In terms of protecting victims, New Hampshire’s laws related to dog bites are some of the most favorable in the country. Victims have a lot of recourse to bring lawsuits against dog owners, and by law, owners bear responsibility for their dog’s behavior in almost every situation. Tragically, there are over four million dog bites in the United States every year; to protect yourself, you should know the laws.
In New Hampshire, the owner of the dog is liable for the dog’s actions. If the dog is owned by a minor, the minor’s parents are responsible. However, the keeper may also be held responsible. A keeper is anyone who is in possession of the dog (or supposed to be in possession) when the attack or injury occurred.
For instance, if someone is walking someone else’s dog, that person can be held liable for the matter. Their employer may also be responsible, particularly in cases where the dog walker was booked through a company. Similarly, if a kennel is in possession of a dog and the dog escapes and injures someone, the kennel or its staff may be held responsible for the injuries.
The defendant does not even necessarily need to be in legal possession of the dog. If a daycare owner, for example, allows a stray dog into the daycare and that dog hurts someone, the daycare owner may be held liable even though they don’t own the dog and they weren’t asked to take care of the dog. However, it’s important to note that if a person is harmed by a dog, compensation and recovery for damages may be obtained from either the owner or the keeper of the dog, but not from both. When you work with a dog bite attorney, they can let you know who you should bring the suit against.
One element required for the recovery of damages for injuries under the New Hampshire dog bite statute is that the dog in question must have acted viciously or maliciously. In the past, The New Hampshire Courts have interpreted malicious or vicious acts by a dog to include some act beyond the mere presence of the dog.
To explain the distinction, imagine that a person is frightened by the very presence of the dog. They are at a friend’s house, and when the friend’s dog enters the room very casually and non-aggressively, the person jumps on the couch out of fear. While doing so, they injure their back which leads to intense pain and suffering. Unfortunately, in a situation like this where the person reacts to the presence of the dog in such as fashion as to injure themselves, the Court would most likely find that the dog did not act maliciously or viciously.
On the other hand, a dog does not have to actually bite or attack a person for its actions to be classified as malicious or vicious. A malicious act can consist of a dog aggressively running or lunging toward a person or onto their property and causing that person to fall or otherwise be injured. In this situation, the owner or keeper is usually liable. Although the dog did not actually attack or bite the person, the dog’s malicious behavior led to the injury. Similarly, the dog owner is also liable for property damage caused by the dog. That can include things such as chewing up furniture, breaking fences, or killing livestock.
The New Hampshire’s dog bite statute, states the following:
“Any person to whom or to whose property, including sheep, lambs, fowl, or other domestic creatures, damage may be occasioned by a dog not owned or kept by such person shall be entitled to recover damages from the person who owns, keeps, or possesses the dog, unless the damage was occasioned to a person who was engaged in the commission of a trespass or other tort. A parent or guardian shall be liable under this section if the owner or keeper of the dog is a minor.”
As you can see, the law outlines responsibility for the owner or the keeper of the dog. It also emphasizes that they are responsible in every situation unless the damage occurred to a person who was trespassing or committing another tort. This type of blanket responsibility is called strict liability.
For instance, if someone is trespassing on someone’s property and the property owner’s dog attacks them, the owner is probably not liable. Committing another tort basically means breaking another law, but it can also have a few other implications. If someone is attacking someone and the victim’s dog bites the attacker, the dog owner is likely not to be held liable for those injuries either.
With strict liability laws in place, dog bite cases in New Hampshire are, more often than not, ruled in favor of the victim. The defendants only have a few possible defenses — namely, they can argue that the plaintiff was trespassing or committing another tort. They may also be able to argue that the dog was provoked. For instance, if the victim was repeatedly teasing the dog before it attacked, that may be a viable defense.
Additionally, the burden of proof is not that high. As long as the victim can prove that they were injured by the dog and that the dog was owned by or in possession of the defendant, they are likely to get a favorable verdict.
With most personal injury cases, the victim has to prove that the owner was negligent. To prove negligence, you have to establish four main elements: that the defendant had a duty to you; that the defendant breached that duty; that the defendant’s actions caused your injuries; and that you suffered physical, financial or emotional damages due to the injuries.
In contrast, with strict liability cases, you don’t need to worry about all four elements. You only need to prove that the owner was liable. As explained above, the owner or keeper is liable in almost every case. The only way the owner can avoid liability is if they can establish that they don’t own the dog or if they can prove that the victim was responsible for the injuries due to trespassing, provoking, or committing another tort.
The New Hampshire statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit involving a dog bite is three years. A victim of a dog attack must file a case during the three-year window after the incident occurred in order to have a day in court. However, when minors are hurt by a dog, they have until three years after their 18th birthday to file a lawsuit.
If you have been attacked or injured by a dog, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries as well as for your pain and suffering, missed time at work, or any other damages. Because New Hampshire is a strict liability state, the law is in your favor. But to ensure the best results, you need a lawyer that understands your rights. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us today. At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we have fought for justice in numerous dog bite cases in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts.