The Dog Owner’s Responsibility

Dog bites are actually fairly common occurrences. Some instances are relatively minor, while others can involve major trauma or even death. The dog owner usually has the highest degree of responsibility or liability in the incident.

In many states, including New Mexico, a dog owner is allowed to assume that his/her dog is not dangerous until it has demonstrated some form of aggression toward humans. While biting is an obvious display of threatening behavior, there are several other ways that the dog’s intentions may be demonstrated.

  • If a dog threatens people by growling or snapping, the owner should anticipate that it has the potential to harm someone.

  • If a large dog has a habit of jumping on people, even in play, the owner should realize that it has the potential to harm someone by knocking them down.

  • If a dog routinely runs along a fence line barking or chasing passersby, the owner should be aware that the dog might hurt someone if given the opportunity.

  • If a dog simply barks at strangers, but shows no other threatening behaviors, the owner is not likely to be liable if it bites a person.

  • If a dog has demonstrated aggression toward other dogs but not toward humans, it is not assumed to be dangerous.

If a dog is determined to be dangerous by these or other criteria, the owner has the responsibility to keep him from hurting people and would be held liable if someone is harmed. If the dog cannot be proven to be dangerous, the owner would not likely be liable for an initial incident.

The Dog Owner’s Defense

Of course, the entire responsibility for a dog bite does not always rest with the owner. Sometimes the person harmed has done something to aggravate the animal.

  • If an injured person provoked the dog in some manner, such as by hitting the dog, the owner may not be held completely liable for the injury.

  • If an injured person is aware of the risk of injury but took it anyway, the owner may not be liable. This category commonly affects veterinarians and dog groomers. It also may include individuals who ignore warning signs.

  • If an injured person is trespassing, it is possible that the owner may not be liable, but often this is decided on a case-by-case basis.

  • If an injured person was careless in some manner, they may be held at least partially liable for the injury.

Many of these guidelines are subject to interpretation and will be decided by the courts based on the circumstances of the case.

Compensation for Dog Bites

If a dog owner is proven to be at fault, there are several categories of compensation they may be required to pay. These may include:

  • Medical bills

  • Income lost due to the injury

  • Pain and suffering

  • Any property damage that may have occurred

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