Hawaii Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

When can a dog bite victim sue the dog owner in Hawaii? Learn about the personal injury liability rules and defenses here.

Hawaii's dog bite law holds dog owners liable for injuries caused by their dogs in a number of situations. In this article, we'll consider some of the key Hawaii laws that affect dog bite cases in the state. We'll look at the specific dog bite statute used in Hawaii, as well as the state's time limits for filing injury claims and the defenses available to dog owners facing a lawsuit.

Time Limits for Dog Bite Lawsuits in Hawaii

An injured person must file a personal injury lawsuit in Hawaii's state civil court system within two years of an injury under the state's statute of limitations.

Cases filed after the two-year statute of limitations has expired will be dismissed by the court. So, if you want to pursue compensation via a lawsuit, it's key to file your case before the deadline expires, otherwise you will lose your right to have the court hear your case (and with it, your right to get compensation for your injuries).

Hawaii's Dog Bite Liability Law

Hawaii's dog bite statute appears in section 663-9 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes. It specifies that a dog's owner or harborer is liable for injuries the dog causes to another person or property if:

  • the injuries are "proximately," or foreseeably, caused by the dog,
  • the injured person was not trespassing, and
  • the injured person did not provoke the dog.

The statute specifies that the owner or harborer is liable regardless of whether or not the owner or harborer knew the dog was aggressive or likely to bite. In this sense, Hawaii's dog bite statute is a "strict liability" law, meaning that an injured person does not need to show fault on the part of the dog's owner.

Hawaii also allows animal injury cases to be based on negligence, or the argument that the dog owner's failure to use reasonable care -- for instance, to adequately fence in a dangerous dog or to follow a leash law -- caused the injuries. Hawaii's law applies both to injuries inflicted by dog bites and injuries dogs cause in other ways. For instance, the statute applies if a dog leaps on a person and knocks the person down, causing injuries, even if no biting took place.

Defenses Against a Hawaii Dog Bite Claim

Hawaii law gives dog owners two possible defenses to a dog bite claim: provocation and trespassing (in addition to other common personal injury defenses that might be raised by a dog owner in response to a lawsuit).

Provocation occurs when a person goads a dog into biting or inflicting injury. For instance, a person may provoke a dog by poking it with a stick, kicking or hitting it, throwing objects at it, harassing the dog's puppies, or by any number of other behaviors. Hawaii law specifies that if an injured person "teased, tormented, or otherwise abused" a dog without the owner's or harborer's involvement or encouragement, the injured person cannot hold the owner or harborer liable.

Trespassing occurs when a person is on private property belonging to another without permission, or without a legal duty that requires the person's presence, like performance of law enforcement or mail delivery obligations. Hawaii's dog bite laws also specify that a person who is trespassing when a dog causes injury cannot hold the dog's owner or harborer liable for the injuries suffered. This rule is consistent with the rule in many states that homeowner liability for trespasser injuries is limited.

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