Our Indiana dog bite attorneys rely on the following Indiana statutes and case law to understand the nuances of dog bite law in Indiana. Understanding this information can be very important to your case.
Indiana Code § 15-20-1-3
This statute defines the elements which impose dog bite liability on dog owners. Liability is imposed when a dog, without provocation, bites a person, who is acting peaceably, and who is in a location where the dog owner has a duty of care. The Indiana statute further states that a dog owner is liable in Indiana even if the dog has never previously behaved in a vicious manner. It is explained in the statute’s comments, that an absolute duty is imposed upon a dog owner to prevent someone else’s injury by dog bite if the victim is lawfully on their property or if the dog bites the person in a public place. Additionally, a dog owner owes a trespasser a duty to not be negligent in confining their dog within their property.
Plesha v. Edmonds, 717 N.E.2d 981 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999)
This case illustrates the duty that a dog owner owes to a trespasser. In this case, neighborhood children routinely cut across Pleashas’ property in order to get to a neighborhood softball field. The Pleashas were aware of this and continued to allow it. A county ordinance required that dogs either be on a leash, chain, or confined within a fence on the dog owner’s property. The Pleshas did not have a fence, but allowed their dog to roam their property freely. When one of the neighborhood children was bit by the Pleshas’ dog while cutting through to the softball field, the Pleshas were held liable for the child’s injuries. This case makes it clear that if a local ordinance regulates the confinement of one’s dog, and that ordinance is violated resulting in injury, the court will likely find the dog owner negligent.
Stewart v. City of Indianapolis, 798 N.E. 2d 863 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003)
This case discusses what a property owner must do in order to confine their dog properly. In this case, the Stewarts kept their dog in their garage with the door barely cracked so that air could flow. A child from the neighborhood attempted to crawl under the cracked garage door and was bit by the Stewarts dog. The City of Indianapolis filed suit against the Stewarts alleging violation of a local ordinance which regulated confinement of dogs. The Court looked to the literal definition of the word “confine” and found that the Stewarts had, in fact, properly confined their dog because the dog was not able to escape their property.
Kessel v. State Automobile Mutual Ins. Co., 871 N.E.2d 335 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007)
This case addresses what determines who will pay for a dog bite victim’s injuries. In cases where a dog owner has insurance, the insurance will pay for the injuries. However, a court can order an individual to pay for the injuries of a dog bite victim. The problem with ordering an individual to pay, is that if they do not have any money or assets, it could be months or years before the injured party is ever paid.
Typically, the dog owner’s insurance carrier will try to find loopholes in their policies so that they don’t have to pay. In this case, the liability insurance carrier used the fine print in its policy to argue that they were not liable because the bite had occurred “in connection with a business on the property.” This language, combined with the unique circumstances of the case, led the Court to find that the insurance company was not responsible.
Baker v. Weather ex rel. Weather, 714 N.E.2d 740 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999)
Sometimes, a person injured by a dog bite can recover from the landlord whose tenant’s dog caused the injury. This case illustrates what the injured person must show in order to prove that the landlord is responsible. For the landlord to be held liable, the injured party must show that (1) the landlord exercised control over the property, and (2) the landlord knew of the dog’s vicious propensity. In this case, the landlord knew that the dog often escaped and chased people, but he was unaware of any vicious behavior. This case is important because the Court defined the term “vicious behavior” as “a propensity or tendency of an animal to do any act which might endanger the safety of person or property in a given situation.” The act of the animal, not the mind of the animal, determines dangerous propensity.
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