor, the risk of legal action is low.

These are the possible civil legal outcomes. I do not know either the criminal laws or the animal control laws that might apply.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:12 AM on November 1, 2012

Best answer: You're responsible for any damage your dog does. He's your responsibility. But for him getting out due to your lack of restraining him, the saleman's pants would not have been damaged.

If the man wasn't otherwise injured, I can't imagine what you'd be held liable for unless he develops some sort of PTSD response. I imagine he would say you were negligent in restraining your dog who you knew had the propensity for being dangerous under some circumstances.
posted by inturnaround at 10:13 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

IANAL. One thing about your story jumped out at me, though - the guy took a swing at your dog with his clipboard. Sure, it was self-defense and understandable on his part - but, yeah, the guy did try to hit your dog.

At the very least I'd think this puts things into a huge-ass gray area in terms of "fault".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:18 AM on November 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

At the very least I'd think this puts things into a huge-ass gray area in terms of "fault".

Doesn't mean he or his insurer can't sue. Most of these cases never get to court anyway as they're settled out of it...but it can still be costly to defend if they're pursued.
posted by inturnaround at 10:28 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can't really know what to expect until you find out whether this guy is going to try to sue you, and if so, what he is seeking. Right now there's just a hole in his pants, and you don't know that he has any problems other than that -- so you can't necessarily expect litigation.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:38 AM on November 1, 2012

Not sure I understand your question. You've already acknowledged that under these circumstances, replacing the pants is the right thing to do, which I agree with. Are you concerned he's going to suddenly claim to be injured? Or are you concerned that he's going to claim the dog damaged other property besides the pants? Your question is phrased as being about your obligations as far as damaged property, but you seem to have answered your own question re: the right thing to do. It doesn't really matter whether you legally have to replace the pants if you've already decided you're going to do it because it's the right thing to do.

Your legal obligations are a minimum, not a maximum, you know? If your instinct was that you should take responsibility for his damaged property, it doesn't really matter whether you legally have to. If you're wondering whether you potentially have liability if he's injured, that's a different question.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 10:42 AM on November 1, 2012

Yes, of course you're liable for things that happen on your property, it's a part of what makes it "your property."
posted by rhizome at 10:49 AM on November 1, 2012

Best answer: For future situations, look into getting an umbrella policy. We got one specifically for this sort of situation with a rescue dog, and it's only a few hundred bucks for something like a few million dollars in coverage. Because yes, people can and do sue over stuff like this.
posted by barnone at 10:54 AM on November 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Your legal obligations are a minimum, not a maximum, you know? If your instinct was that you should take responsibility for his damaged property, it doesn't really matter whether you legally have to

The person was a stranger and left before the OP could offer to buy him new pants. The question appears to be about what other things he could legally be held liable resulting from this incident should the 'victim' choose to take legal action
posted by missmagenta at 10:54 AM on November 1, 2012

Response by poster: Ok to clear it up. I am nervous because I don't know a lot about US law having moved here from Australia a few years ago.

In the small town I was from I would replace the guys pants and be pretty confident of that being the end of it (not that we don't have litigious people in Australia just a lot less so culturally). I am concerned there is some law I am unaware of that the guy can use against me, say for pain and suffering for a small hole in his pants, just so I can start to get my i's dotted and t's crossed just in case. Or is the worst case scenario he sends me a bill for pants, which I'd pay no worries.

@barnone - I just checked we have insurance on the house which covers for dog bites, it came with the policy though so I will look into the umbrella policy idea, though hopefully there won't be a next time better safe than sorry.
posted by wwax at 11:03 AM on November 1, 2012

Best answer: Legally, yes, you'd be responsible for the dog, but just on a practical level, at this point how is this guy going to prove anything? What proof is there that he even got the hole in his pants from your dog? He's probably reluctant to even make an issue of it since he did take a swing at your dog.

Practically speaking, 99% of people in that case would be satisfied with replacing the pants, even if there were no aggravating circumstances. Let's say a plumber came to your house and your dog ripped his pants for no reason whatsoever. Yes, people can sue for about anything, and you run into crazy people who do, but most people would rather not deal with lawyers and courts for trivial things. They'd be happy just to get new pants.

And as maligned as personal injury lawyers are, most of them will discourage prospective clients from taking a thing like this to court. For one thing, they wouldn't see it as a winnable case or you as someone with deep pockets. Ridiculous torts are the exception, not the rule.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:17 AM on November 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Most of us in the Comcast guy's situation would chalk it up to one of those things, the company will probably replace the pants. No harm, no foul.

Lots of dog owners here in the US, and most understand that in the situation you described that the dog did what dogs do.

Don't judge us based on Judge Judy and People's Court!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:32 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, you are liable. The incident occurred on your property. In fact, you could have been liable even if it was someone else's dog, and the danger the dog posed wasn't open and obvious. If you had up a 'beware of dog' sign, that might come into play in your favor.

However, as a practical matter, no one is going to sue anyone over a pair of pants. The filing fee is going to be several times more than a pair of pants would cost. No insurance company is going to get involved because the cost of the pants is going to be far lower than any deductible. He can't get pain and suffering for a hole in his pants, only for a hole in his body.

If you ever hear from him again, I am sure he'll be happy for you to buy him a new pair of pants. My guess that you won't hear from him again on this matter.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:15 PM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

What are the laws in IN about trespassing on one's property?
posted by brujita at 6:40 PM on November 1, 2012

Cable Guy wouldn't have been considered a trespasser for going to someone's front door to solicit business. Some municipalities have ordinances against door to door solicitation, but since the cable company has a franchise (usually one of only two, at most) with the city, they usually get an exemption. Even if he was unlawfully there per such an ordinance, I doubt that you could harm him with impunity.

I remember a spiel in my business law class about the various types of visitors and your duties to them. They vary, but not by much. It's a spectrum from invited guest/resident/employee, whom you have the highest duties to protect from all hazards, to someone, say walking across your front yard to get from point A to point B (you're still liable if your dog bit them, or they stepped on a rake and hurt themselves), to a full-blown trespasser (dude in your backyard or living room with a crowbar) - about the only person your dog could chew up with impunity would be that last category. And that's because of self-defense implications and property rights.
posted by randomkeystrike at 10:41 AM on November 2, 2012

i am a lawyer. i am not your lawyer. all i want to add to this discussion is that i think it is extremely unlikely that you will be sued in this situation.
posted by anthropomorphic at 10:55 AM on November 2, 2012

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