A dog bite typically causes puncture wounds, lacerations, bruising, and other physical injuries. It also often results in pain, mental suffering, emotional distress, humiliation, and other subjective harms. Unfortunately for Oregon dog bite victims, however, current Oregon law favors the dog owner and makes recovering compensation for all of those harms challenging.
In many states, a dog owner is responsible for any harm caused by his or her dog regardless of whether he or she used reasonable care to prevent the harm. This is a legal concept called “strict liability.” Oregon, however, applies strict liability only where the dog owner knows or has reason to know that the dog has “abnormally dangerous propensities,” which is another way of saying aggressive tendencies. If there is no reason to know, then the owner cannot be held liable unless he or she negligently fails to control the dog.
Even then, however, the dog bite victim is limited to recovering the costs of medical care, such as bills for emergency room visits, doctors, and physical therapy. Without proof that the dog owner knew or should have known that the dog would cause the injury if the owner did not control or confine the animal, the dog bite victim cannot recover damages for pain and mental suffering. Since these kinds of “noneconomic damages” follow almost every dog attack, Oregon law is particularly harsh in denying them in cases where the dog has not previously displayed aggressive behavior. Fortunately, there is no “litmus test” to determine whether a dog owner had sufficient information to be held legally responsible. It depends on the facts of the case. As one example, a dog owner who “knew that his dog was both large and immature” and also that it frequently ran around in the area in which it injured a visitor could be held liable for the injuries. Van Zanten v. Van Zanten, 190 Or App 73, 78 P3d 100 (2003).
This should not suggest, however, that the proof requirements for dog bite injuries are met easily. An experienced Oregon dog bite attorney should be promptly consulted in every potential case involving injury by a dog. If you or a loved one have been bitten or otherwise hurt, call for an initial consultation at no cost to you.