This table compares statutory strict liability for injuries by dogs for all 50 states. "Statutory strict liability" means that a state has a law that establishes that a dog owner is responsible for injury to a person (or sometimes that person's property, which often includes domestic animals and/or livestock) whether or not the owner knew the dog had a "vicious propensity." Essentially, the dog owner has to pay for the dog bite victim's injury even if the dog never seemed dangerous or vicious in the past. The term "statutory" is used because, in some states, court cases (which lawyers call the "common law") may establish also strict liability or other another type of liability for the owner. The table only shows those states that have laws that assign liability to dog owners.
While the language of these statutes varies, they all make an owner liable for damage done by his or her dog regardless of evidence of previous viciousness of such dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness. This knowledge may also be called "scienter" in the legal world.
As of 2017, the majority of states have adopted some sort of strict liability (36 and D.C.). Currently, only 14 states do not have such a law, including Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming. Note that these strict liability laws impose civil liability to dog owners for damage done to another person or property. This civil liability comes in the form of money damages owed to the injured person. This is different than a "dangerous dog" law, which is a law that imposes penalties and duties by a local government to a dog owner whose dog meets the definition of "dangerous" or "vicious" under state law. Dangerous dog laws may require that an owner keep the dog on a leash and purchase liability insurance, or they may even order the destruction of the offending dog. While strict liability laws and dangerous dog laws often intersect (a dog who bites another person and causes the owner to pay for the injuries may also lead to the dog being declared "dangerous"), they accomplish different legislative goals. This table does not include laws that relate to strict liability for dog bites done by previously declared dangerous dogs or damage done by "dangerous animals." This table includes laws that impose strict liability for dogs running at large (which includes Arizona, D.C., Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia).
A couple of states have what could be termed "modified" strict liability. This means that there is another factor that must be met before strict liability is imposed. This occurs in D.C. (the dog must first be at-large), Georgia (strict liability for dogs "at liberty," or off-leash), North Carolina (dogs running at large in the nighttime), Tennessee (running at large/not under control), and West Virginia (again, running at large).
Listed on the table are columns for type of animal and type of injury. Most states limit strict liability to dogs, but Alabama, Georgia, Hawaii, and Illinois extend liability to other animals. The majority of states apply strict liability for all types of injury or property damage while others limit it to only dog bites (about eight states only cover dog bites). The "places included" column is significant because some states exclude bites that occur on the dog owner's property.
Finally, there are often exceptions to strict liability laws, with chief among those being provocation. Provocation is typically defined as inducing or inciting someone to do something, usually by words. This is obviously not the same for dogs. In this case, it means that the person injured by the dog aggravated, teased, or abused it, which caused it to attack. The exact definition of provocation usually depends on the facts of the case and rulings from previous legal cases.
States may also exclude law enforcement dogs that bite while engaged in their duties. Some states explicitly exclude trespassers in their list of exceptions, though this may be implied by the language of the law. For example, if the statute says it covers injury to a person when he or she is "lawfully" in a place, such language would presumably exclude an unlawful trespasser from a damages award.
Finally, it should be noted that laws are subject to interpretation by appellate courts. The strict liability laws below may be clarified, limited, or even expanded by the common law.
Citation & Link
Type of Animal/Dog
Type of Damage
Vicious or dangerous animal (3-1-3)
Any dog (3-6-1)
Bite or injury
Under 3-1-3, liability if owner/keeper allows dog to go at liberty (roam) or carelessly manages the animal.
There is a mitigation of strict liability for injury to persons.
Section 3-6-3 states that the owner of such dog shall be entitled to plead and prove in mitigation of damages that he or she had no knowledge of any circumstances indicating such dog to be or to have been vicious or dangerous or mischievous. If so proved, owner is only liable for actual expenses incurred by the person so bitten or injured as a result of the bite or injury.
Dog at large (11-1020)
Any injury to person or damage to property (11-1020)
Dogs at large:
Injury to any person or damage to any property by a dog while at large shall be the full responsibility of the dog owner or person or persons responsible for the dog when such damages were inflicted.
On a public place or lawfully in or on a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog (11-1025)
Dog used in military or police work when dog defending itself or assisting the agency:
Proof of provocation of the attack by the person injured shall be a defense to the action for damages. The issue of provocation shall be determined by whether a reasonable person would expect that the conduct or circumstances would be likely to provoke a dog.
|California||West's Ann. Cal. Civ. Code § 3342||Any dog||Bite only||In a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog|
Police/military dogs if the bite occurred while the dog was defending itself from an annoying, harassing, or provoking act, or assisting an employee of the agency in any of the following:
|Colorado||Dog||Bite BUT ONLY if the person suffered serious bodily injury or death from being bitten by a dog||While lawfully on public or private property|
A dog owner shall not be liable:
Any damage to either the body or property of any person
Note that here, “property” includes, but is not limited to, a companion animal, as defined in section 22–351a, and “the amount of such damage”, with respect to a companion animal, includes expenses of veterinary care, the fair monetary value of the companion animal and burial expenses for the companion animal.
|Presumably any place|
Exceptions if person damaged by dog was:
There is a presumption that a minor victim under 7 years old was not committing a trespass or other tort, or teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog. The burden of proof is on the defendant dog owner/caretaker to show that.
|Delaware||A dog||Any injury, death or loss to person or property||Presumably any place|
at the time of injury, death, or loss:
|D.C.||DC ST 8-1812||A dog running at large||If a dog injures a person while at large, lack of knowledge of the dog's vicious propensity standing alone shall not absolve the owner from a finding of negligence.|
Includes when a person is:
A person is lawfully upon private property of such owner within the meaning of this act when the person is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him or her by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when the person is on such property upon invitation, expressed or implied, of the owner
Any negligence on the part of the person bitten that is a proximate cause of the biting incident reduces the liability of the owner of the dog by the percentage that the bitten person's negligence contributed to the biting incident.
The owner is not liable (except when victim is under the age of 6) if at the time of any such injury the owner had displayed in a prominent place on his or her premises a sign easily readable including the words "Bad Dog."
Vicious or dangerous animal that is also at large
|Injury to another person|
Carelessly allows the animal to go at liberty (or violates an ordinance or law requiring restraint - to "be at heel" according under this law)
|Provocation: "a person who does not provoke the injury by his own act."|
|Hawaii||Any animal||Personal or property damage to any person||Any place|
Any owner or harborer of an animal shall not be liable for any civil damages resulting from actions of the animal occurring in or upon the premises of the owner or harborer where the person suffering either personal or property damage as a proximate result of the actions of the animal is found by the trier of fact intentionally or knowingly to have entered or remained in or upon such premises unlawfully.
Any owner or harborer of an animal shall not be liable for any civil damages resulting from actions of the animal where the trier of fact finds that:
|Illinois||510 ILCS 5/16||Dog or any animal||Attacks, attempts to attack, or injures any person||Peaceably conducting himself or herself in any place where he or she may lawfully be||Provocation (and, by implication, trespass since only applies when person is lawfully in a place)|
(1) who is acting peaceably; and
(2) who is in a location where the person may be required to be in order to discharge a duty imposed upon the person by:
|Iowa||Any dog||All damages done by the dog when the dog is caught in the action of worrying, maiming, or killing a domestic animal, or the dog is attacking or attempting to bite a person||Presumably any place|
Liable except when the party damaged is doing an unlawful act
Also has exception for dogs affected with hydrophobia unless owner had reasonable grounds to know of the infection
|Kentucky||KRS § 258.235(4)||Any dog||Any owner whose dog is found to have caused damage to a person, livestock, or other property shall be responsible for that damage||Presumably any place||Not provided in law|
|Louisiana||LA C.C. Art. 2321||Dog for modified strict liability (other animals are negligence-based)|
The owner of a dog is strictly liable for damages for injuries to persons or property caused by the dog and which the owner could have prevented
|Presumably any place||Provocation|
|Maine||7 M. R. S. A. § 3961||Dog||Injures a person||When not on the owner's or keeper's premises at the time of the injury||Any fault on the part of the person injured may not reduce the damages recovered for physical injury to that person unless the court determines that the fault of the person injured exceeded the fault of the dog's keeper or owner|
|Maryland||MD Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings, § 3-1901||Dog|
Modified strict liability:
"In an action against an owner of a dog for damages for personal injury or death caused by the dog, evidence that the dog caused the personal injury or death creates a rebuttable presumption that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities. '
|Presumably any place|
Defenses apply only if the dog is running at large:
|Massachusetts||M.G.L.A. 140 § 155||Any dog||Damage to either the body or property of any person||Presumably any place|
At the time such damage was sustained, person was:
If injured person was a minor under 7 at time of damage, it shall be presumed that such minor was not committing a trespass or other tort, or teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog; burden of proof shall be upon the defendant in such action.
|Michigan||MCL 287.351||Dog||Bite||While the person is on public property, or lawfully on private property, including the property of the owner of the dog, the owner of the dog||Provocation|
Attacks or injures any person who is acting peaceably
Owner of the dog is liable in damages to the person so attacked or injured to the full amount of the injury sustained
|Any place where the person may lawfully be,||Provocation|
|Missouri||V.A.M.S 273.036||Any dog||While such person is on public property, or lawfully on private property, including the property of the owner or possessor of the dog |
Also, if it is determined that the damaged party had fault in the incident, any damages owed by the owner or possessor of the biting dog shall be reduced by the same percentage that the damaged party's fault contributed to the incident.
|Montana||MCA 27-1-715||Any dog||Bite to person||A public place or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, located within an incorporated city or town||Provocation|
|Nebraska||Neb. Rev. St § 54-601||Any dog or dogs|
Any and all damages to:
|Presumably any place where person has legal right to be|
Also, governmental agency or its employees using a dog in military or police work under the details listed in the statute.
|New Hampshire||N.H. Rev. Stat. § 466:19||Any dog||Damage to person or property, including sheep, lambs, fowl, or other domestic creatures||Presumably any place||A person who was engaged in the commission of a trespass or other tort|
|New Jersey||N. J. S. A. 4:19-16||Any dog||Bite to person||While such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog||Not provided, but trespass is implied by the law (i.e., not lawfully in a place)|
|North Carolina||N.C.G.S.A. § 67-12||Dogs over 6 months old running at large in the night when not accompanied by owners/other person||Liable in damages to any person injured or suffering loss to his property or chattels||Presumably any place||Not provided in law|
|Ohio||RC § 955.28||Dog|
Liable in damages for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the dog
Also includes individual who, at the time of the injury, was on the property of the owner solely for the purpose of engaging in door-to-door sales or other solicitations regardless of whether the individual was in compliance with any requirement to obtain a permit or license
|Presumably any place|
Individual who, at the time, was committing or attempting to commit:
|Oklahoma||4 Okl.St.Ann. § 42.1||Any dog||Bites or injures any person||While such person is in or on a place where he has a lawful right to be.||Provocation|
|Oregon||O. R. S. § 31.360||Dog||Injury caused by a dog||Presumably any place||This section does not prevent the owner of a dog that caused an injury from asserting that the dog was provoked, or from asserting any other defense that may be available to the owner.|
|Pennsylvania||3 P.S. § 459-502||Any dog||Any cost to the victim for medical treatment resulting from an attacking or biting dog must be paid fully by the owner or keeper of the dog.||Presumably any place||Not provided in law|
|Rhode Island||Gen. Laws, 1956, § 4-13-16||Any dog||Kills, wounds, worries, or assists in killing, wounding or worrying, any OWNED sheep, lamb, cattle, horse, hog, swine, fowl, or other domestic animal|
Assaults, bites, or otherwise injures any person while traveling the highway or out of the enclosure of the owner or keeper of that dog
|According to sources, "the clause 'while traveling on the highway or out of the enclosure of the owner or keeper of such dog' modifies the word 'person' and not the word 'dog.' " Wilbur v. Gross, 55 R.I. 473, 478, 182 A. 597, 599 (1936). Thus, the law applies when the dog is outside the owner-provided enclosure.||Not provided in law|
|South Carolina||Code 1976 § 47-3-110||Dog||Bitten by dog or otherwise attacked||In a public place or is lawfully in a private place, including the property of the dog owner or person having the dog in the person's care or keeping|
|Tennessee||T. C. A. §44-8-413||ONLY dogs running at large/not under reasonable control of the owner||Any damages suffered by a person who is injured by the dog||While in a public place or lawfully in or on the private property of another (negligence applies if on the dog owner/keeper's property)|
|Utah||U.C.A. 1953 § 18-1-1||Dog||Any injury||Presumably any place|
Neither the state nor any county, city, or town in the state nor any peace officer employed by any of them shall be liable in damages for injury committed by a dog, if:
(b) the injury occurs while the dog is reasonably and carefully being used in the apprehension, arrest, or location of a suspected offender or in maintaining or controlling the public order.
|Washington||West's RCWA 16.08.040||Any dog||Bite||While in or on a public place or lawfully in or on a private place including the property of the owner of such dog||This section does not apply to the lawful application of a police dog, as defined in RCW 4.24.410|
|West Virginia||W. Va. Code, § 19-20-13||ONLY dogs running at large||Any damage to person or property of another||Presumably any place but owner's property||Not provided in law|
|Wisconsin||W. S. A. 174.02||Any dog||Any injury to a person, domestic animal or property||Presumably any place|
The owner of a dog that is used by a law enforcement agency is not liable for damages caused by the dog to a crime suspect while the dog is performing law enforcement functions.