Alabama has several laws that affect dog bite injury cases, and we'll look at a few of those here. We'll start with the deadlines for filing a dog bite claim in court, and then we'll examine Alabama's "dog bite statutes." Finally, we'll talk about the defenses a dog's owner might argue during a lawsuit in Alabama.
Alabama has a statute of limitations that creates a deadline for filing any injury-related case in the state's civil court system. In Alabama, a person injured by a dog bite has two years to file a lawsuit. Usually, this two-year window starts on the date of the injury.
When an Alabama court receives an injury lawsuit that was filed after the statute of limitations has expired, it nearly always throws the case out without hearing it. Filing within the two-year time limit preserves your right to have your case heard in an Alabama court, making it crucial to file before the time period passes.
Section 3-6-1 of the Code of Alabama deals with dog bite injuries. It states that a dog's owner is liable for injuries caused by the dog if:
Alabama's statute applies to all injuries caused by dogs, not just dog bites. For instance, if a dog jumps on a person and knocks him down, causing injury, the statute applies. Alabama's dog bite law does not apply to situations in which a dog injures a person in a public place, like a sidewalk or a park, or on a third party's private property. However, a person injured by a dog in one of these situations may bring a lawsuit based on the legal theory of negligence. In a negligence case, the injured person will have to demonstrate that the dog's owner failed to use reasonable care to control the dog or otherwise prevent the bite from occurring, and that the injuries would not have happened but for the owner's lack of reasonable care. Showing that the owner failed to obey a leash law is one way -- but not the only way -- an injured person might demonstrate negligence.
Most states choose whether to use a "strict liability" or a "one bite" approach when it comes to dog bites and other dog-inflicted injuries. A "strict liability" approach holds dog owners responsible regardless of whether the dog has acted aggressively before. A "one bite" approach requires the dog's owner to know or have reason to know the dog is aggressive before that owner can be held liable. Alabama uses an unusual combination of these two approaches. In Alabama, a dog's owner is liable for the actual costs of the injury -- including medical expenses and lost wages -- regardless of whether the owner knew the dog might be aggressive. The owner cannot be held liable for punitive damages or statutory damages, however, unless he or she knew the dog was aggressive.
Alabama's dog bite law provides three possible defenses to a dog bite claim: provocation, trespassing, and location. The statute specifies that an owner is not liable if an injured person provoked the dog, such as by teasing, tormenting, or abusing it. The theory is that the dog would not have injured the person if it had not been provoked, and that therefore the provoking person, not the owner, is responsible for the injuries suffered.
Alabama's statute requires an injured person to be "lawfully" on private property when injured in order to collect damages. "Lawfully" includes people who are invited onto property for a business or social visit, as well as people who are carrying out certain duties, like mail carriers and utility inspectors. People who are on another's private property without permission or a duty are considered "trespassers" and cannot collect damages under Alabama's dog bite law. (Homeowner liability for trespasser injuries is typically limited regardless of the cause of the injury.)
Finally, a dog's owner might argue that the statute does not apply because the injured person was not on the owner's property or just leaving the owner's property when the injury occurred. However, a person injured on public property or a third party's private property can still seek compensation under a negligence theory (as discussed above), just not under the statute.