Indiana Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

When is the owner liable for dog bite injuries in a personal injury claim or lawsuit in Indiana?

Indiana has a number of state statutes that can impact dog bite injury cases. In this article, we'll look at some of these laws, including the time limits for filing a dog bite lawsuit in court and how an injured person might argue that a dog's owner should be held liable for a bite. Finally, we'll discuss a few defenses that a dog owner might raise when facing a dog bite lawsuit.

Time Limits on Indiana Dog Bite Lawsuits

Indiana sets a time limit of two years on personal injury lawsuits, including those arising from dog bites. This time limit, known as a statute of limitations, gives an injured person two years from the date of the injury to file his or her lawsuit in Indiana's civil court system.

If the case is not filed in court within two years, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear it. This makes it crucial to keep track of the time limits and to get your initial complaint filed before the two years expires.

Indiana Dog Bite Law

Indiana generally follows a "one bite" rule or a "negligence" rule when it comes to dog bite cases. Special types of cases are also covered by a specific dog bite statute in Indiana, which we'll discuss below.

The "one bite" rule holds that a dog owner is liable for injuries the dog causes if the owner knew or had reason to know the dog would bite or act aggressively. How this prior knowledge is proven in court depends on the facts of each case. For instance, if a dog's owner knows the dog bit someone before, that knowledge might be used to show the owner knew the dog might bite. Prior aggressive or dangerous behavior by the dog might also be used to show the owner knew or should have known the dog might cause injuries.

The negligence rule doesn't depend specifically on what the owner knew about the dog. Rather, it is used to argue that the owner failed to use reasonable care to prevent the injury caused by the dog. Negligence cases are frequently used to seek compensation not only for dog bites, but for other kinds of injuries caused by dogs. For example, if a dog jumps on a person and knocks him down, causing injury, that person might argue the dog's owner failed to use reasonable care to prevent the dog from jumping.

Indiana's Dog Bite Statute

Indiana has a dog bite statute, IC 15-20-1-3, that applies only in specific circumstances. Under this statute, a dog's owner is liable if the dog bites a person who:

  • is acting peaceably,
  • did not provoke the dog, and
  • is in a place he or she is required to be in order to carry out a duty imposed by state or federal law or postal regulations.

This statute primarily applies to those who are carrying out a legal duty, like police officers, firefighters, and postal workers who are doing their jobs. It does not typically apply to private citizens carrying out their own business on public property or on private property.

Defenses to an Indiana Dog Bite Claim

A dog owner facing an Indiana dog bite claim has several possible defenses, including comparative negligence and trespassing.

"Comparative negligence," also known as "comparative fault," describes a situation in which an injured person is partly or totally responsible for his or her injuries. One example is when a person provokes a dog, which then bites. Indiana applies a "modified" comparative fault rule that allows an injured person to recover a reduced amount of damages if his or her fault is less than 50 percent, but to recover no damages at all if his or her fault is 50 percent or more.

Trespassing is another possible defense to a dog bite injury. A person who is trespassing has entered private property without permission and may not be able to recover damages if bitten by a dog while on that property, in keeping with Indiana's limits on homeowner liability for trespasser injuries. Indiana's dog bite statute specifically eliminates trespassing as a defense when a dog bites someone carrying out a legal duty, however, even if that person did not explicitly ask for permission to enter the property.

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