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Why Do Dogs Bite – And Who Is Legally Liable?

You may feel like you see dogs almost everywhere you go. That is not surprising, because Oregonians are definitely dog lovers – and there are statistics to back that up. Some owners bring their dogs to restaurants and other establishments with specially designated pet areas. We routinely see dogs frolicking with kids in yards and parks.

Unfortunately, as with any animal, dogs may sometimes lash out and bite. What causes man’s best friend to reach a breaking point and bite – and who is legally liable in this situation? In this blog, we will consider some of the reasons that dogs bite people and what your rights might be in this type of personal injury case

Oregon and Pet Ownership 

Did you know that 96% of adults in Oregon have owned at least one pet during their lives? Put another way, according to a statewide survey by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center (OVBC), only 4 percent of Oregon adults have never owned a pet. The survey also found that 93% of Oregon pet owners consider their pets to be family members. For those who own dogs, Forbes Advisor reports that Oregon is in the top 10 states in the country for owners’ devotion to their dogs. 

With such devoted owners, we would hope that dog bites would not be an issue. Unfortunately, they still are. Statistics from 2010-2014 found that, on average, three people were bitten daily in the Portland area alone.

Why Do Dogs Bite?

Understanding what causes a dog to bite is a great starting point for all of us to better protect ourselves. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), a stress reaction is a common reason that dogs bite. Examples of stress a dog may feel include the following:

  • The need to defend itself: if a dog is being attacked or threatened, or if it interprets an otherwise innocuous action as an aggressive advance, it will bite to protect itself. 
  • Defending its territory: Dogs are pack animals and may become possessive of what they deem their ‘territory’ – usually, this is the house they live in, but this may also refer to an area that they personally occupy, such as a doghouse or bed.  
  • The dog was startled or otherwise fearful: Dogs do not interpret situations the same way we do, and may startle or frighten more easily, with some being more skittish than others. 
  • The dog is protecting something: Similar to their territorial nature, dogs may feel the need to protect something they care about, such as food, a toy, a puppy, or a person. 

Dogs may also bite when they don’t feel well. And finally, dogs can bite when they are not adequately socialized or are otherwise mistreated by their owners. Unfortunately, you may find yourself in a place where you are entitled to be, with no idea that a dog is feeling one of these stressors and attacks you.

Legal Liability of Dog Owners

Oregon has unique dog bite laws. In fact, there are legal theories under which dog owners can be held liable for the injuries and harm caused by their dogs. 

According to Oregon law, the owner is responsible for negligence in a dog bite-related injury. That liability extends to when the dog causes the injured party to trip or fall, leading to additional injury, per Westberry v. Blackwell, 282 Or 129, 133, citing Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 518. 

The dog bite statute that Oregon uses also dictates that the owner is strictly liable for the payment of economic damages. As per Oregon Revised Statutes, section 31.360, in the event of a claim for these damages, the plaintiff doesn’t need to prove that the owner knew or could reasonably foresee that the dog would cause an injury, as they might in other states. On that same token, the owner cannot defend that they couldn’t have predicted the dog bite. 

In short, dogs bite for a lot of reasons. They may feel threatened or cornered, it may be territorial, or in some cases, it may be poorly cared for or socialized. Regardless of the reason, the best thing Oregon dog owners can do to prevent dog bites is remain mindful of their pets, taking steps to keep the pet calm, or at least contained, especially in times that might be stressful for the animal, such as during deliveries or in large gatherings. 

Call with Questions

In the event of a dog bite, you will almost certainly have questions about your rights. Please call the experienced dog bite attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, and we will schedule a free consultation, answer all of your questions, and get you on the right track.