An owner of a dog who knows, or has reason to know, that his or her animal has a vicious
disposition or a vicious propensity will be strictly liable for injuries or property damage caused
by its animal. The term “vicious disposition” includes not only “biting”, but also the jumping up
and on to people, the showing of teeth, growling and pulling at a chain when tied up. The term
“vicious propensity” means a natural inclination or habitual tendency to act in a manner that
might endanger the person or property of others.
Responsibility for vicious animal attacks can also extend to a landlord where he knowingly
allows a tenant to keep a vicious animal on his premises and where the landlord fails to take any
steps to protect others living in his building from attack.
And the owner of a vicious dog will also be liable for a victim’s injuries suffered in attempting
to avoid an attack, such as where the victim is struck by an automobile, or falls down, attempting
to evade or run from an attacking dog.
It has been held that a dog’s running around and barking is “normal canine behavior” and that
such activity does not put the dog’s owner on notice that it’s dog has a vicious disposition or
tendencies. But a prior bite that the owner knows about, or was told about, does establish the
vicious nature of his or her dog, and the owner will be strictly liable to the next victim who the
dog injures. That is not to say that the victim of the first bite can not hold the dog’s owner strictly
liable for his or her injuries, for where it can be shown prior to the first bite that a dog’s owner
knew that his or her dog growled, snapped or bared its teeth, or that the owner kept the dog as a
guard dog, or that the dog had a tendency to rise up and greet people, such factors may give rise
to an inference that the dog’s owner had knowledge, or had reason to know, that his or her dog
had vicious propensities.
The breed of a dog, standing alone, is insufficient to establish that the dog must naturally have
vicious propensities. So where it can be shown that a Pit Bull, or a German Sheppard, or a
Rottweiler was kept as a family pet and not as a trained guard dog or watch dog, its owner will
not be strictly liable if the dog bites someone, or knocks someone down, unless it can also be
shown that the owner knew, or had reason to know, that the dog had a vicious disposition or