Montana Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

When is the owner liable for dog bite injuries in a personal injury claim or lawsuit in Montana?

In Montana, dog bite injuries are covered by a combination of statutory law and common law. We'll look at the key areas of law that apply in a Montana dog bite case in this article. First, we'll look at the time limits for filing a Montana dog bite lawsuit in court. Then we'll examine Montana's dog bite statute and the negligence law that also applies to dog bite claims. Finally, we'll talk about the two main defenses that a dog owner can raise in a dog bite lawsuit.

Time Limits on Filing Montana Dog Bite Injury Lawsuits

Anyone who is injured by a dog in Montana has a limited amount of time to file a case in court under the state's statute of limitations. In Montana, you must file a dog bite injury lawsuit in the state's civil court system within three years  of your injury. If you file your case after this three-year deadline has expired, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear it.

In most dog bite cases, the three-year window to file your lawsuit begins on the date of the injury. Certain circumstances can change when the statute of limitations begins to run, however. It's important to speak to an attorney about your specific situation in order to determine exactly how the three-year statute of limitations applies in your case.

Montana's Dog Bite Statute

Montana Statutes section  27-1-715  applies to specific dog bite cases in Montana. The statute allows an injured person to hold a dog's owner liable if:

  • the injury was caused by a dog bite,
  • the injured person was on public property or lawfully on private property,
  • the incident took place within the limits of an incorporated city or town, and
  • the injured person did not provoke the dog.

The statute is a "strict liability" statute, which means that a dog's owner can be held liable regardless of whether or not the owner knew the dog might act viciously.

In order for the statute to apply, however, all the conditions listed above must be met. For instance, if an injury was not caused by a bite or the incident did not take place inside city or town limits, the statute does not apply.

People who are injured in situations where the statute doesn't apply may still file an injury lawsuit, however, based on Montana's law of negligence.

How Negligence Affects Montana Dog Bite Cases

In cases where Montana's dog bite statute does not apply, injured people may still seek compensation by bringing a  negligence  claim. In a negligence claim, the injured person must show that the dog's owner failed to use reasonable care in controlling or restraining the dog, and that this failure caused the injury.

Because Montana's dog bite statute applies only to bites, another type of injury caused by a dog would typically be the topic of a negligence claim. For instance, suppose that a person is walking alongside a road when a large dog runs up and jumps on the person, knocking him down and causing injuries. Because these injuries were not caused by a bite, the person could not use the dog bite law as a basis for an injury claim, but he could file a negligence claim.

Defenses to Montana Dog Bite Lawsuits

A dog's owner who faces a dog bite or other injury claim in Montana has two available defenses: provocation and trespassing (in addition to other  common defenses in personal injury cases).

Provocation occurs when the injured person treats the dog in a way that causes the dog to bite. Teasing, tormenting, or abusing a dog are all examples of provocation. In Montana, if an injured person provokes a dog so that it bites or causes other injuries, that person is typically barred from collecting damages from the dog's owner.

People injured by dogs in Montana are also typically unable to recover damages if they were trespassing at the time of the injury. A person who is trespassing is on private property without the permission of the owner or without any legal duty that requires them to be on the property, like law enforcement or mail delivery.  A property owner's liability for injuries to trespassers  is typically limited in negligence cases, and Montana's dog bite statute makes it clear that a trespassing person cannot use the dog bite law to hold an owner liable.

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