Utah has several laws that apply to dog bite cases filed in the state's civil court system. Here, we'll look at several of these laws, starting with the time limits on filing a dog bite injury lawsuit in court. We'll also look at Utah's dog bite statute and how its "strict liability" approach affects dog bite cases. Finally, we'll examine some defenses a Utah dog owner might raise in the face of a dog bite injury claim.
Utah, like all states, has its own "statute of limitations" that sets a time limit on the filing of lawsuits in Utah courts. In Utah, a person injured by a dog has four years to bring any case to court. This four-year time limit typically starts running on the date of the injury, but since certain situations can change the running of the statute of limitations, it's important to understand how the rule applies in your particular case. And remember, if your case is not filed within the four-year time limit, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear it.
Utah has a specific law that addresses dog bite liability. U.C.A. 1953 § 18-1-1 specifies that "every person owning or keeping a dog is liable in damages for injury committed by the dog," even if the owner did not know or have reason to know the dog might cause injuries. The lack of a need for knowledge on the part of the owner is what makes Utah's dog injury statute a "strict liability" law.
Utah's dog bite law applies not only to injuries involving dog bites, but also to injuries caused by other dog actions. For instance, if a dog knocks a person to the ground, injuring him, the injured person may seek damages from the dog's owner under Utah's dog bite law. Alternatively, the injured person can file a claim based on a negligence theory. A negligence claim argues, in essence, that a dog's owner failed to use reasonable care and that this failure resulted in the injury.
Utah's dog injury law is comprehensive, so very few defenses are available for those facing a lawsuit under Utah's dog injury statute. The law does create an exception to liability for trained law enforcement dogs who are "reasonably and carefully being used in the apprehension, arrest, or location of a suspected offender or in maintaining or controlling the public order."
When a Utah dog bite or other dog-related injury case is based in negligence, however, a dog owner may raise one or more defenses. For instance, the dog's owner may argue that the injured person was partly or totally responsible for the injuries. This argument, known as "comparative negligence," may apply if, for instance, the injured person was provoking the dog at the time of the injury.
Utah is a "modified" comparative negligence state. If the injured person is found to be less than 50 percent at fault, Utah law requires the court to reduce the injured person's total damages award by a percentage equal to his or her fault. If the injured person is found to be 50 percent or more at fault, however, he or she is barred from collecting any damages at all from any other at-fault party.
If the injured person was trespassing at the time of the injury, a dog owner may also be able to argue that limits on homeowner liability for trespasser injuries apply to the case.