Arizona’s Unique “Strict Liability” Dog Bite Statute
Recent statistics show that just over one-third of households in the United States (36.5%) own a dog. Arizona, however, has the highest percentage of dog owners with almost half (47.9%) of homeowners in this state owning a dog. Most of those households, in fact, own more than one dog. Most people, however, do not consider the liabilities associated with dog ownership before they purchase a dog. In addition to the risk of being sued for negligence if their dog bites another, Arizona dog owners are subject to particularly stringent liability under Arizona’s “strict liability dog bite” statute.
This statute makes a dog owner automatically liable for damages caused when their dog “bites a person when the person is in or on a public place or lawfully in or on a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog.” This is true “regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of its viciousness.”
The only defense to a “strict liability dog bite” claim is “provocation.” This defense asserts that the victim is responsible for their own damages because he or she took some action that “a reasonable person would expect…likely to provoke a dog.” The term “provoke” is nowhere defined in the statute. The context, however, necessarily suggests that the victim’s conduct must be something that is reasonably likely to incite a dog to anger. Kicking, teasing, or taunting a dog would qualify; merely reaching out to pet a dog should not.
Dog owners should take certain precautions to protect themselves from liability for their dog biting another. They should stay away from owning aggressive dog breeds. They should make sure that their dog successfully graduates from a certified dog behavior class. They should make sure that their dog has regular check-ups with a veterinarian to ensure good health (which decreases the likelihood of a dog biting). A dog should always be kept on a leash when out in public. Finally, dog owners should make sure they have at least $300,000 of homeowner’s insurance that will cover dog bites, and consider obtaining an umbrella policy for at least another $1 million to provide adequate protection against dog bite claims.