In this article, we'll examine some key points of Missouri state laws as they pertain to dog bite cases, including the deadlines for filing a Missouri dog bite lawsuit in court. We'll also look at Missouri's dog bite statutes and Missouri's status as a "strict liability" dog bite state. We'll finish with a brief discussion of the legal defenses available to dog owners who face a dog bite lawsuit in Missouri.
Missouri law sets a deadline for filing any kind of personal injury case in a state court, including dog bite cases. In Missouri, an injured person has five years under the state's statute of limitations to bring a dog bite case to court. This five-year deadline usually starts running on the date of the injury.
It's important to know when the deadline expires in your case, because it affects whether or not the court will agree to hear your lawsuit. If you file after the five-year deadline has expired, a Missouri court will almost certainly refuse to hear your case.
Missouri has a law that specifically covers dog bite injuries. Section 273.036 of the Missouri Revised Statutes allows a person injured by a dog bite to hold a dog owner liable if:
Missouri's dog bite statute allows an injured person to seek damages from a dog's owner even if the owner did not know that the dog would bite someone and even if the dog owner was not negligent in handling the dog.
Missouri uses a "strict liability" rule when it comes to dog bites. "Strict liability" means that the dog's owner is liable if the dog bites a person, even if the owner did not know and could not have known the dog would be aggressive. The alternative rule, used in some states, is the "one bite" rule, which requires the dog's owner to have known the dog would likely bite in order to be held liable. Missouri does not follow the "one bite" rule.
Missouri's strict liability rule only applies to injuries caused by dog bites. If an injury is caused by some other dog behavior, like jumping, the injured person will have to bring a standard negligence case in order to demonstrate that the dog's owner should be held liable for damages.
Missouri has three commonly-used defenses against dog bite claims: provocation, trespassing, and comparative negligence.
Missouri's dog bite statute specifies that the dog's owner is not liable for a bite if the bitten person provoked the dog. For instance, if a person pokes a dog repeatedly with a stick and the dog responds by biting the person, the owner may not be held liable.
Similarly, Missouri's dog bite statute specifies that the bitten person must be either on public property or "lawfully" on private property. If a person is trespassing and is bitten by a dog, the dog's owner may not be liable for the bite. (Homeowner liability for trespasser injuries may also be limited in other ways.)
Finally, Missouri's dog bite law allows dog bite owners to argue that the person bitten was partly or completely responsible for the injury. This doctrine is known as comparative negligence, and it allows a court to reduce or eliminate damages based on the amount of fault assigned to the injured person. Missouri uses a "pure" comparative negligence rule, which reduces damages based on the percentage of fault assigned to the injured person, regardless of the size of the percentage. For instance, if a person injured by a dog bite is found to be 80 percent responsible for the injury, the court will reduce the total damages award by 80 percent, leaving the injured person with a 20 percent award.