New Hampshire's "strict liability" dog bite law holds dog owners responsible for injuries their dogs inflict in a wide range of situations. We'll discuss the text of the law and how it applies to dog-related injuries in this article. We'll also talk about the time limits for filing a New Hampshire dog bite lawsuit in court after an injury occurs, and the defenses a dog's owner might raise in court in response to such a lawsuit.
After a dog bite injury, an injured person in New Hampshire must file any civil court case within three years under the state's statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits.
Typically, this three-year "window" to file a dog bite claim opens on the date of the injury and closes three calendar years later. What happens if you miss the window? Cases filed after the statute of limitations has expired are nearly always thrown out by the court. To preserve your opportunity to "have your day in court" after a dog bite injury in New Hampshire, it's critical to pay attention to and abide by the statute of limitations.
New Hampshire's dog bite law appears in section 466:19 of the New Hampshire Revised Statutes. It allows people who suffer personal injury or property damage caused by a dog to hold the dog's owner liable in a lawsuit. The statute does not apply, however, if the injured person was trespassing or committing another tort (civil wrong) at the time of the injury.
Although this statute is often called the "dog bite" law, it actually applies to all types of injuries and property damage caused by dogs, not just to dog bites. It even covers injuries that are inflicted by dogs only indirectly. For instance, in Bohan v. Ritzo, 141 N.H. 210, 218 (1996), the New Hampshire Supreme Court held that a dog owner was liable for injuries suffered when the owner's dog scared a bicyclist, causing him to crash.
If a dog causes injury due to the negligence of a person who is not the dog's owner or keeper, the injured person may not seek compensation under the statute. However, the person may bring an injury claim under New Hampshire's negligence laws in that situation. For instance, suppose that a daycare owner lets a stray dog onto the daycare playground, where the stray dog bites a child. The child's parents may bring a negligence claim arguing that the daycare owner failed to use reasonable care when allowing the dog on the playground, and that if the daycare owner had used reasonable care, the injury would not have occurred.
A dog owner facing a lawsuit under New Hampshire's dog bite law has one main defense: that the injured person was trespassing or committing another tort, or civil wrong, at the time of the injury. Homeowner liability for trespasser injuries is typically limited by law, and the New Hampshire limitation on a trespasser's ability to recover for a dog bite injury is consistent with this rule.
A person who does not own the dog but who is facing a negligence claim based on an injury the dog inflicted may rely on any of the defenses available in any New Hampshire negligence claim. These include arguments to limit or eliminate damages based on comparative or contributory negligence rules.