Wisconsin Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

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

In Wisconsin, a specific statute governs dog bites and other dog-related injuries, but other state laws can also affect a dog bite case. In this article, we'll examine these laws in more detail, including Wisconsin's statute of limitations on dog bite injuries and the effect of its "comparative negligence" law on dog bite cases. We'll also look at the text of Wisconsin's dog bite law and how it operates to create "strict liability" for dog bites.

Statute of Limitations for Dog Bite Injury Cases

Wisconsin law imposes a time limit, or statute of limitations, of three years on dog-related injury claims. This means that a person injured by a dog in Wisconsin has three years to file his or her lawsuit in court. This three-year time limit typically starts to run on the date the injury occurs.

Cases that are filed in a Wisconsin court after the statute of limitations has expired are nearly always thrown out without a hearing. This means it's crucial to file your case before the three-year deadline expires in order to protect your right to bring your case to court.

Wisconsin's Dog Bite Statute

Wisconsin Statutes section 174.02 allows injured people to hold a dog's owner liable in many situations in which the dog causes injury. The statute holds owners liable when a dog causes injury to a person, another animal, or property. If the dog's owner "was notified or knew" the dog had caused such an injury before, the owner is liable for double the amount of damages.

Because the statute references injury generally, without specifying what type of injury, it applies both to injuries that result from dog bites and injuries that result from other kinds of dog behavior. For instance, a person bitten by a dog may seek damages under the statute, and so may a person who was injured when a dog jumped on him and knocked him down. The owner of a domestic animal or property may also seek damages if a dog's behavior causes damage to the animal or property.

"Strict Liability" Dog Bite Law in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is a "strict liability" dog bite state, which means that a dog's owner may be held liable for injuries the dog causes, whether or not the owner knew the dog was dangerous or would act in an injury-causing way. States that don't follow the "strict liability" formula tend to use a "one bite" rule instead, requiring the owner to know the dog is dangerous -- usually, because the dog has bitten someone before -- before they can be held liable for damages.

Wisconsin's statute differs from the strict liability imposed in many other states because, while it allows owners to be held liable regardless of their knowledge of their dog's dangerousness, it also allows owners to be held liable for double the amount of damages if the owner did know the dog was dangerous.

Defenses to Dog Bite Claims

A dog owner facing a dog bite or dog injury case in a Wisconsin court may raise several possible defenses. Many of these defenses are based in Wisconsin's negligence laws, including an argument known as "comparative negligence."

A "comparative negligence" argument asserts that the injured person was partly or completely responsible for his or her injuries, and that therefore the injured person should receive reduced (or no) damages. Wisconsin's dog bite statute specifies that the state's comparative negligence rule applies to dog bite cases. For instance, if a dog owner can show that the injured person was provoking the dog, the owner may be able to show that the act of provoking the dog makes the injured person partly or totally responsible for his or her own injuries.

Wisconsin is a "modified" comparative fault state. This means that if an injured person is 50 percent or less responsible for his or her own injuries, the damages will be reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to the injured person -- but, if the injured person is 51 percent or more at fault, the damages award drops to zero automatically and the injured person cannot recover any damages from other parties who may share fault. This rule applies both to cases in which the dog's owner had no notice the dog was dangerous and to cases in which the dog's owner did know the dog was dangerous.

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