If you're involved in a dog-bite incident in Louisiana, you'll want to know about the state's civil liability rules. Separately, state law and local government ordinances about dangerous dogs can come into play. Knowing the rules is key if you own a dog or have been injured by someone else's pet.
Each state has its own rules for dog-bite liability. The three common approaches are:
Louisiana law uses aspects of all three of these approaches to decide dog owners' liability.
Louisiana has a "limited strict liability" rule for injuries caused by dogs, which means that owners are automatically liable in most instances. But there are two very important exceptions:
(La. Civ. Code Art. 2321 (2023).)
To decide if an injury was preventable, courts have to determine if the animal presented an "unreasonable risk of harm." To make that determination, courts have to ask the kinds of questions that are usually used to decide if someone was negligent. These include whether:
As the following examples show, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to when a Louisiana owner is strictly liable for injuries caused by their dog—it will depend on how a judge or jury views the facts of the case.
Louisiana courts have found that there was an unreasonable risk of harm, and that the owner was therefore strictly liable, in situations like these.
Failure to take proper precautions to protect people from an aggressive dog. An owner knew their dog was aggressive, and kept it tethered in the backyard to keep it away from passersby. But the tether was long enough, and the backyard fence was low enough, to allow the dog to bite someone walking past the property. The court found the owner strictly liable because he didn't do enough to protect people from his dog. (Becker v. Keasler, 950 So. 2d 92 (La. Ct. App. 2007.)
Failure to keep children away from a large dog with no history of aggression. The owner of a large Chow Chow dog kept it tethered in a fenced-in yard and posted some warning signs. The owner's adult daughter invited a family into the yard; one of the young children was bitten when she petted the dog. The court decided that, even though the dog had never been aggressive before, the owner created an unreasonable risk of harm because she didn't do enough to make sure children didn't approach her dog. (McBride v. XYZ Insurance, 935 So. 2d 326 (La. Ct. App. 2006).)
An aggressive dog escapes and commits an attack. An animal control officer came to the dog owner's home to investigate a reported dog bite. The owner walked outside to speak with the officer, closing the front door behind her. The dog escaped the home and mauled the officer. The court found that there was an unreasonable risk of harm because, despite knowing that the dog was aggressive and had escaped the house before, the owner didn't take the precaution of making sure the front door was securely locked. (Gonzales v. Kissner, 24 So. 3d 214 (La. Ct. App. 2009).)
On the other hand, Louisiana courts have found that there was no unreasonable risk of harm, and therefore decided not to impose strict liability, in cases like the ones below.
An aggressive dog bites a trespasser. The victim was bitten after entering the owner's yard to retrieve his child's ball. The dog was territorial, and had previously bitten a trespassing child. The owner had taken precautions that included not inviting people into the yard and double-checking the security of his fence and gate. The court found that the dog didn't present an unreasonable risk of harm and that the bite victim had put himself in harm's way. (Pepper v. Triplet, 864 So. 2d 181 (La. 2004).)
A playful dog trips someone working in the owners' home. A housekeeper was injured when the owners' puppy got underfoot and caused her to fall. The court reasoned that the housekeeper knew the puppy was playful but didn't take the precaution of closing the door to keep it away from her. The court also decided that any potential risk posed by a puppy's playful behavior was outweighed by the benefits the family got from owning the dog. (Williams v. Galofaro, 79 So. 3d 1068 (La. Ct. App. 2011).)
A dog with no history of aggression bites someone who tried to nuzzle it. The owner was working in his front yard when his neighbor walked over to speak with him. The neighbor stopped and pet the dog, and was bitten when he leaned down to nuzzle it. The court sympathized with the neighbor but didn't find the dog owner liable for the "unfortunate incident." It noted that the dog had never been aggressive, was securely tethered, and only bit after the neighbor held its head from behind. (Fournet v. Stoufflet, 352 So. 3d 996 (La. Ct. App. 2022).)
Even if a Louisiana court decides that an owner isn't strictly liable, it can still find that the owner is liable because they were negligent. To show negligence, a plaintiff (the person suing) has to prove that an owner failed in their duty to keep people safe from their dog.
In one case, an owner had her dog on a metal wire leash. When the dog bolted toward a pedestrian, the owner let go of the leash because it was hurting her hand; her dog then bit the pedestrian several times. A jury decided that the owner wasn't strictly liable but had been negligent. An appeals court agreed that the dog owner was negligent, saying that:
Louisiana's strict liability rule doesn't apply when a dog has been provoked, but the owner can still sometimes be found negligent for not controlling their pet. For example, in one case, two dog owners were participating in an obedience class when the defendant's dog bit the plaintiff. The bite happened after the plaintiff failed to follow instructions and let his dog get too close to the defendant's dog. The court said that strict liability didn't apply because the plaintiff's actions had provoked the defendant's dog. But it also said that the defendant was negligent for not being more careful about keeping his dog under control in a room full of other dogs and owners. (Nelson v. Lakey, 917 So. 2d 678 (La. Ct. App. 2005).)
Unlike some states, Louisiana's dog-bite law doesn't use the concept of negligence per se in dog-bite cases. Under negligence per se, defendants who fail to follow public safety laws are automatically negligent if someone is hurt as a result. For example, a court would assume a dog owner was negligent for ignoring a local leash ordinance and thereby allowing their dog to run over and bite someone.
In Louisiana, that sort of rule-breaking doesn't make an owner negligent per se. But it's something judges and juries will consider when deciding if an owner was being responsible. (Ducote v. Boleware, 216 So. 3d 934 (La. Ct. App. 2016).)
The best defense for an owner whose dog bit someone is often that the victim was completely or partially responsible for their own injuries.
As covered above, an owner won't be held strictly liable for a dog attack if they can show that their dog was provoked. Sometimes "provocation" means that the victim was intentionally teasing or hurting the dog, or threatening its owner. But a victim can also provoke a dog by accident. For example, courts in Louisiana have found that these acts either could or did count as provocation:
(Fournet v. Stoufflet, 352 So. 3d 996 (La. Ct. App. 2022), Kshirsagar v. State Farm Ins. Co., 300 So. 3d 914 (La. Ct. App. 2020), Thibodeaux v. Krouse, 991 So. 2d 1126 (La. Ct. App. 2008).)
Importantly, though, determining that the defendant's dog was provoked often isn't the end of the story. From there, a judge or jury can decide either that:
Even if a dog owner is found responsible for a victim's injuries, an important issue is whether the victim was negligent at all.
Louisiana uses a "comparative negligence" system, which means that a defendant only has to pay damages in proportion to their responsibility for a victim's injuries. For example, in the case where the defendant's dog bit the plaintiff during an obedience class, the appeals court decided that:
If a plaintiff in a dog-bite lawsuit wins, the defendant has to pay damages. Damages can include:
If you've been injured by someone's dog, keep in mind that:
Every state uses statutes of limitations to create deadlines for filing personal injury lawsuits. Louisiana's deadline for all personal injury cases, including dog-bite cases, is one year. Except in extraordinary circumstances, a dog-bite victim who misses this one-year deadline will completely lose their right to sue. (La. Civ. Code Art. 3492 (2023).)
Apart from civil lawsuits, Louisiana has laws designed to protect the public from dogs that might pose a threat. Here are some of the key rules:
(La. Rev Stat § 14:102.13 (2023).)
Keep in mind that municipalities in Louisiana can have their own ordinances that impose additional requirements on dogs and their owners. If you have questions about how the law applies to you and your pet, make sure to check the rules for your town, city, or parish.
Louisiana state law defines a "dangerous" dog as one that has, without provocation:
A court that decides that a dog's behavior fits any of those circumstances can declare that the animal is dangerous and order the owner to take steps to protect the public. These steps include:
Owners who don't follow these rules can be fined hundreds of dollars. (La. Rev Stat § 14:102.14 (2023).)
In addition, dangerous dogs must be vaccinated and licensed if they aren't already. And municipalities in Louisiana can charge owners extra fees to cover the cost of the paperwork to license dangerous dogs. (La. Rev Stat § 14:102.17 (2023).)
Finally, if necessary for public safety, a court can order a dangerous dog taken away and bar the owner from owning any dog for up to three years. (La. Rev Stat § 14:102.13 (2023).)
Louisiana state law defines a "vicious" dog as one that:
When a dog is declared vicious it will be taken from its owner and euthanized. The owner can also be barred from dog ownership for three years.
It's illegal to own a vicious dog—an owner who keeps possession of a dog that's been declared vicious can be fined up to $500 and jailed for up to six months. (La. Rev Stat § 14:102.15 (2023).)
A dog can't be declared dangerous or vicious if the owner can show that there was a good reason for its behavior. For example, dogs are generally allowed to:
There are also exceptions for dogs whose owners were using them for hunting, herding, or predator control. (La. Rev Stat § 14:102.13 (2023).)
Some cities and parishes in Louisiana have special rules that apply only to certain dog breeds. This breed-specific legislation usually targets pit bulls and sometimes applies to other breeds as well, including Rottweilers and Dobermans.
Depending on the municipality, certain breeds may be banned completely, or their owners may have to follow special rules designed to protect the public and keep track of the dog.
If you've been hurt by someone's dog, or are facing legal issues with your own pet, it's important to understand how Louisiana law applies to your circumstances. If you have questions about your situation, it might be helpful to speak with an attorney who's handled similar cases.