Animal Bite Lawyers - Animal Attacks

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Animal Bite Injury Lawyers | Animal Attacks Injury Lawyers

Although animal-attack claims most commonly involve dog bites, many other types of domesticated animals, such as ferrets, cats, and even birds, can also bite humans. Even nondomesticated animals, such as large cats ordinarily found in the wild, but owned by some people as pets have been known to attack children and adults. Claims are also made against horse owners under Connecticut law.  A lawyer from Jackson O'Keefe who is experienced in dog bite and personal injury law is an excellent source for accurate advice and information in animal attack cases. Under certain circumstances, strict liability may apply for injuries caused by animals in Connecticut.  The type of animal, the animal’s history, and the circumstances of the incident are all relevant issues that may need to be addressed to determine whether a valid claim exists under Connecticut law for an injury caused by an animal.

Proving Owners' Liability in Animal Attack Cases

Although the rules differ by type of animal, generally to succeed in most animal attack cases, the injured person must prove that the animal that caused the injury was owned and kept by the defendant. In the past, the injured person was also required to show that the owner knew or should have known that his or her animal was dangerous, mischievous, vicious, or prone to such threatening behaviors. Under current law, however, as to certain types of animals when it is proven that an owner was somehow negligent, such as by not properly restraining or containing the animal, the injured person may often recover damages without proving the animal’s viciousness.

Injuries Caused by Dogs

There is both potential common law and statutory liability for injuries caused by dogs.  Because it is generally easier to establish liability under statute, we focus on that here.

Connecticut’s so-called Bite Statute sets forth three requirements: (1) the plaintiff was damaged or injured by a dog (this is not limited to “bite” injuries); (2) the plaintiff was not committing a trespass or other tort, or teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog; and (3) the defendant was the dog's keeper or owner. If established and no defense applies, a defendant is “strictly” liablefor dmages caused by the dog.  The statute provides as follows:

22-357. Damage by dogs to person or property

If any dog does any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper, or, if the owner or keeper is a minor, the parent or guardian of such minor, shall be liable for the amount of such damage, except when such damage has been occasioned to the body or property of a person who, at the time such damage was sustained, was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog. If a minor, on whose behalf an action under this section is brought, was under seven years of age at the time such damage was done, it shall be presumed that such minor was not committing a trespass or other tort, or teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog, and the burden of proof thereof shall be upon the defendant in such action. In an action under this section against a household member of a law enforcement officer to whom has been assigned a dog owned by a law enforcement agency of the state, any political subdivision of the state or the federal government for damage done by such dog, it shall be presumed that such household member is not a keeper of such dog and the burden of proof shall be upon the plaintiff to establish that such household member was a keeper of such dog and had exclusive control of such dog at the time such damage was sustained. For the purposes of this section, “property” includes, but is not limited to, a companion animal, as defined in section 22-351a, and “the amount of such damage”, with respect to a companion animal, includes expenses of veterinary care, the fair monetary value of the companion animal and burial expenses for the companion animal.

Although a landlord may or may not qualify as a keeper of a dog under the statute, appellate level cases have held that under a negligence theory, a landlord may have a duty to keep common areas safe, including safe from dog injuries. “[As] a matter of well settled common law, [i]t is, of course, the duty of a landlord to use reasonable care to keep in a reasonably safe condition the parts of the premises over which he reserves control.... The ultimate test of the duty is to be found in the reasonable foreseeability of harm resulting from a failure to exercise reasonable care to keep the premises reasonably safe.... The prevailing common-law conception of the dangerous conditions implicated in this duty, moreover, certainly is capacious enough readily to encompass threats from animals, including known vicious dogs.... [A] landlord, in exercising the closely analogous duty to alleviate dangerous conditions in areas of a premises over which it retains control, must take reasonable steps to alleviate the dangerous condition created by the presence of a dog with known vicious tendencies in the common areas of the property.” (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Giacalone v. Housing Authority, 306 Conn. 399, 407–408, 51 A.3d 352 (2012)(holding that the common-law negligence claim was not dependent upon finding that landlord was the owner or keeper of the dog). 

Under appropriate circumstances, punitive damages (which means reimbursement for attorneys fees under CT law) can also be obtained based upon a dog attack.  To prevail, recklessness must be established.  Penney v. Holley, Superior Court, judicial district of Litchfield, Docket No. CV–14–6010281–S (September 15, 2014, Trombley, J.) (58 Conn. L. Rptr. 949) (denying defendants' motion to strike and finding that plaintiff sufficiently pleaded factual predicate that could justify finding of reckless conduct by trier of fact where plaintiff claimed that despite having full knowledge of their pit bull's “vicious propensities and aggressive behaviors,” defendants failed to properly restrain or supervise animal, allowed dog to roam and thereby recklessly disregarded safety of their neighbors); Lemp v. East Granby, Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, Docket No. 589417 (December 12, 2000, Rubinow, J.) (denying defendants' motion to strike where plaintiffs alleged specific facts that imputed knowledge on part of town dog warden as to dog's vicious propensity for violence and prior attacks on human beings); Hansen v. Maniatty, Superior Court, judicial district of Fairfield, Docket No. 320386 (March 25, 1997, Thim, J.) (19 Conn. L. Rptr. 306) (denying defendant's motion to strike where plaintiff sufficiently alleged conduct from which recklessness may be inferred from defendant's knowledge of prior injuries caused by horse).

Liability for injuries caused by horses

At least as of May 28, 2014, the legislature has clarified the law regarding horses with the passage of General Statutes § 52-557s.  In summary, the statute (1) prohibits courts from finding that a horse belongs to a species that possesses a naturally mischievous or vicious propensity, (2) requires the courts to presume that horses, in fact, do not have a propensity to engage in behavior that would foreseeably cause injury to humans, and (3) requires that this presumption may only be rebutted by evidence that the horse exhibited behaviors that would have put an owner or keeper on notice of its propensity for injurious behavior.

Unlike the dog bite statute, the statute here does not create liability or a cause of action.

The statute states in full:

Liability of owner or keeper of horse, pony, donkey or mule

 (a) In any civil action brought against the owner or keeper of any horse, pony, donkey or mule to recover damages for any personal injury allegedly caused by such horse, pony, donkey or mule, such horse, pony, donkey or mule shall not be found to belong to a species that possesses a naturally mischievous or vicious propensity.

(b) In any civil action brought against the owner or keeper of any horse, pony, donkey or mule to recover damages for any personal injury allegedly caused by such horse, pony, donkey or mule, there shall be a presumption that such horse, pony, donkey or mule did not have a propensity to engage in behavior that would foreseeably cause injury to humans. Such presumption may be rebutted by evidence that such horse, pony, donkey or mule previously exhibited behavior that put the owner or keeper of such horse, pony, donkey or mule on notice that such horse, pony, donkey or mule had a propensity to engage in the behavior that allegedly caused such personal injury.

(c) There shall be no cause of action for strict liability brought against the owner of any horse, pony, donkey or mule to recover damages for any personal injury alleged to be caused by such horse, pony, donkey or mule.

This statute was passed in response to a 2014 Supreme Court ruling which stated in part: “[N]egligence is the foundation of an action for injuries caused by a domestic animal ... Thus, there is no strict liability for injuries caused by domestic animals under the common law of this state, even if the animal had known mischievous propensities. With respect to animals that neither have known mischievous propensities nor belong to a species having naturally mischievous tendencies, the owner of such an animal cannot be held liable under any theory because an owner cannot be compelled to anticipate and guard against the unknown and unusual.” (Citation omitted; footnote omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Vendrella v. Astriab Family Ltd. Partnership, 311 Conn. 301, 315 (2014).  “[I]f a domestic animal belongs to a species naturally inclined to do mischief ... it is [the owner's] duty to use reasonable care to restrain the animal in such manner as to prevent its doing injury, and when he permits the animal to go at large or to trespass, he fails in his duty ...” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., at 318.  “In summary, we conclude that, as a matter of law, the owner or keeper of a domestic animal has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent the animal from causing injuries that are foreseeable because the animal belongs to a class of animals that is naturally inclined to cause such injuries, regardless of whether the animal had previously caused an injury or was roaming at large. We also conclude that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether, under the specific facts and circumstances of the present case, it was foreseeable that Scuppy would bite the minor plaintiff causing his injury because horses, as a species, have a natural inclination to bite.” Id., at 339.

Injuries caused by cats

In Vendrella v. Astriab Family Ltd. Partnership, 311 Conn. 301 (2014), a divided Supreme Court held that the owner or keeper of any domestic animal has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent injuries that are foreseeable where the animal belongs to a class that is naturally inclined to cause such injuries, regardless of whether the animal had previously caused an injury or was roaming at large.

Over 100 years ago in Bischoff v. Cheney the Court had high praise for cats: “The cat's disposition is kindly and docile, and by nature is one of the most tame and harmless of all domestic animals.” 89 Conn. 1, 5 (1914).  The Vendrella Court noted that, “although cats generally are harmless, if [a] particular cat belongs to [a] class of cats having mischievous propensities, [an] owner can be held liable for injuries.” 311 Conn at 334.

An owner of an animal may be found liable under any circumstances in which he or she had knowledge of the animal’s viciousness but failed to act in order to prevent injuries to others. Accordingly, if an animal exhibits vicious or uncontrollable behavior, the owner should take steps to shield the public from the animal. For example, if an individual owns a pit bull with a propensity to attack and bite without provocation, the owner should probably keep the dog indoors and, while outside, in a yard from which it cannot escape. If he or she does not adhere to these common-sense guidelines and the animal attacks, the injured party may be able to recover his or her damages.

In some states, it is not always necessary for the animal to actually bite or attack the victim to hold the owner liable for an injury. For example, a pedestrian who breaks his or ankle in a frightened attempt to get away from a fenced in dog's snapping, barking, or other aggressive behavior, may nonetheless be able to sue the dog’s owner successfully if he or she can show that the actions of the dog led to the injury.

Those who keep animals generally considered wild, such as lions, bears, and monkeys, are typically liable for injuries caused by such animals regardless of whether the particular animal is known to be dangerous. Because wild animals are generally presumed to have a natural tendency to revert to their wild mannerisms no matter how well trained or domesticated, owners of such animals are often said to be "strictly liable" for any injuries caused by their wild animals. However, strict liability may not apply if the animal injures someone while it is confined or restrained on its owner’s property, but this is a factually dependent argument that will not apply in every case.

Conclusion

Jackson O’Keefe, LLP  handles Connecticut dog bites and Connecticut animal attack matters throughout the State of Connecticut, including clients in Farmington, Wethersfield, Rocky Hill, Cromwell, Bloomfield, Moodus, East Haddam, Southington and Plantsville.  Contact us now to discuss your case.  There is no fee for initial consultations regarding personal injury claims.

 


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