How are Injuries Caused by Animals Treated in Lawsuits?

Posted by Ryan Russman | Oct 28, 2013 | 0 Comments

If you've been anywhere near a television recently, you've probably seen news covering the reveal of Charla Nash, the woman who was brutally attacked by her employer's 14 year-old chimpanzee, Travis, in February of 2009. According to reports, Nash went to visit her employer, Sandra Herold, when Herold called to ask for her help in containing Travis. When Nash arrived, Travis savagely attacked her, causing her severe disfigurement including the loss of both eyes, both hands, her nose and her lips.

As a result, Nash has sued Herold for $50 million and the state of Connecticut for $150 million in a personal injury suit. Herold's attorney, however, claims that since Nash was an employee of his client, the suit should be for worker's compensation and not personal injury. By switching claims, the attorney may be able to shield Herold from personal liability and ultimately lower the possible award to Nash. This would also shift the focus from the duties of pet ownership to employer responsibility and compensation.

So how does this affect you? Although not everyone owns a 200-pound chimpanzee, the story certainly gives rise to questions regarding animal attacks, liability and personal injury suits.

Dog owners especially are targeted for personal injury laws regarding pets. According to the CDC, there are over four million dog bites every year and almost a million of these require some type of medical attention.  While we'd all like to believe that our beloved pets wouldn't harm a soul, it's important to recognize that, under stress, many animals will defend themselves and their owners through biting.

Leash and fence laws are designed to help protect pedestrians from unknown canines and to help shield owners from liability. In order to help protect both owners and civilians, some states even restrict the types of breeds allowed in certain districts and maintain strict liability laws.

New Hampshire Statutes Pertaining to Animal-Inflicted Injuries
New Hampshire happens to be one of the states with strict laws. Basically, if a dog attacks another person (and that person was neither trespassing nor committing a crime), the owner of the animal is legally responsible for the injuries caused by their dog. In short, the owner of the animal is financially responsible for all lost wages, suffering, medical bills and stress that result from the attack.

In general, a person injured from a dog bite in New Hampshire does not need to prove that the owner of the dog knew that the animal had aggressive tendencies or that the owner was in any way at fault or negligent. The law also covers non-contact injuries such as causing a biking accident by scaring the rider. It also covers damage to property or livestock including fowl, cats and other domestic animals.

The law does not, however, cover harm to individuals who were trespassing, committing a crime, harassing, tormenting, teasing, or harming the dog in any way. This is important information for dog owners who keep their animals properly contained and may be concerned about counter suits from trespassing individuals who get harmed on their property.

Pet ownership is both a great privilege and a huge responsibility. New Hampshire laws are designed to protect both the owner and the civilian and it's important to understand your liabilities before acquiring a new pet. Dog bites are more common than most people recognize, so be sure to follow the regulations to protect yourself, your property and your dog.

Note:  The laws are even more harsh if you own exotic pets.  Be sure to read up on the laws and regulations regarding wild or exotic animals before adopting anything other than common domesticated animals.

About the Author

Ryan Russman

Attorney Ryan Russman has dedicated his career to fighting for the rights of New Hampshire citizens. His practice, based in Exeter (Rockingham County) New Hampshire, is limited to cases involving DWI and DUI, other motor vehicle and criminal cases, and many cases involving personal injury. He is, however, best known as one of New Hampshire's leading legal authorities on DWI.


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