Colorado Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

Can the dog owner be sued? Colorado laws on personal injury claims arising out of a dog bite or dog attack.

In this article, we'll look at some key elements of Colorado law as they pertain to dog bite injuries. We'll start with the time limits for filing a dog bite lawsuit in a Colorado court, then turn to Colorado's dog bite laws. Finally, we'll discuss some of the defenses a dog owner might raise when facing a dog bite lawsuit in Colorado.

Time Limits on Colorado Dog Bite Lawsuits

All states have a statute of limitations that sets a time limit on filing a personal injury case, like one arising from a dog bite injury. Colorado gives injured people two years from the date of an injury to file a lawsuit in the state's civil court system. If the lawsuit is filed after this two-year deadline has expired, the court can and will throw the case out without hearing it.

Because missing this deadline means losing the right to get court-ordered compensation for an injury, it's crucial to understand and abide by the personal injury statute of limitations as it applies to your case.

Colorado Dog Bite Laws: Strict Liability and Negligence

Most states use either a "strict liability" or a "negligence" rule for dog bite cases. Colorado uses a combination of these two approaches.

When a dog bite causes serious injury or death, Colorado's dog bite statute applies a "strict liability" rule to hold the dog's owner liable. This liability applies even if the dog's owner did not know or could not have known that the dog would bite or act aggressively. A "serious bodily injury" is defined as an injury that causes any of the following:

  • a substantial risk of death,
  • a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement,
  • a substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, or
  • breaks, fractures, or burns of the second or third degree.

In order for Colorado's strict liability statute to apply, the injured person must be on public property or lawfully on private property when the injury occurs. The law only applies to injuries caused by dog bites.

For cases where an injury is not a serious or deadly one, Colorado's negligence rules apply. In a negligence dog bite case, the injured person must show that the owner failed to use reasonable care to control or restrain the dog, and a dog bite or other dog-related injury resulted.

Unlike the dog bite statute, the negligence rule may be used in cases where a dog causes injury through behavior other than a bite. For example, if a dog knocks a person down and injures her, that person may seek compensation via a negligence-based claim.

Defenses to a Colorado Dog Bite Claim

A dog owner facing a dog bite lawsuit in Colorado has several possible defenses, depending on whether the case is brought under Colorado's strict liability statute or as a common-law negligence claim.

In a strict liability case, a dog owner might argue that he or she is not liable if any of the following facts are involved:

  • the dog was performing law enforcement or military duties,
  • the injured person was a veterinary health care worker, groomer, humane agency staff member, professional dog handler, or dog show judge carrying out his or her duties,
  • the dog was working as a hunting, herding, farm, or ranch dog,
  • the property was "clearly and conspicuously" posted with "no trespassing" or "beware of dog" signs,
  • the injured person provoked the dog, or
  • the injured person was trespassing.

In a negligence-based dog bite case, a dog owner has several possible defenses. Two commonly-used defenses are "comparative negligence" and trespassing. A comparative negligence defense raises the argument that the injured person was partly or wholly at fault for their own injuries.

When an injured person provoked a dog, for instance, a comparative negligence defense may be raised. Colorado uses a "modified" comparative fault rule that reduces damages by an amount equal to the percentage of fault assigned to the injured person, as long as this percentage is under 50 percent. If the injured person is 50 percent or more at fault, he or she loses the ability to collect any damages.

Trespassing may also be raised as a defense to a negligence dog bite injury claim, because Colorado recognizes limits on homeowner liability for trespasser injuries. A "trespasser" is someone who is on another's private property without permission and without another legitimate reason for being there, such as carrying out duties imposed by law.

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