In the past, for all types of dog bite injuries, Colorado was considered a “first-bite” state. This meant that a dog owner could be held liable for the acts of his or her dog if the animal had a propensity for violence, and the owner knew about this tendency. Generally, knowledge of a dog’s inclination for violence could be shown by a prior attack involving the dog; so the owner effectively had a defense if this was the “first-bite” by the alleged dog.
In 2004, Colorado passed a dog bite statute that repealed the prior knowledge requirement, but only in cases involving “serious bodily injury.” Currently, if victims suffer any injuries that include a substantial risk of death, disfigurement or loss of the function of any part of the body, they do not have to show that the dog owner had any prior knowledge of the dog’s tendency for violence in order to hold the dog owner responsible.
The statute does still allow Colorado dog bite victims to make a case under the “first-bite” rule if the injury was not considered a serious bodily injury.
Exemptions to Dog Bite Liability
The dog bite statute also created specific liability exemptions for dog owners. These exemptions apply to all dog bite injuries, regardless of whether the injury is considered “serious,” and include situations in which:
- The victim is unlawfully on public or private property in which the dog bite occurs
- The victim is on property of the dog owner and the property is clearly and conspicuously marked with one or more posted signs stating “no trespassing” or “beware of dog”
- The dog is being used by a peace officer or military personnel in the performance of their duties
- The victim is knowingly provoking the dog
- The victim is a veterinary health care worker, dog groomer, humane agency staff person, professional dog handler, trainer, or dog show judge acting in the performance of his or her respective duties
- The dog is working as a hunting dog, herding dog, farm or ranch dog, or predator control dog on the property of or under the control of the dog’s owner
Effect of Dog Bite Statute
The enactment of Colorado’s dog bite statute has effectively created different classes of dog bite victims. The first type includes unfortunate dog bite victims that fall under one of the exemptions described above, and they have no ability to recover damages.
The second type involves victims who suffer a “serious bodily injury,” and can collect economic damages under the statute. These victims do not have to prove that the dog owner had any prior knowledge of the dog’s tendency for violence.
A third type includes dog bite victims, with or without serious injuries, who can file a suit for damages under any available theory, such as the first-bite rule.
If you are the victim of a dog bite, contact an experienced Colorado personal injury attorney to assist you in navigating the state’s complex dog bite laws. An attorney will advocate on your behalf to help ensure you receive appropriate compensation for your injuries.
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