Dog bites cause serious injuries every year in Iowa. Dog bites are especially dangerous for young children who may be unaware of the dangers of dog bites while interacting with an animal. The proximity of a small child's face to the jaws of a large dog make children especially at risk for head and facial injuries. The owner of a dog may be held liable for damages caused by dog bite injuries, especially if the owner knew that the dog had a propensity for viciousness.
Strict Liability Laws for Dog Bites in Iowa
Strict liability laws are intended to protect dog bite victims regardless of whether or not the owner of the dog was negligent. This means that in most cases, dog owners are considered liable regardless of their conduct. If a dog escapes from its leash, for example, the steps an owner took to try to prevent the dog from running away will not bar a claim for damages if the dog bites another person. Some states follow the “one bite” rule which means that a dog owner can avoid liability if they did not know about a dog's dangerous tendencies.
Iowa does not follow the "one bite" rule--dog owners are held strictly liable for damages caused by dog bites. Liability for dog owners is codified in § 351.28 of the Iowa Code. An exception to strict liability in Iowa is criminal conduct on the part of the victim which directly contributed to the injury.
For example, if the dog bite victim was trespassing on the dog owner's land when bitten, the owner will usually not be held liable because the person bitten was committing a crime by trespassing, and the criminal conduct directly contributed to the injury. If the bite victim was provoking a dog until it attacked and their conduct met the elements of a charge of animal cruelty, this is another example of a criminal act which could prohibit the victim from recovering damages in a civil lawsuit.
Dog owners are expected to keep enclosures safe so that small children cannot enter the property. If a dog bite case involves a young child, a court may consider whether the owner of the land knew or should have known that children would be able to enter the property and whether or not the child was too young to understand that they were trespassing. Whether or not an exception applies will depend on the facts of the case.
Are Dog Bite Injuries Covered by Insurance?
Many dog bite injuries are covered by insurance. Homeowners insurance umbrella policies will usually cover dog bites that happen on the owner's property. Some policies will even cover dog bites that did not occur on the owner's property. Whether or not an insurance policy covers dog bites will depend on the specific language contained in the policy. Some insurance policies will only cover one incident by the same dog. If a dog owner ignores a dog's dangerous tendencies, many policies explicitly state that they will not cover further damages.
Some people worry that they will cause hurt feelings if they sue a friend or family member because of a dog bite. Filing a claim does not mean that the plaintiff is trying to take the defendant's personal assets. Compensation in a civil lawsuit is intended to put the plaintiff back into the position that they would have been if the incident had never happened. Costs including legal fees are often fully covered by insurance.
Many people also worry that their friend or family member will lose their family pet if they file a cause of action. Plaintiffs do not need to be concerned that a dog will be put down if they file a claim because there is no connection between filing a civil case to sue for damages and enforcement of local ordinances that require vicious dogs to be put to sleep.
Landlords will generally not be responsible for their tenant's pets causing harm unless it can be proven that the landlord was negligent and that the negligence contributed to the incident. Many renters insurance policies will cover many different types of claims, including dog bites. Some types of pet insurance cover dog bites.
Homeowners insurance when available will usually cover damages associated with a dog bite including medical bills and property damage. Any damages in excess of the policy limits will be the responsibility of the homeowner. Victims of dog bite injuries will typically claim damages for immediate medical treatment as well as the cost of any rehabilitation and follow-up treatment. Some victims may suffer from permanent facial scarring and may make a claim for emotional damages.
What should I do if I was bitten by a dog in Iowa?
If you or a loved one has been bitten by a vicious dog, you should contact an attorney after getting immediate medical treatment. Call Shawn Smith today to schedule a consultation. Contact the Smith Law Firm, PC online or call (855) 451-1260.