In Wyoming, dog bite cases are governed by the state's "common law," rather than by a specific statute. Wyoming is a "one bite" state when it comes to dog bites. We'll talk about what that means in this article, and we'll explain the deadlines for filing a dog bite lawsuit in a Wyoming court. Finally, we'll cover the defenses available to Wyoming dog owners who face a dog bite lawsuit.
After a dog bite or other injury, an injured person has a limited amount of time in which to file a civil lawsuit seeking damages. In Wyoming, as in all states, the deadline is set by a law called the statute of limitations, and it gives an injured person four years after the date of the injury to file a lawsuit in most cases.
Filing a dog bite case in court before the deadline is crucial because cases filed after the statute of limitations expires won't be heard by a Wyoming court.
Wyoming has a "one bite" rule for dog bites and other injuries caused by dogs. Under this rule, the injured person must prove that:
Unlike most states, Wyoming does not have a specific statute that sets this rule. Rather, the rule is a product of court decisions that have been handed down in Wyoming over the years. That's what we mean by "common law."
The knowledge portion of the one bite rule is crucial. If the owner didn't know and couldn't reasonably have known the dog would act aggressively, he or she cannot be held liable if the dog causes injuries.
The "one bite" rule gets its name from the fact that a previous bite by the dog is one way -- but not the only way -- an injured person might show that the owner knew or should have known the dog would act aggressively towards people.
Some dog bite cases in Wyoming may also be handled through the law of negligence. In a negligence case, the injured person must show that the dog's owner or another party had a duty to use reasonable care in handling or controlling the dog, and that the failure to live up to this duty resulted in the injuries.
The negligence argument is valuable if there is a clear duty that the dog's owner or another person failed to fulfill. For instance, if a leash law requires a dog to be on a leash, but an injured person is bitten by a dog that isn't on a leash, the injured person may argue that the dog's owner was negligent in failing to follow the leash law.
Wyoming dog owners might raise one or more of several defenses, based on the facts of the specific case.
Because Wyoming is a "one bite" state, a common argument is that the dog's owner didn't know -- and couldn't reasonably have known -- that the dog was dangerous or would act aggressively. Without this knowledge, a dog's owner can't be held liable for injuries the dog inflicts.
A dog owner in Wyoming might also rely on the state's principles of comparative negligence by arguing that the injured person is partly or totally responsible for his or her own injuries -- for instance, because the injured person provoked the dog into attacked. Comparative negligence reduces or eliminates the dog owner's fault by the same percentage as the percentage of fault assigned to the injured person. While this argument doesn't always eliminate the dog owner's responsibility for damages, it can reduce the burden.
Finally, a dog owner might argue that a person who was trespassing at the time of the injury should not recover damages. Limits on property owner liability for trespasser injuries are common in negligence law, and they may apply to the dog owner's case, depending on the facts involved.