Vermont Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

Can the dog owner be sued? Vermont laws on personal injury claims arising out of a dog bite or dog attack.

Vermont law deals with dog bite injuries by applying a "one bite" rule. In this article, we'll discuss how a "one bite" rule like Vermont's works in dog bite cases. We'll also look at the time limits for filing a dog bite lawsuit in a Vermont state court, and examine some of the defenses a dog's owner might raise in court in response to a dog bite claim.

Time Limits for Filing a Dog Bite Lawsuit

Vermont has a  statute of limitations  that applies to all personal injury cases, including dog bite claims. The statute of limitations gives an injured person  three years  to file a lawsuit in court. If the lawsuit isn't filed until after the three-year deadline has expired, the court can and almost certainly will refuse to hear it.

Liability in Vermont Dog Bite Cases

Vermont is one of several states without a specific dog bite statute. Instead, dog bite cases in Vermont are governed by court decisions handed down by the state's appeals courts over the years. In Hillier v. Noble, 142 Vt. 552 (VT 1983), the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that Vermont is a "one bite" state when it comes to dog bites and that dog bite cases are generally covered by the law of  negligence.

The "one bite" rule Vermont uses allows an injured person to hold a dog owner liable only if the owner knew or should reasonably have known that the dog would act aggressively, and the owner failed to take reasonable care to prevent the dog from hurting someone. The logic here is, dog owners who know they have aggressive dogs have a responsibility to use reasonable care to prevent the dogs from hurting others. And dog owners who fail to meet that responsibility are on the legal hook for all resulting injuries.

The Vermont Supreme Court has stated that the duty to take reasonable care is based on the knowledge that the dog is aggressive. If the owner doesn't know the dog will act aggressively, the owner has no duty to prevent the dog from acting aggressively toward other people -- and an injured person may not hold a dog owner liable for breaching a duty the owner doesn't have in the first place.

Dog Owners' Defenses

When facing a dog bite claim in Vermont, a dog's owner has several possible defenses. Because Vermont is a "one bite" state, one of the most commonly-used defenses is that the dog's owner did not know -- and could not have known -- the dog would attack. Without this knowledge, a dog's owner cannot be held liable for an injury his or her dog causes in Vermont.

If an injured person provoked the dog into causing harm, the dog's owner might argue that liability should be limited or eliminated under Vermont's  comparative fault  rule. Vermont uses a "modified" comparative fault rule that reduces a dog owner's damages in a dog bite case by an amount equal to the amount of fault assigned to the injured person. If the injured person is found to be more than 50 percent at fault, however, the dog owner won't be liable for any amount of damages, even where the owner is partially to blame for what happened.

Finally, if the injured person was trespassing on the dog owner's property when the injury occurred, the dog owner might argue that his or her  liability for a trespasser's injuries  should be reduced or eliminated, because the injured person was on the property without permission when the injury took place.

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