A dog bite victim in Arizona can recover compensation under a special statute and the doctrines of negligence, negligence per se, scienter, and intentional tort


Statutory strict liability for bites

Arizona's dog bite statute imposes strict liability on the owner of a dog that bites a person. See Arizona Revised Statutes section 11-1025. There is a statute that defines what is meant by "lawful presence on private property." See Arizona Revised Statutes section 11-1026. There also is a statute that defines "provocation" in very general terms. See Arizona Revised Statutes section 11-1027.

Section 11-1025 imposes strict liability on dog owners for injuries inflicted by their dog without respect to fault on the part of the owner. Murdock v. Balle, 144 Ariz. 136, 696 P.2d 230 (Ct. App. 1985). In Arizona, dogs do not get "one free bite;" owners are held strictly liable for injuries caused by their dogs' actions and liability is imposed without regard to an owner's knowledge of the dog's viciousness. Massey v. Colaric, 151 Ariz. 65, 725 P.2d 1099 (1986).

Section 11-1025 does not apply when the victim is a child of and resides in the same household as the owners of the dog and was bitten at the family home. Schleier ex rel. Alter v. Alter, 159 Ariz. 397, 767 P.2d 1187 (Ct. App. 1989).

The statute imposes liability only upon owners. Johnson v. Svidergol, 157 Ariz. 333, 757 P.2d 609 (Ct. App. 1988) (error to grant judgment for victim against owner, when victim was bitten after the dog had been stolen from the owner). However, there are other causes of action that apply to non-owners (see below). 

The only defense to liability under section 11-1025 is proof that the injured party provoked the dog. Murdock v. Balle, 144 Ariz. 136, 696 P.2d 230 (Ct. App. 1985). The defense is based upon section 11-1027 (which you can read by clicking on the link provided above). 

Assumption of the risk is not a defense. In Massey v. Colaric, 151 Ariz. 65, 725 P.2d 1099 (1986), the Arizona Supreme Court stated:

A.R.S. § 24-378 permits a person injured by a dog while at large to recover simply by proving that the statute has been violated. If the elements of the statute are satisfied, the legislature has decided to impose liability without fault. The only defense provided is provocation, A.R.S. § 24-523, with the common law defenses of contributory negligence and assumption of risk superseded.

In Mulcahy v. Damron, 816 P.2d 270, 169 Ariz. 11 (1991), the court held that a person who works for a pet hospital will not be deemed to have assumed the risk of being bitten by a dog who is at the hospital for treatment and/or grooming. The court reiterated that assumption of the risk is not a defense to a dog bite in Arizona.

 

Statutory strict liability for any other injury when dog at large

Arizona has a statute that imposes liability upon anyone who allows a dog to run at large, for any type of injury to a person or property. See Arizona Revised Statutes section 11-1020.

The use of the conjunction "or" rather than "and" in section 11-1020 was held to indicate the legislature's intent that either the owner or some other person responsible for a dog may be held liable for injury or damage caused by the dog. Johnson v. Svidergol, 157 Ariz. 333, 757 P.2d 609 (Ct. App. 1988).

In Mulcahy v. Damron, 816 P.2d 270, 169 Ariz. 11 (1991), the defendant dog owners attempted to defend on the basis that a dog at a pet hospital should be considered "at large," thereby relieving the dog owners from liability because of the word "or" in section 11-1020. The court refused to permit this defense, saying, "[w]hether a dog is at large is determined by two statutory conditions: (1) when a dog is 'not confined by an enclosure,' or (2) when a dog is not 'physically restrained by a leash.'"

Scienter, negligence and negligence per se

Arizona also permits claims based on common law theories such as scienter, negligence and negligence per se. It was held that the dog bite statute does not codify or replace common law liability. Murdock v. Balle, 144 Ariz. 136, 696 P.2d 230 (Ct. App. 1985). It therefore is possible to proceed simultaneously under this section and common law theories. Murdock v. Balle, supra. The cause of action created by this section is distinct from the common law which imposes liability on dog owners only if the owner knew or had reason to know of their animal's vicious propensities. Murdock v. Balle, supra. A claim pursuant to this section is legally distinct from a common law dog bite claim. Schleier ex rel. Alter v. Alter, 159 Ariz. 397, 767 P.2d 1187 (Ct. App. 1989).

Beware of the unusual 1-year statute of limitations

A cause of action brought pursuant to Arizona's dog bite statute is governed by the one-year limitations period contained in section 12-541, subsection 3. Murdock v. Balle, 144 Ariz. 136, 696 P.2d 230 (Ct. App. 1985). The court held that the one-year statute of limitations applies to the statutory cause of action while the two-year personal injuries statute of limitations applies to the common law cause of action. Id. at 234. Although the statute was numbered differently when the decision was written, it was essentially the same law and therefore the Murdock case would certainly be followed at this time. If your case has gone past the one-year period, try to bring it under one of the other causes of action above discussed, which can be filed within two years of the date of the incident. 

 

 

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