Oregon Dog Bite Laws

An Oregon dog owner's liability for bites and other injuries, state deadlines for filing a dog bite lawsuit in court, and more.

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If you're an Oregon dog owner, or you've been injured by someone else's animal in the state, you might be wondering about Oregon's dog bite injury liability laws. In this article, we'll cover some of the state's key laws on dog-related injuries, including:

  • Oregon's status as a "strict liability" state for purposes of a dog owner's responsibility for the injured person's medical bills and other financial losses arising from a bite or other incident
  • how a dog owner's negligence could affect a dog-injury claim in Oregon
  • the state's laws on potentially dangerous dogs, including rules on when a dog may be euthanized
  • the statute of limitations deadline for filing a dog-injury-related lawsuit in the state's civil court system, and
  • some common defenses an Oregon dog owner might raise in response to a personal injury lawsuit over a bite or other animal-caused injury.

Oregon's "Strict Liability" Dog-Injury Law

Oregon law establishes a dog owner's "strict liability" for "economic damages" resulting from any injury caused by a dog—not just a bite. "Strict liability" means the owner is automatically liable, and cannot escape fault for injuries by claiming lack of knowledge that the dog might cause harm, or that all reasonable precautions were taken to prevent the injury.

The law specifically states that:

  • "the plaintiff need not prove that the owner of the dog could foresee that the dog would cause the injury," and
  • the dog's owner "may not assert as a defense that the owner could not foresee that the dog would cause the injury."

So what are "economic damages"? Under Oregon law, economic damages can include compensation for:

  • medical bills ("reasonable charges necessarily incurred for medical, hospital, nursing and rehabilitative services and other health care services")
  • loss of income and past and future impairment of earning capacity, and
  • reasonable and necessary expenses incurred for substitute domestic services.

(Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 31.360, 31.705 (2022).)

Dog Owner Negligence and Dog Bite Liability in Oregon

In Oregon, a dog owner whose negligence results in a dog bite injury—or an injury caused by tripping, frightening, or knocking down the victim—can be held liable for all resulting losses.

The key here is that the full spectrum of damages will be available to a claimant who can demonstrate the dog owner's negligence, including compensation for "pain and suffering" and other noneconomic effects of the incident and resulting injuries. (Learn more about proving negligence in a personal injury case.)

Oregon's Laws on Potentially Dangerous Dogs

Oregon has specific legal procedures that apply to "potentially dangerous dogs." Under Oregon law, dog is considered potentially dangerous if:

  • it "menaces a person" without provocation and while not on a premises from which the keeper may lawfully exclude others
  • it, unprovoked, inflicts physical injury on a person that is less severe than a serious physical injury, or
  • it without provocation and while on a premises other than the owner's private property inflicts physical injury on or kills another domestic animal.

Any person who believes a dog owner has a potentially dangerous dog can file a complaint with the city or county. If a court decides after a hearing that the animal is potentially dangerous, the court may impose "reasonable restrictions" on the dog's owner to ensure the safety or health of the public. In addition, the court may order that the dog be euthanized, but only after considering all of the factors listed in Or. Rev. Stat. § 609.093, including:

  • if the dog has bitten a person, the circumstances and severity of the bite
  • whether the dog's owner has a history of maintaining dogs that are a public nuisance
  • the impact of the owner's actions on the dog's behavior
  • the ability and willingness of the owner to prevent the dog from biting another person, and
  • the dog's behavior before or since the biting, chasing, or menacing.

In addition to Oregon's general strict-liability law for dog-related injuries (described above), Oregon also has a strict-liability law that specifically applies to potentially dangerous dogs. If a court determines a dog to be potentially dangerous and that dog subsequently harms someone or damages another person's property, the dog's owner will be held responsible for any economic damages resulting from the injury or the property damage.

(Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 609.035, 609.093, 609.095, 609.115 (2022).)

Can a Dog Owner Face Both Civil Liability and Criminal Charges for a Dog Bite?

In addition to the civil liability described above, anyone who "maintains a dangerous dog" can face criminal charges if the person, with criminal negligence, fails to prevent the dog from:

  • inflicting serious physical injury on or killing a person without provocation and in an aggressive manner
  • acting as a potentially dangerous dog, as defined in last section of this article, after having previously committed an act as a potentially dangerous dog, or
  • being used as a weapon in the commission of a crime.

The crime of maintaining a dangerous dog is a Class C felony if the victim was killed; otherwise, the offense is a misdemeanor. In addition to potential jail time, fines, and other penalties for the dog's keeper, a conviction will also result in a court order for the dog to be euthanized.

It's important to note that even if a dog owner is convicted of a crime in connection with a dog bite or other injury caused by a dog, the injured person may still sue the owner for damages in civil court.

(Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 609.098, 609.990 (2022).)

The Oregon Statute of Limitations for Dog-Bite Lawsuits

Laws called statutes of limitations impose a deadline on your right to file a civil lawsuit in your state's courts. Different kinds of cases are subject to different time limits, but the consequences of missing the filing window are the same: the court will dismiss your case as "time-barred" unless a rare extension of the filing deadline is called for based on the circumstances.

Oregon has not passed a specific statute of limitations for dog bite lawsuits. Instead, these claims typically fall under the larger umbrella of "personal injury," and Oregon's statute of limitations for personal injury cases says: "An action . . . for any injury to the person or rights of another . . . shall be commenced within two years." That means you'll need to file your personal injury complaint in court against the dog owner within two years of the date of the bite or other injury. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 12.110 (2022).)

Different deadlines will apply if the person who owns or keeps the dog is facing criminal charges related to a bite or other animal-related injury.

Defenses to Dog Owner Liability in Oregon: Provocation, Assault, and Trespassing

A dog owner could raise a number of legal defenses in a civil dog-injury-related lawsuit, including by arguing that the injured person:

If any of these defenses succeeds, the animal's owner may avoid liability for the injured person's medical bills or any other losses arising from the incident. These defenses also apply in cases involving potentially dangerous dogs, as described above. (Note that different defenses could be applicable in a criminal case resulting from a dog-related injury.)

Getting Help With Your Oregon Dog-Bite Case

If you find yourself on either side of a dog bite claim—as a dog owner or as someone who suffered a bite or other injury—it could be time to discuss your situation with a lawyer. You can use the features on this page to connect with a qualified attorney in your area, or you can learn more about how to find the right personal injury lawyer for you and your case.

And if you're facing criminal charges related to a dog bite or other injury, a criminal defense attorney can explain your options and help protect your rights.

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