By John DiMotto
Another type of personal injury lawsuit that is filed in the trial courts in Wisconsin involves injuries cause by dogs, commonly referred to as a Dog Bite case.
The Wisconsin legislature has devoted an entire Chapter in the Wisconsin Statutes to dogs. Chapter 174 addresses various dog related issues. It even provides a criminal penalty for those who violate its provisions (a fine of up to $500 or imprisonment for up to 60 days or both).
Section 174.02 sets forth the general principals of an owner's liability for damage caused by a dog. It provides that an owner is liable for the full amount of damages cause by a dog injuring or causing injury to a person, domestic animal or property for a first offense and double damages if the owner was notified or know that the dog had previously injured or caused damage. In addition to being civilly liable to an injured party, the section also provides for a forfeiture for such injuries or damages.
The civil liability for a "dog bite" is on an owner for a dog. Owner includes anyone who owns, harbors or keeps a dog. This expanded definition has made for some interesting cases. For example, a landlord who allows a tenant to have a dog does not "harbor" the dog and so is not liable for damages. However, a "keeper" is a person who exercises some measure of custody, care or control over the dog. In some instances an owner may sue a keeper.
174.02 is a strict liability statute when the injured party is not an owner or keeper. This means that the mere fact of the injury creates liability. There is no obligation on the injured person to establish a duty of care and breach of that duty. The bite itself creates liability. However, while there is strict liability for a dog bite, the laws of comparative negligence do apply just as in other personal injury lawsuits. The injured party does have an obligation to exercise ordinary care in his or her actions.
In addition to being civilly liable for a dog bite, there are provisions for putting a dog down who is a two time biter. This requires the state or a municipality to file a civil action seeking a court order to kill the dog. This is an extreme measure which is reserved for the most egregious circumstances.
The bottom line is that if you own a dog, you must control your dog or may have to pay the consequences.