Alaska is one of only a few U.S. states to have no specific statute covering dog bite liability. Instead, dog bite cases in Alaska are based on court decisions handed down in the state over the years. In this article, we'll examine how past dog bite cases have shaped Alaska's dog bite injury law. We'll also look at the state's time limits for filing dog bite injury cases in court, and we'll look at some of the defenses available to owners whose dogs inflict injury on others.
Each state's statute of limitations limits the time available to file a case in court after an injury. In Alaska, a dog bite injury lawsuit must be filed within two years. If a lawsuit is filed more than two years after the date of the injury, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear it.
Normally, the statute of limitations begins running on the date of the injury. However, in some cases, the specific facts of the injury or other events can change how the two-year filing window works. So, it's important to do your own research into the specifics of the law or speak to an Alaska attorney who can help you determine exactly when the deadline to file falls in your case.
Alaska follows a "one bite" rule when it comes to dog bite claims. This means, in order to hold a dog's owner liable for injuries, an injured person must prove that the dog's owner knew or had reason to know the dog was aggressive. In many cases, this knowledge can be demonstrated by showing that the owner knew the dog had bitten someone in the past. However, evidence of a prior bite is not necessary if other evidence exists that the dog was aggressive or prone to attack.
In Alaska, the responsibility to protect third parties from dogs known to be dangerous isn't limited to the dog's owner. In Alaskan Village, Inc. v. Smalley, 720 P. 2d 945 (Alaska 1986), the Alaska Supreme Court held that landlords or rental management companies can also be held responsible if they know a tenant has a dangerous dog, and they do not take steps to protect others on the property, or visitors to the property. That same case also held that if the dog's owner acts with malice or reckless indifference and an injury results, the owner can be held liable for punitive damages.
Because Alaska requires an owner to know or have reason to know a dog is dangerous, the most common defense raised in an Alaska dog bite case is that the owner had no such knowledge and no way of knowing about the dog's dangerous propensities. However, other defenses, including defenses related to negligence claims, may also be raised.
For instance, a dog's owner may argue that the injured person was partly or totally responsible for the injuries and that therefore Alaska's rules of comparative negligence should apply to reduce the dog owner's liability according to the percentage of fault assigned to the injured person. Or if an injured person was trespassing, the dog's owner may argue that principles limiting homeowner liability for trespasser injuries ought to apply to the case. In each case, the specific defenses raised will depend on the facts involved.