Delaware Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

Learn about a dog owner's liability for damages in a personal injury claim or lawsuit brought by the animal attack victim in Delaware.

Delaware has a "strict liability" statute on the books for dog bite injury cases. Other Delaware laws, such as the state's deadlines for filing personal injury lawsuits, and the defenses available to dog bite owners when faced with a suit, also apply. In this article, we'll look at all three of these laws.

Deadlines for Delaware Dog Bite Lawsuits

Delaware's statute of limitations applies to all personal injury lawsuits, including dog bite cases. After an injury occurs, an injured person typically has two years in Delaware to bring an injury lawsuit to court. If the case is filed after the two-year deadline has passed, the court will refuse to hear it.

The two-year "clock" usually begins to run on the date an injury occurs. It's important to understand how this law will affect your case, especially if you are close to the two year window. Get the initial complaint filed first, and figure out the details later. Remember, the deadline only applies to getting the case started.

Delaware Dog Bite Law

Dog bite claims in Delaware are covered by a specific statute, Delaware Code section 1711. This law allows people injured by dogs to hold the animal's owner liable if:

  • the dog caused injury, death, or property damage,
  • the injured person was not provoking the dog, and
  • the injured person was not committing trespass or a crime or attempting to commit trespass or a crime.

Delaware's dog bite law covers injuries and property damage of all kinds, not merely injuries inflicted by dog bites. A person injured by a dog bite may file a lawsuit based on this law, and so may a person who has been injured by another kind of dog behavior -- for instance, a person injured when a dog ran into the person and knocked him or her to the ground, causing injury.

Delaware also allows injured people to bring lawsuits based on negligence, or a failure to use reasonable care to prevent a dog-related injury. A negligence claim may be useful if the person who failed to use reasonable care is not the dog's owner. For instance, suppose that a day care operator lets a stray dog into the daycare's playground, where the dog bites a child. The child's parents may file a negligence claim to seek damages from the day care operator, but the dog bite statute (discussed above) will not apply because the day care operator does not own the dog.

Defenses to Dog Bite Claims for Owners

A dog owner facing a dog bite injury lawsuit under Delaware's statute has two main defenses: provocation and trespassing (these are in addition to other common defenses in personal injury cases).

Delaware's dog bite statute specifies that an injured person cannot hold a dog owner liable if the injured person provoked the dog into attacking. Provocation consists of "teasing, tormenting or abusing" the dog. A person who provokes a dog by teasing, tormenting, or abusing it and who is then injured as a result is considered to bear responsibility for his or her own injuries.

Delaware's law also specifies that a dog owner is not liable for injuries the dog causes if the injured person was trespassing, committing a crime, or attempting to do either of these things when the injury occurred. The principle that property owner liability for trespasser injuries and criminal acts is limited is common among many states, and it comes into play in Delaware dog bite claims.

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