Rhode Island Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

When can a dog bite victim sue the dog owner in Rhode Island? Learn about the personal injury liability rules and defenses here.

Rhode Island has a number of laws that could impact a dog bite injury case. In this article, we'll look at the time limits for filing a dog bite lawsuit in a Rhode Island court, examine different liability rules for dog owners, and discuss the defenses a dog owner might raise in response to a dog bite lawsuit.

Time Limits for Filing Rhode Island Dog Bite Lawsuits

Rhode Island has a law called the  statute of limitations, which limits the amount of time an injured person has to file a civil lawsuit seeking compensation after an injury occurs. Typically, the deadline to file a dog bite injury case falls  three years  after the date of the injury in Rhode Island.

Cases filed after the statute of limitations has expired are typically thrown out by the court, without a hearing. Therefore, it's important to file your lawsuit before the deadline passes if you want to "have your day in court."

Rhode Island's Strict Liability Dog Bite Law

Rhode Island Statutes  section 4-13-16  imposes "strict liability" (which means liability without a shoeing of fault) on owners whose dogs cause injury to others. The statute allows an injured person to hold a dog's owner liable for the injuries if:

  • the dog "assaults, bites, or injures" the person or an animal belonging to that person, and
  • the person or injured animal is not on property belonging to the dog's owner when the bite occurs.

The statute applies to all injuries a dog causes to people or other animals when the dog is not on its owner's property.

It applies to dog bites, but also to other injuries caused by dogs. For instance, a pedestrian on the sidewalk who is knocked to the ground by a pouncing dog can seek compensation from the dog's owner for any injuries suffered in the fall, even if the dog did not bite the person.

One key thing to note on repeat offenders of the canine variety: In Rhode island, if a dog has caused injury before and the dog's owner has been held liable for those injuries in a previous lawsuit, and then later on the dog causes injury again and the owner is again held liable, the owner may be required to pay double the amount of damages. Remember, the strict liability rule in Rhode Island applies only to injuries suffered on property that does not belong to the dog's owner. For injuries that occur on the owner's property, the "one bite" rule applies.

Rhode Island's "One Bite" Law

Rhode Island's dog bite law differentiates between injuries that dogs cause on their owners' property and injuries dogs cause elsewhere.

If a person is injured by a dog while on the property of the dog owner, Rhode Island's strict liability dog bite statute does not apply. Instead, an injured person must seek liability under Rhode Island's "one bite" rule. The "one bite" rule states that a dog owner is only liable for a dog bite injury if the owner knew or had reason to know that the dog would act aggressively.

The "one bite" moniker comes from the fact that evidence of one prior bite is commonly used to demonstrate that the owner knew the dog would act aggressively. However, a prior bite isn't the only possible evidence of previous aggressiveness. The "one bite" rule is the only method of pursuing a dog bite claim against a Rhode Island dog owner when the injury occurred on the owner's property. Injured claimants may not use other legal theories, such as premises liability.

Defenses Against a Rhode Island Dog Bite Claim

Because theories of premises liability or negligence can't usually be used in Rhode Island dog bite cases, common defenses in personal injury cases such as a  comparative negligence  argument or an argument to  limit homeowner liability for trespasser injuries  typically do not come into play.

In a "one bite" situation, the most common defense used is that the owner didn't know and couldn't have known the dog would act aggressively. If the injured person can't show that the owner had such knowledge, the owner is not likely to be held liable for the bite.

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