{Legal Issue} Bite History and Liability

Are you excited for the discussion of our second issue?  I am!  And I happen to think it’s a great one.  I’m guessing that a good portion of readers here at TH,PL have at some point, or currently still do, volunteer with a rescue, at a shelter, or something else along these lines which therefore should make this applicable to lots of us.

“I volunteer at a local shelter and the word liability is often thrown around when a dog bite occurs, can you explain the liability issues for a shelter if they were to re-home a dog that has a bite history.” – This question was posed by a reader in Nova Scotia.

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Generally speaking when a rescue organization or an animal shelter adopts out an animal, it warrants that the animal is safe to the world at large.  An easy way to run afoul of this is by placing a dog that the rescue knows has a violent or aggressive history without first warning the adopter–though warning the adopter is still not 100% guaranteed to absolve the rescue (or shelter) of all liability should something go wrong with the dog.

Another way that rescue organizations can open themselves up to liability is by making false claims, or claims that they do not know to be true, about a dog. This can be something as simple as putting a blurb on a dog’s webpage stating that the dog “gets along great with kids” or that it is “friendly with cats and strangers.” Additionally, stating a dog is “pure bred” when that is not known to be fact, can open the rescue up to liability.  In addition to being held liable for actual damages that are caused by a dog adopted under false pretenses, the adopter may also feel that he or she has been slighted by the rescue organization and feel no compunction about having a dog put down that was not what they were looking for. Obviously this is a result that no one involved in a rescue organization wants!

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The rescue organization should be sure to learn as much about the dog as possible when it comes in, monitor the dog for any signs of aggression while it has the dog, and pass along any and all information to all potential adopters.   This brings us to the main issue behind this post: what if a dog is adopted that has a known bite history?

Although I can’t say that I know too much about Canadian law, it appears that many provinces, including Nova Scotia, have removed the knowledge of a violent history requirement from holding a dog owner responsible for damage caused to a bite-victim. Some provinces have enacted additional fines that are to be paid, in addition to making the victim whole, but Nova Scotia is not one of these provinces.

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And to tie it together for my “local” readers:  Florida is a state that has also removed the violent propensity knowledge requirement. Here when a dog bites someone, the person that owns and controls the dog is held liable. As it appears that this is similar to the Nova Scotia law, I would think that there is not too much liability for the rescue that adopts out the dog: the new owner’s control and ownership of the dog is an intervening event that would take the liability off of the rescue. In a state/province where there is a knowledge requirement, then the rescue could be held accountable for a bite where it adopted out the dog with the history, where it knew of the dog’s violent propensity and the new owner did not. Though even in those states the longer that the new owner had the dog, the more familiar he is assumed to have become with it, thus cutting off the liability of the rescue after a period of time. How long is sufficient to completely cut that off is impossible to say without knowing particular facts.

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In summary, Honesty is the Best Policy: if you play any part in the adoption of a dog, be upfront and honest about everything to know to be true about that dog.  So the dog chases cats?  Tell the new family!  If they are the right match for the dog, they won’t care and take steps to prevent any issues.  Always set the dog up for success and full discloser is the only way to do that.  That said, at the end of the day, dogs are animals and therefore impossible to 100% predict, which fortunately the law seems to understand which is why responsibility transfers (by varying degrees) to the adopter.

One thought on “{Legal Issue} Bite History and Liability

  1. Pingback: {Legal Issue} BSL Around the World | Temporary Home, Permanent Love

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