We like to think that our furry friends would never hurt a fly, but unfortunately dog bites do happen. More specifically, millions of dog bites occur every year in the United States. Each state differs slightly in how they legally address dog bites, and Wisconsin in particular has a fairly unique provision. Let’s first review some of these laws.
Many states follow the rule of strict liability. This means that dog owners are always liable if their dog bites someone, as long as the victim was not breaking the law, trespassing, or provoking the dog. The strict liability rule applies even if there was nothing that the owner could have done to stop the dog.
This law still varies slightly from state to state. Some states only apply strict liability to incidents on public property, while others only apply it to injured federal workers. Wisconsin follows the normal strict liability law with no exceptions.
One Bite Rule
The “one bite rule” essentially means that each dog gets one free bite before the owner gets in trouble. The thought behind this law is that most owners have no way of knowing that their dog might be dangerous, so they should not be held liable unless they become aware of this knowledge and continue to let it happen.
This law is not currently followed as strictly as it’s described above. These days, if a dog owner has a dangerous breed or otherwise knows their dog could potentially be prone to biting at the moment, they may still be held liable under the one bite rule. It’s very similar to negligence laws in personal injury cases – you have a duty to reasonably protect those around you if you can. In the case of dog bites, that means warning those around you if your dog is aggressive.
So What’s Different in Wisconsin?
Wisconsin follows the strict liability law, with some specific stipulations for damages. The dog owner is liable for the first bite if they were not aware of the dog’s potential danger, and must pay a fine between $50-2,500 if necessary to cover injuries or property damage. If the owner did know of potential danger and didn’t provide adequate warning, the fine range increases to $200-5,000. This doesn’t just apply to injured humans and damaged property, but also domestic animal injuries, deer injuries, or injuries to game birds and their eggs.
Where Wisconsin law differs significantly from other states is in how much compensation can be recovered. According to injury attorneys Cannon & Dunphy, Wisconsin dog owners are actually required to pay twice the amount of compensation that is owed in the dog bite case. This means that the amount of damages determined to be paid to the injured party will get doubled. This only applies if the dog bite was forceful enough to break skin and cause permanent damage AND the owner was aware that the dog had previously bit someone.
These dog bite laws, in both Wisconsin and the rest of the country, are meant to encourage dog owners to be responsible. If you keep others safe from your dog, you don’t need to worry about the consequences of a bite.