In Arkansas, the rules that apply to dog bite lawsuits may vary by county, depending on whether the county in which the injury occurred has a specific dog bite ordinance or not. If not, the state's "one bite" rule applies. In this article, we'll discuss the "one bite" rule, as well as the "strict liability" ordinance that applies in at least one Arkansas county. We'll also look at the defenses available to a dog owner facing a dog bite case in Arkansas. We start, however, with the time limits for filing a dog bite claim in Arkansas.
Time Limits on Arkansas Dog Bite Lawsuits
Arkansas's "statute of limitations" sets a time limit on dog bite lawsuits and all other personal injury cases filed in the state's civil court system. In most situations, a dog bite claim must be filed within three years of the date of injury. If the lawsuit isn't filed within three years, it will almost certainly be thrown out without a hearing or trial.
The statute of limitations' deadline usually falls three years after the date of injury. However, certain circumstances can delay when the three-year "clock" starts to run. Do your own research on the specifics of the law or check with an attorney if you're running up against the three-year time limit.
Arkansas Dog Bite Laws
Arkansas has no statewide dog bite statute. Instead, dog bite claims are based on court decisions that have been handed down in the state over the years. Most dog bite cases in Arkansas are based either on the "one bite" rule or on a theory of negligence.
The "one bite" rule is so named because it requires a dog to have acted aggressively in the past, and for the owner to know -- or be in a position where he or she should have known -- of the dog's dangerous tendencies before the owner can be held liable. In many cases, this past aggression is based on evidence that the dog bit someone previously. However, a previous bite isn't required to hold a dog's owner liable, as long as evidence of aggressive behavior from the dog and evidence of the owner's actual or constructive knowledge is present.
Dog bite cases may also be based on a negligence theory. In a negligence case, the injured person must show that the dog's owner had a duty to use reasonable care in handling or controlling the dog, which he or she breached, resulting in the injuries inflicted. One of the many ways to establish a negligence case is by showing that the dog's owner violated a law, like a leash law, and that this violation resulted in the injuries. Negligence cases may also be based on other facts.
At least one county in Arkansas, Benton County, has an ordinance that holds dog owners liable for injuries their dogs cause, regardless of whether or not the owner knew the dog would act aggressively. These rules are known as "strict liability" rules, since no finding of fault on the part of the dog owner is required.
Defenses for Dog Owners in Arkansas
A dog owner facing a dog bite claim in Arkansas has several possible defenses, and a dog owner may argue some or all of them depending on the specific facts of the case.
Because the "one bite" rule applies in most Arkansas counties, a dog's owner may first argue that he or she didn't know and couldn't have known the dog would act aggressively. If the injured person was trespassing when the dog bite occurred, the dog's owner may also argue that principles limiting property owner liability for trespasser injuries should apply to limit or eliminate the owner's liability.