What happens if my dog kills an intruder?
June 20, 2006 9:34 AM   Subscribe

What are the consequences of an intruder who gets killed by a guard dog in the house they were breaking into? To the dog and to the homeowner?
posted by fenriq to Law & Government (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It kind of depends on what state (or country) you're in, but this site sums it up pretty well:

Generally speaking, an owner of property may not use deadly force to defend the property. Society values human life and bodily integrity much higher than property. Therefore, the life, health and safety of an individual, even an intruder, is considered to be more valuable than the china or stereo which that individual is trying to steal.

An owner is not prohibited, however, from invoking self-help methods in defending property from another. An owner of property is entitled to use reasonable force to prevent someone, or something, from entering onto her property or to remove something from her property. What, under normal circumstances, may constitute a battery, assault, or other intentional tort, will not be considered unlawful in situations where it is performed as a reasonable use of self-help in defense of property. However, the use of force calculated to do great bodily harm, or cause death, is not permitted.

One narrow limitation upon the use of deadly force is authorized. Where an intruder threatens personal safety, as well as a threat to property, or where the intruder is committing a forcible felony, deadly force may be appropriate. For example, if a robber enters a home and, while stealing items, attempts to rape the homeowner, the owner may be justified in shooting the robber. However, an owner who witnesses a neighborhood child stealing a bicycle from the owner's garage, without any threat of bodily harm, is not justified in shooting that child.

posted by elquien at 9:38 AM on June 20, 2006

Props to elquien and Mark Martel. That was a great explanation.
posted by tdreyer1 at 9:41 AM on June 20, 2006

...But does it give an answer to the case that the dog kills the person. In a house/apartment, the dog isn't going to be tied up, so it probably won't be under direct control of the owner. I think what they want is this: Is the owner liable for what the dog does in the owner's home?
posted by tdreyer1 at 9:44 AM on June 20, 2006

This may help, but doesn't quite answer it.
posted by tdreyer1 at 9:45 AM on June 20, 2006

It'll probably come as no great surprise that Texas permits the use of deadly force to protect property. I also recall the incident some years ago where a Louisiana man shot a trick-or-treater dead and was acquitted on the grounds that the kid was an "intruder."

Which doesn't exactly address the question of "what if it's a dog that kills the intruder?"
posted by adamrice at 9:51 AM on June 20, 2006

Interesting question. I think the dog could be distinguished from a spring gun (a generally illegal home defense) because presumably the dog would bark or offer some warning so the intruder could flee.
posted by exogenous at 9:51 AM on June 20, 2006

Unless fenriq tells us what state he's in, there is no way to give a good answer. For instance, elquien's post is NOT true for the state where I live (Louisiana). A homeowner here can shoot an intruder without having to show subjective fear.
posted by Pacheco at 9:53 AM on June 20, 2006

Wow. Upon reading Pacheco's post, I thought it couldn't be true, but I was wrong. Here's the relevant Louisiana statute (or one of them, anyway):

RS 14:20

A homicide is justifiable . . .

(4)(a) When committed by a person lawfully inside a dwelling, a place of business, or a motor vehicle as defined in R.S. 32:1(40), against a person who is attempting to make an unlawful entry into the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle, or who has made an unlawful entry into the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle, and the person committing the homicide reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the entry or to compel the intruder to leave the premises or motor vehicle. The homicide shall be justifiable even though the person committing the homicide does not retreat from the encounter.

I guess that doesn't address the question of tort liability, though.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:02 AM on June 20, 2006

In any case the law would absolve the homeowner of criminal wrongdoing. The issue of liabaility typically comes into play when the intruder survives and sues the homeowner. But seeing as the intruder in this case is dead, that kind of takes care of that problem. IANAL.
posted by JJ86 at 10:15 AM on June 20, 2006

JJ86, the intruder's estate could sue for wrongful death.
posted by exogenous at 10:19 AM on June 20, 2006

But seeing as the intruder in this case is dead, that kind of takes care of that problem.

As in other wrongful death lawsuits, surviving family members often sue. See, e.g., O.J.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:20 AM on June 20, 2006

I'm guessing no matter whether the homeowner was held liable, the dog would be euthanized.
posted by schroedinger at 10:20 AM on June 20, 2006

In general, if a dog attacks and kills someone, the owner of the dog is considered to be guilty of manslaughter at the very least. That kind of thing comes up a couple of times per year, usually because someone owns a pit bull which gets away and kills someone. When it happens, the dog will be euthanized, and the owner will be arrested and charged. (In some cases, the charge is second degree murder.)

The question would be whether this would apply in the case of a guard dog and someone who is breaking and entering. My guess is that it would, but IANAL.

You can't set up lethal booby traps on your own property, even if they're behind locked doors. Shotguns triggered by tripwires, for example. Even though someone would have to break-and-enter to reach the tripwire and get shot, that's still unacceptable in most states, and if you did that and bagged a burglar that way, I think you'd probably face a murder charge.

Having a vicious guard dog capable of killing intruders sounds to me like exactly the same thing.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:19 AM on June 20, 2006

Sorry, I'm in California.

And my dog is not vicious, she is protective of her house and her family though (like any dog should be). And she looks the part.
posted by fenriq at 11:21 AM on June 20, 2006

My thinking is that she would bark like mad and that her barking would constitute ample warning of the danger she poses. And that, if the intruder continues to break-in knowing there is a large dog inside then they really can't say my dog attacked them unprovoked.

Now, if I'd had her bark box removed so that she couldn't warn intruders off and she waited until they got in before making her presence known, then I could totally see being culpable for the death.

But if she barks and they still enter and are badly hurt or killed, I just don't see how that can be my fault or hers.
posted by fenriq at 11:25 AM on June 20, 2006

Nobody seems to have done a search for cases on this issue, so perhaps this answer will be of some use. Searching for:
(intruder or burglar or robber) w/20 ("guard dog" or watchdog) w/20 (kill! or maul!) 
gives a few cases, including:
MECH v. HEARST CORPORATION, 64 Md. App. 422; 496 A.2d 1099 (1985):
The court held that the standard of care required of owners and occupiers of land with respect to an individual on their land was determined by the individual's status while on the property, i.e. whether he was an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. The court found that injured party, who was looking for an inexpensive place to park her car, was trespasser on the land belonging to property owner, which was not a parking lot, but instead was a truck garage facility. Thus, the standard of care applicable to injured party was a minimal obligation to refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring or entrapping the person once his presence was known. The court found that property owner's use of a guard dog was not so extreme and outrageous as to be characterized as willful or wanton, and, therefore, a directed verdict was properly entered on the negligence count. Further, because injured party was a trespasser and because she could not recover for negligence, injured party could not recover on her strict liability claim, either.
I didn't read the case, but the summary implies the trespasser lost her negligence and strict liability actions because having a guard dog watching a truck garage was not extreme or outrageous.

This is Maryland, though; in California, my general sense is that you'd be on the hook for a lot of money, and maybe even criminal penalties if the dog is really scary looking and they can find some people to feign distress over the loss of the perp. And fer sure you're going to be saying bye bye to Fido.

posted by spacewrench at 11:32 AM on June 20, 2006

A high school vice principal told me that a former student of his climbed a fence at Metro Toronto Zoo after hours and had his arm torn off by a tiger (or lion, can't remember which, but it was a big cat). He sued the zoo and won a big settlement.

posted by orange swan at 11:49 AM on June 20, 2006

I know in Georgia, that you can kill an intruder, and claim self-defense, as long as you do not unload the gun's whole magazine, reload, and fire again.

Then again, GA is much like Texas in terms of 'he needed killing' style of laws.

I know that everywhere in the world, dead men tell no tales. If the intruder breaks in, make sure he's dead before you call the cops. Tell them that he said he had a gun and was going to kill you, and that you acted in self defense (either by killing him yourself, or sicing the dog on him).

It sounds sick and morbid, but I'd never let my dog get put down, or myself incarcerated, because someone broke into my house.
posted by triolus at 12:06 PM on June 20, 2006

Having a vicious guard dog capable of killing intruders sounds to me like exactly the same thing.

A lot of dogs are capable of killing intruders, but that does not mean they are vicious. From a dog's perspective, they are doing what they should be doing - protecting their territory from someone who isn't supposed to be there.
posted by agregoli at 12:29 PM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

So, I'm guessing I'd be better off shooting the intruder myself and not risk having my dog euthanized for protecting my family (which is one of her primary duties).
posted by fenriq at 12:33 PM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Get a "Beware of Dog" sign. That'll help if the thief sues.
posted by Pacheco at 12:42 PM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure Louisiana is like Texas.
posted by radioamy at 12:50 PM on June 20, 2006

I'm not a lawyer, so I can't say for sure whether it would be better for you or your dog to kill an intruder. However, I am pretty sure that if you had a lawyer they would tell you that it isn't a great idea to go on a public web site and state that one of your dog's primary purposes is to kill people who break into your home (or "protect your family" in a thread that is titled "what happens if my dog kills an intruder" -- particularly if you think there is any chance at all something like that might actually happen.
posted by willnot at 1:41 PM on June 20, 2006

And my dog is not vicious, she is protective of her house and her family though (like any dog should be).

Unless she's been specially trained or abused into viciousness, she's not likely to kill anyone. Most dogs are too sane to actually put their own lives on the line for you, though it's a nice myth. The most you might expect from your dog is to bite once or twice and then run away, though it's more likely that she'd just give a threat display and then run away. More than once, I've seen trained police dogs on Cops let go and run away the instant someone landed a really solid I-want-to-hurt-you hit on the dog.

In general, I would expect that anyone actually breaking and entering a house with a barking dog is going to be prepared to deal with just about any dog. A dog is an excellent deterrent, but poor protection.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:50 PM on June 20, 2006

Re: "Beware of dog"

From an earlier comment, don't know if it's accurate: "Beware of Dog" signs apparently carry some liability in some places, you may want to check this - as I understand it (and IANAL), if you have this sign, and your dog bites someone, you are liable for even more damages than you might have been otherwise, since the sign is taken as implying that you knew you had a dangerous dog.
posted by exhilaration at 2:17 PM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Reminds me of the Diane Whipple case - a young woman who was brutally killed by her wierd neighbors' Presa Canario dogs. One of the owners was convicted of murder. It is not exactly applicable to the situation, but it was a high-profile dog attack case in CA, so I thought I'd bring it up.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:54 PM on June 20, 2006

fenriq: here's a very thorough analysis of a recent dog-mauling case that occured in California. Some things to note: 1) the dog attack was (IMO) excessive (blood all over the walls, etc). 2) The dogs were put down almost immediately.

On the other hand, I doubt your dog would actually kill an intruder, unless you've trained it to.

On preview - check out the whole DogBiteLaw site.
posted by muddgirl at 4:15 PM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Additionally, in the Whipple case, the attack occured in the hallway, not in a private residence.
posted by muddgirl at 4:16 PM on June 20, 2006

West's Ann.Cal.Civ.Code § 3342
§ 3342. Dog bites; liability of owner;
(a) The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness. A person is lawfully upon the private property of such owner within the meaning of this section when he is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when he is on such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner.
posted by Dr. Zira at 4:37 PM on June 20, 2006

I've seen a video of police responding to a junkyard crime, where a burglarizing trespasser was killed by the junkyard dog. The first thing they did without even thinking about it was to shoot the dog.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:07 PM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

From the civil code cut-n-paste below (and the curious silence in 3342 about being unlawfully in a private place) it seems that if your dog bites an intruder, no action can be brought to put the dog down.

However, note s.31682: This chapter does not affect or change the existing civil liability or criminal laws regarding dogs.

I am guessing that in tort law you would be liable if the average joe could reasonably foresee that your dog might be capable of killing an intruder, and you did not take reasonable precautions to prevent this. But IANAPracticingL, and Australia is a different jurisdiction.

West's Ann.Cal.Civ.Code § 3342

§ 3342.5. Duty of owner; action; dogs trained to fight, attack, or kill; legislation by city and county

(a) The owner of any dog that has bitten a human being shall have the duty to take such reasonable steps as are necessary to remove any danger presented to other persons from bites by the animal.

(b) Whenever a dog has bitten a human being on at least two separate occasions, any person, the district attorney, or city attorney may bring an action against the owner of the animal to determine whether conditions of the treatment or confinement of the dog or other circumstances existing at the time of the bites have been changed so as to remove the danger to other persons presented by the animal. This action shall be brought in the county where a bite occurred. The court, after hearing, may make any order it deems appropriate to prevent the recurrence of such an incident, including, but not limited to, the removal of the animal from the area or its destruction if necessary.

(c) [...]

(d) Nothing in this section shall authorize the bringing of an action pursuant to subdivision (b) based on a bite or bites inflicted upon a trespasser, or by a dog used in military or police work if the bite or bites occurred while the dog was actually performing in that capacity.

posted by UbuRoivas at 5:19 PM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I *know* I read recently that some states are passing laws that allow you to use deadly force to protect yourself/your property... at least more permissive than before.

We have a new kid in the neighborhood who's around 13, and he was caught looking in my neighbor's window. When I was a sophomore in high school, there was someone going around stalking girls from the school, and I caught him looking in my bedroom window. That kid needs to watch himself, because if I see someone looking in, I'm probably going to freak out so badly that I'm running straight for my dad's guns.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:33 PM on June 20, 2006

Folks, when considering these laws and vicious dogs, keep one thing in mind -- an attack dog is an indiscriminate threat.

* It will attack a real intruder that's intending to steal the family silver.
* It will also attack, with the exact same level of intensity, a meter reader. A postal carrier. Or a child looking for a lost ball.
posted by frogan at 10:02 PM on June 20, 2006

I found this question sufficiently interesting to ask it over here, if anyone's interested.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:41 AM on June 21, 2006

A major point of clarity. My dog is NOT an attack dog. frogan, my dog would not attack a child, she has been raised better, she does not attack meter readers or UPS delivery people or even door to door Bible salesmen (though my personal belief is that they could use a bite or two).

She is a family pet who happens to be a big dog. She is a gentle and good natured hound and I posed the question as a hypothetical, not necessarily because I think she's going to kill someone if they broke into the house.

Anyone dumb enough to keep breaking in to a house when a large dog is going berserk at the window you're trying to jimmy is no great loss to the gene pool, in my humble opinion.

But thanks for your thoughts, folks. She'll be my deterrent but I'll be the stopper. Maybe I'll put up a sign that says "Forget the dog, beware of owner"?
posted by fenriq at 11:59 AM on June 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

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