What Missouri Laws Apply to Dog Bites?
There are two key statutes that address dog bites in Missouri. The first, referred to as the Missouri dog bite statute, holds the owner or possessor of a dog that bites and injures someone without provocation or trespassing, on public and private property, strictly liable for the damages sustained by the victim. Unlike some states, Missouri’s law does not require that the dog has bitten someone before. In other words, the dog doesn’t get one “free” bite before a victim can pursue a claim.
The dog bite statute addresses both tort law, which applies to personal injury claims, and also assesses a fine of up to $1,000 if law enforcement issues a citation.
The second key law is a criminal statute that addresses dangerous dogs. People who own or possess dogs that have bitten someone may be charged with a Class B misdemeanor. If the dog seriously injures someone, the owner can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. If the dog attack results in serious bodily injury to a second person, the offense rises to a Class E felony. If the dog kills someone, the owner will be charged with a Class D felony.
What Does It Take to Prove Liability?
Proving liability requires a series of evidence. First, there must be proof that the dog owner owed you a duty of care. Missouri’s premises liability laws hold people responsible for the safety of their property for those invited to be there. Premises liability does not just apply to slips and falls and other accidents that occur when there are dangerous conditions. A dog can be a dangerous condition as well.
Second, there must be evidence that the owner failed to observe that duty of care by applying a “reasonable person” standard. In other words, the owner should have known or reasonably known their dog could bite someone.
Third, you must prove the owner’s failure resulted in you being injured by the dog and as a result, you incurred damages such as medical expenses, lost wages, disfigurement, trauma, and/or pain and suffering.
Since Missouri observes the rule of comparative negligence in torts, the victim may be held partially liable for injuries. Being partially at fault does not prohibit the victim from pursuing a claim for damages. Rather, any settlement will be reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to them.
How Do I File a Personal Injury Claim?
Filing a personal injury claim in a dog bite accident can be far more challenging than, for example, filing a bodily injury claim against a negligent driver in a car accident. As the plaintiff, you must prove negligence while the dog owner will attempt to prove that you provoked the dog or were trespassing at the time of the attack. If successful, you could be assigned considerable comparative fault or be held 100% at fault for your damages.
Another issue prevalent with dog bite claims is finding insurance coverage to file a claim against. For example, a renter whose dog attacked you may not have any premises liability coverage. The owner of the rental property may not have a liability policy that covers the renter’s negligence. If there is no insurance, you would need to file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court to get a judgment against the dog owner, then attempt to recover payment from the sale of the defendant’s assets or garnishment of their wages.
Missouri does have a generous statute of limitations for personal injury claims. You must settle an insurance claim or file a lawsuit within five years from the date of the attack, or within five years from the date of death if a loved one later died as the result of their injuries. You can recover for damages including medical expenses, lost income, disfigurement, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and property damage, such as a bag or cell phone damaged or destroyed in the attack.