New Mexico Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

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

New Mexico is one of the few U.S. states without a specific dog bite liability statute. Instead, New Mexico dog bite cases follow rules set by the state supreme court (and other appeals courts) in previous cases. We'll look at a few of these cases in this article, and the rules they created. We'll also examine the defenses available to dog owners. We will start, however, with the deadlines for filing dog bite lawsuits in New Mexico.

Deadlines for Filing a Claim

After a dog bite in New Mexico, an injured person who wants to file a civil lawsuit has a limited amount of time to file. Under New Mexico's statute of limitations, an injured person has three years to bring an personal injury case to court. If the case is filed after the three-year deadline passes, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear the case.

New Mexico Dog Bite Law

New Mexico uses a combination of "one bite" and negligence rules to decide dog bite cases.

The "one bite" rule focuses on the dog owner's knowledge. In order to hold a dog owner liable for injuries that the dog causes, the injured person must show that the dog's owner knew the dog was aggressive. One way to show this is by proving that the dog has already committed "one bite" against someone else. However, a prior bite is not required if evidence exists that the dog has acted aggressively in other ways, and that the owner knew or should have known about that behavior.

New Mexico law requires that a dog's previous aggressiveness be acted out toward another human being. Evidence that a dog has acted aggressively toward other animals is not enough to establish the knowledge of aggressiveness required to hold the dog's owner liable for injuries.

Negligence cases focus on a slightly different question: whether or not the dog's owner or another person used reasonable care to prevent a dog bite injury. New Mexico allows people injured by dog bites to bring negligence-based cases to court. In a negligence dog bite case, the injured person must demonstrate that the owner knew or should have known about the dog's aggressiveness, but failed to use reasonable care to control or restrain the dog in a way that would prevent injury.

Defenses in New Mexico Dog Bite Cases

New Mexico law gives dog owners several ways to argue that they should not be liable for injuries their dogs cause. Because Mexico is a "one bite" state, the first defense most dog owners raise is that they did not know and could not have known that their dog had any aggressive tendencies.

Also, because the previous aggressiveness must have been aimed at a human being, a dog owner might also argue that while he or she knew the dog acted aggressively toward other animals, the owner didn't know and couldn't have known that any aggressiveness would be aimed at a person.

New Mexico's dog bite law also allows dog owners to argue that the injured person provoked the dog into causing injuries. Most states make provocation an exception to liability, but New Mexico's rule is different: in New Mexico, provocation is only a defense if the injured person knew or should have known the dog would act aggressively when provoked. That's a much tougher standard for a dog owner to meet when trying to use the provocation defense.

Finally, if the injured person was trespassing at the time of injury, a dog owner facing a negligence-based dog bite case might argue that property owner liability for trespasser injuries is typically limited in negligence cases, and that the same principle should apply here. A dog owner might also argue that New Mexico's principles of comparative negligence should limit or eliminate liability.

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