It’s a difficult situation for pup parents to consider: what if your dog attacked someone? How liable would you, as the owner, be? And would a “Beware of Dog” sign make an impact on the outcome, should you be taken to court?
The short answer is: it depends on the laws of the state. For the most part, laws are pretty specific about owners assuming liability for their dogs. Some states exempt dog owners from liability if it is proven that the dog was provoked; others say if the injured party was “unlawfully trespassing,” the dog and its owner won’t be considered at fault. Laws also vary based on where the attack occurs, whether on personal or public property, or otherwise.
For the purpose of this discussion, we are going to assume that the dog is responsibly and securely contained within their house or yard.
In the event of a dog attack, there are two possible outcomes if you’ve posted a “Beware of Dog” sign:
- If the sign is easily visible, the injured party is considered to have assumed the risks of entering the property. (That is, they were warned by the sign, but they entered, anyway.)
- It is considered proof that the dog owner knows the dog is aggressive, so they knowingly put any visitors or trespassers in danger.
While many websites seem to support the first possible outcome–that the sign is considered a “warning”–the fact is, depending on the case, it could be argued either way.
The Michigan State University Animal Law website gives a great state-by-state synopsis of owner liability laws. According to the site, only Colorado and Florida officially exempt owners from liability with the posting of a sign; Colorado residents can post “Beware of Dog” or “No Trespassing,” while Floridians can post a “Bad Dog” sign.
Concerned owners of reactive or aggressive dogs may find that their best bet for lawsuit protection is to post a “No Trespassing” or “Private Property” sign.
“Under the law, an individual who sees a No Trespassing sign cannot enter, remain or participate in any activity on property with this written notice,” explains The Law Dictionary.
Therefore, if your dog attacks someone intruding on your property–whether a burglar, mischievous teenager, or otherwise–the trespasser should have been aware they he/she was breaking the law by walking onto your land. Additionally, the “No Trespassing” sign does not “admit” that the owner knows their dog is vicious.
Another wise precaution could be to set up surveillance cameras, especially if you live in one of the states that exempt liability when the dog is provoked. If you can provide proof that your dog acted defensively, it could get you–and Fido–off the hook.
Your best bet for legal protection is to know your state’s dog liability laws and take the proper precautions. Concerned dog owners should also seek the advice of a lawyer and be proactive about putting measures into place for legal protection in the event of a lawsuit, or better yet, to prevent an attack in the first place.
At the end of the day, dogs are animals with instincts, and for most of them, they’d do anything to protect their families. In the event of a lawsuit, being prepared could end up saving you tons of money, and more importantly, it could spare your dog’s life.