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Ohio Court Makes It Easier to Charge Owner of ‘Dangerous’ Dog

An official designation of a “dangerous dog” is not required to charge a dog’s owner with failing to control their animal, according to the Ohio Supreme Court in a new ruling applied to existing Ohio dog bite laws.

The Court’s ruling stems from a case in which a Cincinnati, Ohio man unleashed his dog to protect him from a stray dog. His dog then bit a woman, and the man was charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor for failing to confine a dangerous dog. Although the conviction was overturned, the case marks an important change to Ohio dog bite law.

How the Ruling Affects Ohio Dog Bite Law

Previously, Ohio courts ruled that in order to charge an owner with failure to confine a dangerous dog, the dog must have been officially declared “dangerous.” The Supreme Court, however, ruled that as long as the prosecution has reason to believe that a dog has a history of acting dangerously (i.e., the dog caused a non-serious injury to a person, or killed another dog), the owner can be criminally charged. Someone who has been ticketed three or more times for failing to keep their dog under reasonable control can also be considered the owner, keeper, or “harborer” of a dangerous dog.

In this case, the prosecution relied on a social media post from the Cincinnati dog owner, who wrote on Facebook that the dog was trying to “bite everybody.” While the Court ruled that a dog does not need to be declared dangerous before the owner can be charged with failure to control it, the Court also found that the Facebook post did not prove the dog had actually injured anyone. So while the dog’s owner was acquitted, the case provides a reminder of why your social media posts can hurt your legal case.

Implications for Dog Owners

For Ohio dog owners, there is now a lower threshold of evidence needed to hold you criminally liable for your dog biting somebody. As the Court wrote, “where the state has probable cause to believe the dog in question is dangerous, based on prior actions of the dog…the state may initiate prosecution and prove the dog’s dangerousness at trial.”

Implications for Dog Bite Victims

For Ohio dog bite victims, while the ruling makes it easier to criminally prosecute the owner of a dog that bites, civil lawsuit procedure remains unchanged. You will still need to file a dog bite lawsuit to recover compensation for physical and emotional trauma. Since Ohio is a “strict liability” dog bite state, it is not necessary to prove that the dog’s owner failed to control the dog, or acted negligently in some other way.

However, if the state has previously declared a dog to be dangerous, the owner may be legally required to obtain liability insurance. Dangerous dog liability insurance provides coverage when the dog causes bodily injury or death to a person.

Ohio a Top State for Dog Bites

Ohio Department of Health statistics show that from 2013 to 2017, there were nearly 65,000 dog bites reported statewide. Ohio is also one of the leading states for dog bite insurance claims. In 2018, Ohio dog bite claims totaled more than $21 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Anyone who has been seriously injured by a dog should understand their legal rights and consider hiring a lawyer.

The Dayton Daily News describes how Ohio legislators have been trying to pass stronger dog bite laws in response to recent vicious attacks. For example, in July 2018 a nine year old girl received hundreds of stiches and spent five nights in the hospital because she was attacked by a pit bull. In 2014, a woman suffered a fatal attack from dogs she had reported to authorities dozens of times prior to her death. Bills proposed in the Ohio state legislature, named after the woman that would have changed Ohio dog bite law, failed to win approval. Currently, a bill introduced in January 2020 calls for increasing penalties when dogs injure or kill someone, as well as making changes to existing dangerous dog laws.

Anyone who has been seriously injured by a dog should understand their legal rights and consider hiring a lawyer. Graham & Graham has successfully represented dog bite victims throughout Ohio. Our lawyers have specific experience in dog bite cases and represent victims on a contingency-fee basis: We only collect a fee if we win your case. During a free case review with our dog bite lawyers, we’ll go over what happened and help you decide the best course of action. At Graham & Graham you are assured of compassionate, prompt, and attentive service.

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