Dogs, no matter their size, breed, or perceived nature, have the capability of injuring people when they attack. Most dog bite injuries are preventable, meaning that an owner's actions - whether it be neglect, a failure to follow the state regulations or abuse - somehow led to the attack. It's important that victims of dog bite injuries understand Colorado's dog bite laws, who is liable for their injury, and the amount of time they have to file a claim in the state.
Statute of Limitations on Dog Bite Lawsuits
Every state in the nation imposes time restrictions on filing personal injury claims, including those that arise due to a dog bite injury. These time limits are referred to as the state's statute of limitations. In Colorado, residents are permitted two years from the exact date the injury was inflicted to file a civil lawsuit. In most cases, claimants who decide to file a lawsuit outside of the allotted, two-year time limit will have their case thrown out of the court without it being reviewed or assessed. However, there are exceptions, including the discovery rule.
The Discovery Rule
In cases where claimants could not have reasonably known they were injured, there's a stipulation referred to as the discovery rule. Not all injuries can be seen or even felt immediately. In fact, it's common for latent injuries to go without any symptoms for days, months and even years at a time before a victim is aware that they may be harmed. Colorado legislators did not intend for the statute of limitations to punish victims who have been oblivious to the injuries they've endured. Therefore, the discovery rule serves as justification for review in circumstances when a case hasn't been brought within the statute of limitations. In order for the discovery rule to apply to a case, a claimant must prove that they could have not possibly discovered that they were injured within the two-year deadline.
Even though this rule may apply to a case, there are benefits to filing a lawsuit immediately after a dog bite victim has been injured. The more details a claimant is able to remember about the incident, the more accurately a legal representative can determine a case's viability in court.
Colorado Dog Bite Laws
When assigning liability to an owner for a dog bite injury, each state has the option of adhering to a system of strict liability or negligence in civil cases. Colorado legislation is unique in the sense that it conflates these two approaches, making strict liability applicable in some cases and negligence applicable in others.
Strict Liability Statute
Under state law, owners are considered liable for most dog bites, even in situations when he or she was not aware of the dog's aggressive nature or was not present to witness the incident. According to Colorado Revised Statute section 13-21-14, a dog owner is strictly liable in personal injury cases in the event that:
- A dog bites a person who was lawfully on public or private property
- The dog bite resulted in a serious bodily injury or death
Defining “serious bodily injury”
The distinction between what is considered a serious bodily injury and a minor injury is a crucial element of a case. Determining whether a claimant has sustained a serious bodily injury can affect their ability to bring a feasible case in the eyes of the law. Fortunately, Colorado statutes provide a clear and concise explanation of what constitutes a serious bodily injury.
In accordance with state law, “serious bodily injury” refers to injuries that involve any of the following elements:
- A substantial risk of death
- A substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement
- A substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, or
- Breaks, fractures, or burns of the second degree
Under the strict liability statute, only economic damages can be recovered to plaintiffs. Therefore, economic losses that a victim experienced in relation to their injury can be compensated if a judge or jury rules in a plaintiff's favor. Medical expenses, hospital bills, lost wages from missing work (in the past or future), as well as damages to personal property are just some of the damages that one could possibly recover in court.
Non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering and emotional distress can only be recovered in cases when an owner is is deemed negligent by a court of law.
Although the strict liability statute covers a wide variety of dog bites, there are instances when an owner's negligent actions led to an injury. Not all dog bite cases will result in a serious bodily injury or fatality, however, an injured person still has the right to file a claim for being attacked. When a person brings a claim on the basis of negligence, they must prove the following factors:
- The owner had a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the injury
- The owner failed to exercise reasonable care
- That failure led to the victim's injuries
- The victim suffered economic damages and/or non-economic damages as a result of his or her injuries
Within the realm of negligence based claims is the applicability of the “negligence per se” rule. This rule enforces that a dog owner's failure to comply with laws or regulations is considered a failure to exercise reasonable care in a case.
For example, let's say that you decide to take your dog for a walk in your neighborhood. Ordinances regarding walking a dog in the neighborhood, state that all dogs must be on a leash, but you decide to let your dog, Twinkle, walk beside you without a leash due to his supposed unaggressive nature. When a pedestrian walks by, Twinkle begins to snarl and growl at her. You do everything in your power but he jumps on her, knocks her down and bites her arm. Since the neighborhood ordinance required that all dogs be leashed when walked by owners, the pedestrian could put in her claim that you are negligent for not following the rules. This is how the “negligence per se” rule could be applied in a case.
Experienced Colorado Personal Injury Attorney
If you or a loved one has been attacked by a dog and has sustained injuries, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the law offices of Jeremy Rosenthal for a consultation.