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Dog Bite Liability – What Horse Owners and Stables Should Know

Horse owners are often dog owners. While horse owners may concern themselves with liabilities associated with horse ownership, they may lose sight of liabilities associated with their dogs. Dog bites can cause serious injuries, and litigation can follow.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year.  Dog bites and dog-related injuries generally accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid last year, according to the Insurance Information Institute.  

This article discusses dog bite liabilities along with suggestions for avoiding legal disputes.

Dog Bite Strict Liability Laws

Most states have abolished the traditional “one-bite rule” (where dog bite liability required proof that the dog had a propensity for viciousness of which the owner or keeper was aware) and have enacted dog bite statutes. These statutes impose some form of strict liability on owners or keepers of dogs.  Although statutes differ, they typically provide for the following:

  • The animal owner (and sometimes, depending on the law, the animal keeper) is strictly liable for injuries inflicted by the dog without regard to whether the dog showed vicious propensities in the past.
  • The injured person must not have been a trespasser and, instead, must have been injured in the location where he or she was lawfully permitted to be.
  • If the injured person provoked the animal, he or she cannot recover.      


Defense of Provocation

Lawsuits involving dog bites and dog-inflicted injuries, particularly in states with strict liability laws, often focus on the defense of provocation. Courts have disagreed on what qualifies as provocation.  In one case, a court dismissed a case based on a finding that the plaintiff (the one who was injured) provoked the dog by unintentionally stepping on its foot. Yet, in another case, a court held that a jury needed to decide the issue of provocation where evidence showed that the plaintiff, a child, stepped on a dog's tail immediately before being bitten.  In an interesting case, dogs trespassed onto the plaintiff’s property and were about to attack the plaintiff’s cats.  As the plaintiff kicked and pulled on the dogs while trying to protect her cats, one of the dogs bit her. The court ruled that she did not “provoke” the dogs, and her case could continue, because as the dogs were already in a “provoked state” at the time, and she did not cause the provocation before the bite.


By definition, a “trespasser” is someone who enters another’s property unlawfully.  In dog bite cases, issues sometimes focus on whether the plaintiff had “implied permission” to enter the dog owner’s property under the circumstances and was not a trespasser.  In one case, the plaintiff, a child, placed her hand through a fence in an effort to pet a neighbor’s dog but was bitten; the court ruled that she was trespassing, and her case was properly dismissed. 

Comparative Fault of the Person Bitten

Usually in states without dog bite statutes, comparative fault of the injured person (such as contributory negligence or comparative negligence, depending on state law) is a defense to a dog bite case. A small number of states with strict liability dog bite statutes allow dog owners to raise this defense.

Avoiding Liability

Among the many options available to avoid liability, here a few ideas:

  • Insurance. Certainly, liability insurance cannot prevent injuries, but proper coverage can protect you against financial consequences that may occur. Make sure you are properly insured for the consequences of a dog-inflicted injury claim or suit that could be brought against you. Also, make sure that your insurance coverage contains no exclusions for dogs in general or for a particular breed of dogs that you own or keep. Read your insurance policy carefully and/or discuss your coverage with your insurance agent or lawyer.
  • Secure your dogs. Keep them under control.
  • Follow ordinances and leash laws.
  • Evaluate possible aggression. If you believe your dog has shown aggressive behavior, consider consulting with professionals, such as your veterinarian or a dog trainer, to evaluate this further, and take caution before allowing others to approach, handle, or keep your dog.

This article does not constitute legal advice. When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.

Categories: Did you Know?, Lawsuit, Liability

Photo of Julie I. Fershtman

is considered to be one of the nation's leading attorneys in the field of equine law. She has successfully tried equine cases before juries in four states. A frequent author and speaker on legal issues, she has written over 400 published articles, four books, and has lectured at seminars, conventions, and conferences in 29 states on issues involving law, liability, risk management, and insurance. For more information, please also visit www.fershtmanlaw.com and www.equinelaw.net, and www.equinelaw.info.

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Fershtman’s Book Wins National Award

Julie Fershtman’s latest book, Equine Law and Horse Sense, won its fourth national award on May 31, 2021. It was selected to receive a "Finalist" Medal in the 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. 

The 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards are presented by Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group, which is the largest International awards program for indie authors and independent publishers. Here’s a link for the complete list of 2021 winners and finalists: https://www.indiebookawards.com/winners.php?year=2021 

Fershtman’s Book Receives Award

Julie Fershtman’s book, Equine Law & Horse Sense, published by the American Bar Association, has been selected to receive a 2020 NYC Big Book Award in the category of “Reference” books.

The NYC Big Book Awards draws nominations world-wide. This is the third award for Fershtman’s book since its publication last year. Here is a link for more information, and to see the list of winners: https://www.nycbigbookaward.com/2020winners

Information on the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/164105493X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0

Fershtman’s Book Receives Award

Julie Fershtman’s book, Equine La & Horse Sense, published by the American Bar Association, has been selected to receive a 2020 NYC Big Book Award in the category of “Reference” books.

The NYC Big Book Awards draws nominations world-wide. This is the third award for Fershtman’s book since its publication last year. Here is a link for more information, and to see the list of winners: https://www.nycbigbookaward.com/2020winners

Information on the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/164105493X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0

Our Equine law blog (and its author) in the news!

Julie Fershtman, author of our popular and prolific Equine Law Blog, was interviewed by the State Bar of Michigan. The interview, which called Fershtman "Lawyer-Blogger," discussed our Equine Law Blog. We truly believe that this blog is the nation's most active blog serving the equine industry on equine law topics, and we thank you for visiting it. Read more here.

Julie Fershtman’s Recent and Upcoming Equine Law Speaking Engagements Include:

National Conference on Equine Law in Louisville, Kentucky on April 29, 2020. Topic will be on Waivers/Releases of Liability Involving Minor Participants. 

U.S. Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) Annual Convention in Denver, Colorado on December 10, 2019. Topic will be on Equine Liability. 

IRMI Emmett J. Vaughan Agribusiness Conference (“AgriCon”) in Sacramento, CA (April 2019), and Richmond, VA (June 2019) and in Des Moines, IA (September 2019), on topics of “Equine Activity Liability Acts” and “Equine Mortality Insurance Disputes.”

National Conference on Equine Law in May 2019 in Lexington, KY, on the topic of “Equine Activity Liability Act Updates” and liabilities involving hosting of equine clinics. 

Agricultural Claims Conference in Kansas City, MO, in March 2019 on topics of “Loose Livestock Liabilities.”

2018 American Bar Association Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL, on “Equine Mortality Coverage and Disputes.”

November 2018, American Horse Council webinar on “Equine Liability.”

Honors & Recognitions

Equine lawyer, Julie Fershtman, has received these prestigious equine industry awards from respected equine organizations:

"Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law Award" - American Bar Association Tort Trial & Insurance Law Section Animal Law Committee

"Distinguished Service Award" - American Youth Horse Council

"Industry Service Award" - Michigan Equine Partnership

"Catalyst Award"- Michigan Horse Council

"Outstanding Achievement Award" - American Riding Instructors Association 

"Partner in Safety Award" - American Riding Instructors Association 

"Associate Service Award" - United Professional Horseman's Association

"National Partnership in Safety" Award" - Certified Horsemanship Association 

What our Equine Law Services can Provide

Handling breach of contract, fraud/ misrepresentation, commercial code, and other claims involving equine-related transactions including purchases/sales, leases, mare leases/foal transfers, and partnerships.

Litigating disputes in court or through alternative dispute resolution (arbitration, mediation, facilitation).

Defending equine/farm/equestrian industry professionals,  businesses, and associations in personal injury claims and lawsuits.

Drafting and negotiating contracts for boarding, training, sales, waivers/releases, leases, and numerous other equine-related transactions.

Representing and advising insurers on  coverage and policy language as well as litigation;

Advising equine industry clubs and associations regarding management, rules, bylaws, disputes, and regulations.

Representing some of the equine industry's top trainers, competitors, stables, and associations.

Counseling industry professionals, stable managers, and individual horse owners. 


Did you know Julie Fershtman has spoken at the American Horse Council Annual Meeting, Equine Affaire, Midwest Horse Fair, Equitana USA, US Dressage Federation Annual Meeting, North American Riding for the Handicapped (now PATH International) Annual Meeting, American Morgan Horse Association Annual Meeting, American Paint Horse Association Annual Meeting, US Pony Clubs, Inc.'s Annual Meeting, All-American Quarter Horse Congress, American Youth Horse Council Annual Meeting, American Riding Instructors Association Annual Meeting, CHA Annual Meeting, and numerous others? Consider signing her up for your convention. Contact Julie.

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