Alabama Dog Bite Laws
Dogs are man’s best friends, but they are also animals with sharp teeth and motives and instincts we don’t always understand. According to the CDC, 4.7 million people report dog bites in the U.S. each year which amounts to around 1 biting incident every 75 seconds. Like most states, Alabama considers dog owners responsible for their dog’s actions, but the state’s dog bite statute includes some caveats that may impact an injury victim’s claim for damages.
When a dog bites someone in Alabama, it often takes an experienced personal injury attorney in Birmingham to untangle the state’s complex dog bite laws so the victim can recover compensation for their damages.
Does Alabama Have a “One-Bite” Dog Rule?
In the United States, most states fall into one of two categories when it comes to dog bites. Some states hold dog owners liable for all damages regardless of the dog’s history, while others allow a “one-bite” exception, in which owners are only liable for damages the second time a dog bites based on the understanding that they couldn’t know that the dog was capable of biting until a bite occurred at least once. Alabama’s more nuanced dog bite laws combine both elements.
In Alabama, a dog owner is liable for a bite victim’s damages if their dog bites someone on their property or after chasing the individual off the property. However, if the dog never bit anyone before and the owner had no knowledge of the dog ever engaging in aggressive behavior, then the owner is only liable for economic damages like medical expenses and lost wages—typically paid through the pet owner’s property insurance. The state does not hold the dog owner liable for non-economic damages like pain and suffering.
Negligence Claims in Alabama Dog Bites
Specialized dog bite attorneys in Birmingham explain that according to Alabama court decisions, pet owners who keep high-risk dogs are negligent and liable for damages if the dog bites or otherwise injures anyone lawfully on the owner’s property. This is sometimes known as the “Mailman Rule.” Dog owners are legally liable through the state’s common-law negligence statutes if evidence shows that the owner knew—or should reasonably have known—that the dog posed a danger to anyone lawfully on their property. Evidence may include:
- A previous history of biting
- Eyewitness testimony of a dog’s known history of aggressive behavior, including growling, snarling, chasing, and knocking people down
- Veterinary records such as a dog who requires sedation for treatment
- A dog whose owner trained it as a guard dog
A pet owner is also liable for damages if they fail to keep their dog contained on their property through fencing or leashing and the dog injures someone off the owner’s property.
If a pet owner shows negligence in allowing their dog to cause injury when they knew the dog was a danger to others, the bite victim may hold the owner liable for non-economic damages as well as economic ones.
Common Compensation for Dog Bite Damages in Alabama
A dog attack is painful and traumatic, often leading to infection, scarring, and disfigurement. Dog bites are also expensive and painful to treat. Medical treatment may require many stitches, corrective surgery, skin grafts, and antibiotic treatment to prevent infection. Common damages in Alabama dog bite claims in which the owner is found negligent include the following:
- Reimbursement for medical expenses and future medical expenses for corrective procedures
- Reimbursement for income loss
- Compensation for pain and suffering
- Compensation for scarring and disfigurement
- Compensation for trauma, PTSD, and anxiety
Because dog attacks are terrifying as well as painful, many victims are left with severe trauma and anxiety requiring mental health treatment. Dog attacks are especially traumatizing for children, who make up an estimated 51% of dog bite victims in Alabama.
While financial compensation cannot erase the trauma of a dog bite injury, it can open doors for counseling and help victims achieve a sense of justice.