As man's best friend, many Australians keep dogs as pets to provide companionship, security and even assistance with several tasks (especially for disabled persons). As much as a dog may be trained, there is always a possibility that the animal may lash out and bite someone on the street. Indeed, random dog behaviour that is unexpected can occur at any moment.

If your dog bites someone and causes personal injury, you may be liable for that person's treatment and other damages that they may suffer. The extent of liability is determined by the circumstances under which the bite took place, the behaviour of the dog and the current dog laws in your state.

Dog bite laws vary widely by state

Dog laws tend to vary by the state you reside in. What is clear is that each state has well-established laws that determine your liability in the event of a bite. Dog laws typically fall under 3 main categories: a strict liability framework, one-bite laws and negligence laws.

In the case of strict liability, you will most likely be liable for any damages that are caused by your dog, regardless of the situation. This means that even if you didn't know that your dog isn't inclined to behave violently and it bites someone, you will still be liable for damages.

If you live in a strict liability state, it is best to always take safety precautions against dog bites. This includes always keeping your dog on a leash when in public and obtaining insurance against potential accidents. 

Some states essentially give you one free pass if your dog bites someone. Within reasonable limits, if you had no way of knowing that your dog is likely to behave aggressively, you may not be liable for the damages caused the first time it happens. This holds true only if you weren't negligent during the incident.

How can you become liable?

If you act in a negligent manner when caring for your dog, you will almost always be liable for dog bites, regardless of the state laws. For example, if you know that your dog is inclined to act violently and you don't keep it on a leash while in public, you will most likely be liable for any damages that it causes. Negligence basically refers to failure to take reasonable steps to prevent your dog from biting someone else or causing other damages.

If you're facing a case where your dog bit someone, you should be aware of the laws of your state as well as the circumstances under which the bite happened. While negligence often results in liability, other cases such as trespassing (or a person who intentionally provokes the dog to act aggressively) may relieve you of any responsibility for damages.

If your dog bit someone, ensure you contact a lawyer as quickly as possible.