Provocation In Dog Bite Case is Important For Determining Liability


barking dogA dog is a man’s best friend, or so the old saying goes. However, while there are stories of friendship between people and dogs, both in big and small ways, it’s important to remember that dogs are still animals. They may be smart, loyal, and friendly, but deep down, even the best-trained dogs still have instincts. And there are times when those instincts lead them to attack. Whether it’s out of fear, aggression, or a desire to protect themselves, their homes, or their family, a dog bite case is serious business. In fact, if a dog bites someone it can often be a life or death matter for the dog, even if it isn’t one for the victim.

Provocation In Dog Bite Cases

When a person commits an act of violence, the legal system has certain defenses for that act in place. If a person can defend him or herself, then there will be no legal punishment. We accept, for example, that someone who is being attacked has the right to defend themselves from harm. We also accept that someone can use violence to protect other people from harm, and in many places throughout the United States we also have legal provisions that say someone can defend their home using violence, as no one should be expected to have to flee a place that should be their personal refuge from the world.

Now, dogs don’t have the same rights as human beings. That’s why, when a human is attacked by a dog (or really by any other animal) it is the human’s rights that take precedence over the animal’s. However, the legal system also recognizes that an animal cannot be blamed for acting on its instincts, as it doesn’t possess the higher functions that a human does. So, while someone being bitten by a dog is a serious cause for concern, and can have major repercussions, it is also important to make sure the victim of the dog bite didn’t do something to provoke the dog.

Because, in a dog bite case, provocation is the difference between the dog’s actions being seen as dangerous, and those actions being justified. If the dog was provoked then not only is it unlikely to face action from the authorities (which could include euthanasia in some cases), but the dog’s owner may be off the hook when it comes to liability for the victim’s injuries.

What Constitutes Provocation?

When you picture someone provoking a dog, chances are you think of deliberate, physical actions. Someone shouting at the dog, invading its space, and possibly striking or threatening to strike it. Perhaps throwing rocks, or even firecrackers at the dog to harm and scare it. You know, the same sort of actions that would provoke a human to lash out from fear, or in the interest of self-defense. And while those things do constitute provocation, it’s important to remember that actions don’t always have to be deliberate in order to constitute provocation.

For example, if someone stepped on a dog because they didn’t see it, they didn’t intend to provoke the animal. It was an accident. However, the dog doesn’t understand that the person didn’t mean it any harm. All it knows is that someone hurt it, so it reacted in self-defense. The same might be true of someone who decides to enter onto someone’s property, despite the “Beware of Dog” signs posted. The person may have intended nothing more than knocking at the front door, or delivering a package, but trespassing onto the dog’s territory could be a provocation. This is particularly true if the owner took steps to make sure people couldn’t accidentally be near their dog in order to minimize the risk of attack.

It’s All About The Given Circumstances

Another thing that’s similar between cases where humans and dogs are in the hot seat for violent actions is whether the behavior was reasonable under the circumstances. A dog that is sensitive, and whose reaction is far beyond whatever provocation there was, is not likely to receive much leniency from the court. And the owner will still be held liable for the attack.

Take the “Beware of Dog” example from earlier. If an owner knows his or her dog is territorial, then putting up signs and fencing the yard are common sense steps. Warning guests verbally is also intelligent. So if someone, having been given these warnings, decided to ignore them and approach the dog while shouting at it, that’s already a bad situation. If the dog is growling and backing away, it’s giving a clear indication it doesn’t want to be approached. If it is backed into a corner by someone, and then attacks because it couldn’t retreat any further, that’s a situation where it is clear the dog was provoked (even if the person didn’t intend to).

If that situation is changed, though, then the provocation becomes less clear. For example, if someone fenced their yard, but didn’t put up warnings about a dog, then the message isn’t as clear. If a package delivery service was told to come to the rear door, but was given no warning about a territorial dog, then that situation is far less likely to come down in the owner’s favor. The more steps the owner takes to prevent situations, the more provocation a victim has to provide before things get serious. Which is why it’s always best to be safe when it comes to your animals.

For more information on dog bite cases, and on the provocation defense when it comes to these cases, simply contact us today!