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Appeals court reverses decision in dog bite case

A state court of appeals reversed the decision made by a local court in a recent dog bite case. The case involved two dogs who began fighting, leaving one of them seriously injured. The fight broke out when a German shepherd that was chained to its owners porch escaped from the leash and ran towards a pitbull that was being walked by a woman and her daughter.

The pitbull badly injured the German shepherd and the owner of the injured dog sought a declaration that the pitbull was a dangerous dog. Such a declaration by the court means that if the dog were to ever be involved in a similar altercation again, the owner would be subject to harsher penalties. The local court found that the dog was dangerous, primarily noting the breed's reputation.

The court of appeals disagreed, saying that it is unacceptable to use perceptions about a breed as a whole to influence the fate of an individual dog. A major element in determining whether a dog is dangerous is looking at the facts to see if the animal was unprovoked at the time of the incident. In this case, the court said that because the dog was provoked it acted reasonably to defend itself and its owner.

This decision is an important reminder that simply because a dog is involved in an incident or a fight, that does not necessarily mean that it is a dangerous dog or that it is prone to violent behavior. Particularly in this case, the dog in question was not known to be dangerous prior to the incident and was ostensibly attacked by someone else's negligently restrained dog. The fact that the other dog sustained injuries when this one did not seems to be simple bad luck.

This is also a good case to discuss the duties that dog owners owe not to just humans, but to other domesticated animals in their neighborhood. Since the fight was started by a dog who was restrained but unattended, there may be an argument to be made that the court wrongly assigned blame for the injuries.

Cases where a dog has injured another pet or a person are always difficult for the pet owners as well as the victim of the dog bite. Owners do have a duty to keep the public safe from attacks by their dog, and a clear violation of that duty can lead to financial consequences for the owner.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Court Was Unfair to Pit Bull, Appeal Finds" Jeff D. Gorman, April 18, 2013

Information about the responsibilities of dog owners in California and the rights of dog bite victims can be found on our website.

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