A dog bite victim in Arkansas can recover compensation under the doctrines of negligence, scienter and intentional tort. In at least one county, there is a strict liability dog bite ordinance. There is a criminal statute that can be used to require a defendant to pay the victim's medical bills (but not full compensation for pain, suffering, scarring, loss of income, and other damages). There is no dog bite statute so, except in counties with a strict liability dog bite ordinance, this is a "one bite state."


The traditional doctrine that makes a person liable for harm inflicted by a domestic animal is referred to as "scienter" (the Latin word for "knowingly"), "common law strict liability," and "the one bite rule." As it applies to dog bites, this doctrine holds that a victim can recover compensation from the owner, harborer or keeper of a dog (a) the dog previously bit a person or acted like it wanted to, and (b) the defendant was aware of the dog's previous conduct. If either of those conditions are not met, however, this doctrine prevents the victim from recovering anything. For more information about the scienter cause of action, see Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA. To learn more about the one bite rule, see The One Bite Rule.


The doctrine of negligence is well established in the law. Under Arkansas law, in order to prevail on a claim of negligence, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, that the defendant breached the duty, and that the breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries. See Wilson v. Rebsamen Ins., Inc., 330 Ark. 687 (1997). In a dog attack case, a dog owner can be found to have acted negligently even without proof that the dog previously harmed a person. For example, in Sanders v. Mincey (Ark. 1994) 317 Ark. 398, 401-02, the court permitted a negligence case to go forward against a dog owner whose dog was permitted to go at large even though the dog had never hurt a person when doing so: The dog had previously just chased squirrels, but then caused a motor vehicle collision by doing so. The court said:

In Bolstad v. Pergeson, 305 Ark. 163, 806 S.W.2d 377 (1991), the Bolstads' dog crashed into the plaintiff's vehicle while the dog was chasing a squirrel. In affirming the judgment in favor of the plaintiff, we noted that it is not necessary to foresee a particular injury, but only to foresee that the general act or omission is likely to cause injury. We emphasized that, although the dog had not exhibited a penchant for crashing into cars, the dog had run at large before and chased squirrels. Further, we stated: "we cannot say that a dog running at large and chasing squirrels, with all the disruption that entails, either in a parking lot or on a city street did not raise a reasonable likelihood of injury under common law."

Similarly, in Bergetz v. Repka (Ark. 1968) 244 Ark. 60, 63, the court held that the doctrine of negligence could establish liability on the part of a dog owner who let her German shepherd roam on surrounding real property:

Repka's decision to let the large German shepherd out of its enclosure violated the assurances that his wife had given to Mrs. Bergetz. A jury might fairly conclude that an encounter between that dog and an apparently timid woman leading a smaller dog upon a leash might foreseeably involve an injury to Mrs. Bergetz. "It is not," as we said in Pulaski Gas Light Co. v. McClintock, 97 Ark. 576, 134 S.W. 1199, 32 L.R.A. (n.s.) 825 (1911), "necessary that the particular injury should have been foreseen."

For further discussion of how this doctrine applies to dog bite cases, see Negligence

Negligence per se is a doctrine that can help a victim recover compensation if the bite happened because the dog owner violated a statute, ordinance or regulation enacted for people's safety. Examples include a violation of a leash law, a law prohibiting dogs from being at large, or a law prohibiting dogs from trespassing. The violation is considered to be evidence of negligence. See Berkeley Pump Co. v. Reed-Joseph Land Co., 279 Ark. 384, 397 (1983). In Jackson v. Cadillac Cowboy, Inc., 986 S.W.2d 410 (Ark. 1999) the Arkansas Supreme Court referred to a violation of the state law prohibiting sale of alcohol to intoxicated persons both as "some evidence" of negligence and in language suggesting negligence per se.  Id. at 415. But in Branscumb v. Freeman, 200 S.W.3d 411, 417 (Ark. 2004), the court declined to extend the holding in Jackson to "recognize a private cause of action for negligence against the owner of an uninsured motor vehicle based solely upon the violation" of the Arkansas motor vehicle safety statutes.  For more information, see Negligence Per Se

Criminal statute and victim's medical bills

Although Arkansas does not have a civil dog bite statute, it does have a criminal statute that can assist a dog bite victim in receiving compensation for medical expenses. Arkansas Code section 5-62-125 makes it a misdemeanor to negligently allow a vicious dog to inflict serious injury or death upon a person. This criminal statute permits a court or jury to require the defendant to pay for the victim's medical bills. In a sense, therefore, Arkansas has some sort of dog bite statute that protects victims.

Strict liability imposed by ordinance

At least one county in this state has an ordinance that makes a dog owner strictly liable when his dog bites a person. See Benton County Code of Ordinances, sec. 10-2:

Sec. 10-2. - Liability of owner for property damages and injuries caused by animal.
(a) The owner of any animal or the parent or legal guardian if the owner is a minor is liable for property damages and injuries inflicted by his animal, while off the owner's property, whether or not such animal has been declared dangerous or vicious.

Landlord liability

Arkansas laws impose no liability on a landlord to third parties injured by a tenant's animals. Bryant v. Putnam (Ark. 1995) 322 Ark. 284, 285. This is true even where the landlord is aware of the dog's dangerous tendency to bite. Mills v. Finch (Ark. Ct. App. 2010) 2010 Ark. App. 199. 

Nevertheless, Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips prevailed in a case against a landlord based on the doctrine of respondeat superior. Mr. Phillips, the author of Dog Bite Law, represented Matthew Guess, a 4-year-old boy who was attacked and disfigured by pit bulls owned by the manager of a farm and used by him to roam at large for the purpose of chasing predatory animals away from the farm animals. 

Suggestions for expanding the law

The violation of Arkansas Code section 5-62-125 (see above) is evidence of negligence but not negligence itself. This is because Arkansas courts do not apply the doctrine of negligence per se. If a court can be persuaded to do so, however, a victim would be able to receive full compensation for his injuries rather than merely the medical costs provided under that statute.

It is suggested that attorneys study the Pennsylvania rulings on this subject. The courts of that state apply negligence per se for violations of criminal statutes pertaining to dog bites. See "The Miller and Hake Cases" at Pennsylvania. The reasoning set forth in those cases is applicable in Arkansas too. 

Arkansas needs a dog bite statute that imposes strict liability on dog owners whenever their dog bites or otherwise injures a person, even if it is the first time, as long as the victim did not provoke the dog or trespass. See Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips' Model Dog Bite Laws







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