Dogs are beloved companions, but ownership comes with significant legal responsibilities. Arizona law imposes "strict" liability on dog owners in most situations. That means you don't even have to know your pet could be dangerous to be held legally liable for a bite or other attack.
On the other side of things, if you've been bitten by a dog you may not be able to sue if you were trespassing or provoked the animal. This article will tell you what you need to understand about dog-bite lawsuits in Arizona. We'll also tell Arizona dog owners what they should know about the state's approach to pets that might be vicious or aggressive.
If you've been injured by a dog in Arizona, you may be able to file a civil lawsuit against the owner based on:
These approaches apply in different situations and demand different kinds of proof from plaintiffs. Here's how each option works.
Arizona's dog-bite laws use a strict liability standard. Under Arizona Revised Statute 11-1025 an owner can be held liable any time their dog bites someone, even if they didn't have any reason to think their dog could be dangerous. That distinguishes Arizona from states that follow a so-called "one-bite rule", which is more forgiving of owners who didn't know their dog might hurt someone.
The same strict liability standard applies to injuries caused by a dog that's "at large." That's the legal term in Arizona for a dog that's not on a leash, and also not confined to an enclosed area like a fenced-in yard. If an at-large dog causes an injury, the owner or the person who was responsible for the dog (for example, a dog-walker or a friend who was pet-sitting) can be held liable.
Importantly, the law covering at-large dogs applies to injuries other than bites. For example, it would cover a sprained ankle or broken wrist suffered by someone who was knocked off their feet by a large and overly-friendly dog. It also applies to property damage caused by the at-large dog.
Arizona's strict liability laws don't cover every situation in which someone is injured by a dog. For example, they don't address situations where someone is injured—but not bitten—by a dog that isn't at large. What happens if, for example, that overly-friendly dog was on a leash when it knocked you over and caused your broken wrist?
In a situation like that you wouldn't be able to file a lawsuit based specifically on Arizona's dog-bite laws—which means that strict liability wouldn't apply. Instead, you'd need to file a lawsuit claiming that your injury was caused by negligence on the part of the dog's owner or handler.
Unlike with strict liability, proving negligence requires you to show that the person responsible for the dog didn't take the precautions they should have to protect people and property from the animal. That might include, for example, showing that the dog hadn't been properly restrained, or that the person handling the dog was focused on their phone and ignoring their dog's aggressive behavior.
In Arizona the authorities can classify a dog as either "aggressive" or "dangerous" based on its behavior or its propensity for attacking and endangering people. Let's look at the legal impact of these classifications on dogs and their owners.
An "aggressive" dog is one that either:
We'll talk more below about what "provocation" means in Arizona's dog-bite laws. The key point to remember here, though, is that people who own (or are responsible for) aggressive dogs have legal obligations that go beyond what's required of most pet owners. You must take reasonable steps to prevent the dog from escaping the residence or enclosed area where you keep it. And, if you take an aggressive dog off of your property, you must take reasonable precautions to prevent it from attacking people or domestic animals.
Failure to do either of these things is a criminal offense—you could be found guilty of a misdemeanor and penalized with fines or even jail time.
A "vicious" dog is one that has "a propensity to attack, to cause injury to or to otherwise endanger the safety of human beings without provocation." If a dog is found to be vicious the consequences can be severe both for the owner and the animal.
Owners of vicious dogs in Arizona can face fines and prison time if they fail to control the animal. An owner who fails to take reasonable steps to prevent a vicious dog from escaping its enclosure could be found guilty of a misdemeanor. There are even more severe consequences for the owner if a vicious dog bites, attacks, or injures someone while it's off-leash. In that case, the owner could be found guilty of a felony and face up to two-and-a-half years in prison.
Keep in mind that an owner could face these penalties after a single incident, even if their dog hasn't previously been declared "vicious" by the authorities. It's enough that, before the incident, the owner knew (or should have known) that their dog had a propensity to attack, injure, or endanger people.
If the authorities decide that a dog is vicious it can be taken from its owner and might be euthanized. The police or animal control can impound a dog if they think there's probable cause (in other words, a good reason to believe) that the dog is vicious. But, before an animal can be officially declared vicious and possibly euthanized, owners are entitled to a hearing where they can argue on behalf of their dog.
Arizona, unlike some states, does not classify certain dogs (such as pit bulls) as vicious or dangerous based on their breed. In fact, Arizona law specifically prohibits courts, judges and other officials from taking a dog's breed into account when determining whether the dog is aggressive or vicious. The state also does not allow a dog's breed to play a role in determining whether an owner or handler is liable for injuries caused by that dog.
Arizona dog owners can raise two defenses to a dog-bite injury claim.
The first defense is that the injured person was trespassing when the dog attacked them. Arizona's dog-bite statute only applies if the victim was:
It might still be possible for a trespasser to win a dog-bite lawsuit, but it would require seriously bad behavior by the owner (for example, siccing an attack dog on someone who was cutting across the property).
The second defense to a dog-bite lawsuit in Arizona is provocation. As you've seen already, many of the rules for dogs in Arizona—including the state's main dog-bite law—make clear that the dog's bad behavior must be unprovoked.
Arizona law doesn't have a specific definition for "provocation," or a list of actions people should avoid. Instead, the law just says that provocation is anything a reasonable person would expect to provoke a dog. This means that whether a dog's been provoked has to be decided on a case-by-case basis. But it's safe to assume that Arizona law won't be sympathetic to a plaintiff who was harassing, chasing, or abusing a dog before they were bitten.
If you file a dog-bite lawsuit in Arizona your case will follow the same general rules that apply to any personal injury lawsuit in Arizona. If the dog's owner (or handler) is found liable for your your injuries then they (or their insurance company) would have to pay to cover your damages. You could be compensated for economic damages like medical bills and time missed at work, as well as non-economic damages like any "pain and suffering" caused by the incident.
Of course, not every dog-bite incident will result in significant consequences. If the incident wasn't traumatic and the injuries were relatively minor, it makes sense to consider whether a lawsuit is worth the time and effort.
Every state has statutes of limitations that impose deadlines for filing a lawsuit. In Arizona there are two statutes of limitations to be aware of for dog-bite cases. You have:
Courts only extend these deadlines in exceptional circumstances, so if you've been injured by a dog you should plan on moving quickly if you might want to pursue a lawsuit.
Whether you've been injured by someone else's dog, or have concerns about a problem involving your pet, you should make sure you understand your legal rights and options. In some situations, it might make sense to handle things yourself. But if the stakes are high—for example, you've been seriously injured, or you're at risk of losing your pet—it may be helpful to consult with an attorney who has experience with dog-bite and animal law cases.