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-   -   'Beware of dog' signs make you liable? (http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=9056)

Xia 22 May 2007 03:21 AM

'Beware of dog' signs make you liable?
 
I have heard this a lot but no one has ever given a solid source or law to back it up.
I always hear that if you have a "Beware of Dog" sign or sign, you are "admitting" that you have an aggressive dog, so if your dog bites someone you will be in more trouble because you are admitting liability/saying that you know you have a dangerous dog.
However I have also heard that if you have a "beware" sign you are actually protecting yourself from litigation if your dog bites someone because they were warned before entering your yard. :confused:

I was wondering if anyone knows of any actual laws or cases that match either of those ideas because I keep hearing people state these as fact, especially the first one ('don't put up a sign because it means you're liable') but haven't found any proof of this.
I always figured if your dog bites someone you're going to be held responsible no matter what signs you have up, but not 'more responsible' if you have a sign up. The sign just (hopefully) makes people think twice before entering your yard.

joshxrt22 22 May 2007 03:39 AM

...
 
I would say less liable, if anything, soley for the reason that if there's a warning sign, they KNOW something bad is going to happen to them if they're tresspassing, breaking in, whatever. I mean, my two lab/pit bull mix dogs are huge sweethearts, but if you come in my house and aren't supposed to be there and are trying to hurt me, they will F#CK you UP, because they will protect me, themselves and their territory. And if my dogs didn't get to you first, *I* would, so does that make me a "dangerous" person?

No, it makes me a person that will protect myself if someone is doing something they shouldn't be.

Suppose you have two burglers, and each get shot by their victims. Victim A has a sign that says "Beware of owner with gun, if you're not supposed to be here, you'll be shot"; Victim B has no sign. But both shot their respective burglers. Does Victim A declaring the fact he'll shoot you make him more liable than Victim B, who was also packing, but didn't broadcast it? Only difference is Burgler B didn't KNOW his victim was armed and was gonna shoot him, but same result, but he wouldn't of had to worry about it if he hadn't been doing what he shouldn't have been in the first place, which is my main point.

Bottom line, if people aren't doing things they shouldn't be doing in the first place, nothing bad will happen to you, but the "beware of dog" thing, it's a warning, and a declaration not to do something you shouldn't be. It's a declaration that "This house isn't an easy, unprotected target, so don't something stupid, or you'll get mauled".

Honestly though, I seriously doubt it makes a difference either way.

songs78 22 May 2007 07:50 AM

It depends on jurisdiction, whether you are talking criminal or civil etc...

In Washington. Dangerous animals including dog bites are a strict liability. So no matter what you did. You would be liable for civil penalties.

Quote:

The laws of Washington State have established dog owners shall be held responsible when their dog bites an innocent party. Specifically RCW 16.08.040 providers for a standard of "strict liability" on the dog owner as follows:

"Liability. The owner of any dog which shall bite any person while such person is in or on a public place or lawfully in or on a private place including the property of the owner of such dog, shall be liable for such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness."
http://www.adlergiersch.com/areas.cf...w&articleID=90

So a beware of dog sign in that case wouldn't matter either way. Unless the person was trespassing.

In a criminal cases where a dog was deemed dangerous, a beware of dog sign would be added to an affirmative defense. Bolding mine.

Quote:

(3) The owner of any dog that aggressively attacks and causes severe injury or death of any human, whether or not the dog has previously been declared potentially dangerous or dangerous, shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a class C felony punishable in accordance with RCW 9A.20.021. It is an affirmative defense that the defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the human severely injured or killed by the defendant's dog: (a) Trespassed on the defendant's real or personal property which was enclosed by fencing suitable to prevent the entry of young children and designed to prevent the dog from escaping and marked with clearly visible signs warning people, including children, not to trespass and to beware of dog
http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=16.08.100

landmammal 22 May 2007 08:03 AM

I was flipping through Every Dog's Legal Guide: A Must Have Book for Your Owner at a bookstore and it discussed regional variations in the law. It did talk about "Beware of Dog" signs and IIRC in most places they don't mean that you know the dog is dangerous. In some places they make you less liable and in others they make no difference.

Tarquin Farquart 22 May 2007 08:14 AM

I would have thought the second instance would be more likely - anyone who reads the sign should be aware there is a dog and act accordingly.

Many years back I used to deliver papers and the "beware of the dog" signs were a great help as I wouldn't end up with some massive (but usually friendly) dog bounding towards me at top speed.

Skeptic 22 May 2007 12:18 PM

Isn't there some sort of law that you are permitted to approach a person's front door (at a reasonable hour) and state your business, without it being claimed that you are a tresspasser. In that case, the lack of a sign could/should make you more liable if you get bitten while on their property.

OT, when I was young, some neighbors of ours had very savage dogs, and had a sign saying DOGS. STAY IN CAR, SOUND HORN on their driveway.

Jay Temple 22 May 2007 06:11 PM

ISTR that under English Common Law, every dog was entitled to "one free bite." That is, until the first time your dog bit someone, you were not liable because your dog was presumed not to be dangerous, and after that you were liable. This came up precisely in connection with the question raised, so before the various localities changed their laws, the situation described in the OP probably did apply.

Embra 23 May 2007 12:53 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jay Temple (Post 182342)
ISTR that under English Common Law, every dog was entitled to "one free bite." That is, until the first time your dog bit someone, you were not liable because your dog was presumed not to be dangerous, and after that you were liable. This came up precisely in connection with the question raised, so before the various localities changed their laws, the situation described in the OP probably did apply.

The law relating to dogs in England and Wales is governed quite extensively by statute: DEFRA summarises the current law.

The question in the OP seems really to relate more to "occupiers liability" than to dangerous dogs per se.

Even before the various statutes were enacted, I can't really see common law getting as detailed as "one free bite": it might have been relevant in a decision about whether liability would attach to a negligent owner (i.e. if the owner had done everything reasonable to prevent their dog biting people but the dog was somehow provoked in an unforeseeable way).

llewtrah 23 May 2007 01:08 PM

English Law requires dogs to be under control in public places and I don't know how clear it is on dogs that bite people when on private property. There have been cases of children trespassing (e.g. to fetch a lost football) and being attacked by dogs and that also brings trespass laws into play. Then there's the Dangerous Dogs Act that might seek to prove the dog is a banned type anyway.

A beware of the Dog sign sould be construed as a warning that visitors shouldn't leave gates open or the dog will get loose. In the case of some mutts, it means "try not to trip over the lazy, deaf, smelly, mobile rug"

Don Enrico 23 May 2007 01:33 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jay Temple (Post 182342)
ISTR that under English Common Law, every dog was entitled to "one free bite." That is, until the first time your dog bit someone, you were not liable because your dog was presumed not to be dangerous, and after that you were liable. This came up precisely in connection with the question raised, so before the various localities changed their laws, the situation described in the OP probably did apply.

We've got snopsters her more learned in these things than me, but I seem to remember that under Talmud law, you are not held liable when your ox hurts somebody for the first time, since you couldn't know that the animal would be dangerous. When he hurts somebody for the second time,though, you knew, and you'll be held liable.

Since the old Talmud law found it's way into a lot of (more or less) modern legislations, this may at one point been the law in England or the US, too.

Don Enrico

Floater 23 May 2007 02:23 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Skeptic (Post 181920)
OT, when I was young, some neighbors of ours had very savage dogs, and had a sign saying DOGS. STAY IN CAR, SOUND HORN on their driveway.

A cousin of mine once had a sign in his garden with the text "If the dog attacks, lie still until help arrives". It should be noted, though, that he had a very gentle little lakeland terrier.

FloridaGirl 23 May 2007 02:48 PM

My mother has been told it's not the "Beware of Dog" signs, it's the "Warning: Dangerous Dog" signs that make you liable. Because, well, you admitted the dog was dangerous. Our babies like to jump at the front windows. So when we had our old front windows, we had a sign on them that said "Warning: Glass may break" with a picture of a dog. That way, if the dogs did go through the windows, we weren't liable. That was the theory anyway.

Hijack:
Once a pizza delivery guy came by and the dogs were still outside for whatever reason. As he was leaving, he laughed at the daschound we had at the time barking at him. However, it was quickly followed by two 150 pound dogs jumping on the windows. They were eye to eye and the windows bowed out. I think he had to go home to change his pants.

When we got the new windows, mom made the guy write in the contract that the windows would hold up to the dogs.

forceflow15 23 May 2007 04:41 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Embra (Post 183273)
T -snip-

Even before the various statutes were enacted, I can't really see common law getting as detailed as "one free bite": it might have been relevant in a decision about whether liability would attach to a negligent owner (i.e. if the owner had done everything reasonable to prevent their dog biting people but the dog was somehow provoked in an unforeseeable way).

Actually, under English common law, at least as practiced here in America and taught by the Torts professor referenced in my sigline, dogs can be entitled to one free bite. For an owner to be liable, he must have some form of scienter or knowledge. In dog bite cases, it is knowledge that the specific animal, not the breed, is likely to bite. This can be shown either by showing that the dog bit someone, or that the owner feared the dog might, and took extra precautions to protect others.

Based onthat, it is likely that under common law the sign in the OP would not be the basis for more liability.

Grendel 23 May 2007 06:20 PM

It's not "more" or "less" liability - in a matter like this, being liable is like being pregnant - you are or you aren't. forceflow15 is correct in referring to the doctrine of scienter. If an owner knows of a dog's tendency to bite, the owner is liable if the dog bites someone. If the owner has no knowledge (and is not being "wilfully blind") then s/he is not liable. I note that this is similar to the Talmudic doctrine cited by Don Enrico.

I'm not aware of any cases where a "Beware of Dog" sign has been held to constitute scienter. However, I haven't done any research on this point. As a plaintiff's lawyer, which I often am, I would certainly ask questions about the owner's knowledge and reasons for putting up the "Beware of Dog" sign, but I doubt that I would advance it as an argument, without some other significant factors.

The "every dog gets one bite" doctrine cited by Jay Templeflows from the scienter concept. However, it's not absolute. If an owner knows or ought to know that his/her dog is vicious, even if it's never bitten anybody before, s/he will be liable if it does bite. An example would be a guard dog. If you buy a guard dog and don't take proper precautions, you'll be liable if it bites someone.

[hijack]A lawyer of my distant acquaintance had a dog bite case very early in her career in small claims court. The dog had bitten a young girl's arm. The defendant took the stand and testified that his dog was not vicious and had never bitten anybody nor shown signs of aggression. Then he said "Besides, it couldn't have been my dog. My dog wouldn't have bitten her arm - it would have ripped her face off!" Judgment was for the plaintiff.[/hijack]

Grendel 23 May 2007 06:52 PM

Okay, I was a bit too late to add this in an ETA.

I did a quick search of Canadian cases on Quicklaw; only once was it argued that a "BoD" sign implied scienter and this argument was specifically rejected by the judge, who noted that people often put up those signs when they don't have a vicious dog (or even when they have no dog at all) in order to keep intruders away, or just for information. So the OP would appear to be an UL, at least in Canada.

DemonWolf 23 May 2007 07:07 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Skeptic (Post 181920)
Isn't there some sort of law that you are permitted to approach a person's front door (at a reasonable hour) and state your business, without it being claimed that you are a tresspasser. In that case, the lack of a sign could/should make you more liable if you get bitten while on their property.

OT, when I was young, some neighbors of ours had very savage dogs, and had a sign saying DOGS. STAY IN CAR, SOUND HORN on their driveway.

Some people, in the US at least, do not need to announce their presence as they are "expected." Meter readers and mail carriers, for example, make it a practice to enter the property and conduct their business without alerting the homeowner since they do not need the homeowner's cooperation or access to the home.

zman977 24 May 2007 02:27 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by FloridaGirl (Post 183361)
My mother has been told it's not the "Beware of Dog" signs, it's the "Warning: Dangerous Dog" signs that make you liable. Because, well, you admitted the dog was dangerous. Our babies like to jump at the front windows. So when we had our old front windows, we had a sign on them that said "Warning: Glass may break" with a picture of a dog. That way, if the dogs did go through the windows, we weren't liable. That was the theory anyway.

.


Now I would think someone would be less liable with a "dangerous dog" sign especially if the dog was legally declared dangerous. A sign like this might be a required along with the person haveing to keep their dog on a leash and other estrictions put on dangerous dogs. I would think a sign like this would make you less liable. Just my two cents.

Eve MG 24 May 2007 03:07 AM

We have a dog liability insurance policy. The company asked us to put a Beware of Dog sign on the front of our house, "to alert people that there is a dog on the property." That's all they said about it, and when I called to say I did, they were satisified, they didn't need a picture or anything. So I can't imagine it's that important liability-wise if they didn't even want proof I did it. And they didn't care what size it was - I got a nice little name-plate kind that's on the bottom of the door. Right below where my boy's head is when he's looking out the front door at the world. :)

Grendel 24 May 2007 08:41 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Eve MG (Post 184255)
We have a dog liability insurance policy. The company asked us to put a Beware of Dog sign on the front of our house, "to alert people that there is a dog on the property." That's all they said about it, and when I called to say I did, they were satisified, they didn't need a picture or anything. So I can't imagine it's that important liability-wise if they didn't even want proof I did it. And they didn't care what size it was - I got a nice little name-plate kind that's on the bottom of the door. Right below where my boy's head is when he's looking out the front door at the world. :)

They don't want to see a picture because they don't really care that it's there. They just want you to "warranty" that it is. That way, if someone gets hurt by your dog and there isn't a BoD sign, they can refuse to cover you.

You have to keep in mind that the insurance business isn't about helping people - it's about collecting premiums while keeping claims payments to a minimum.

Eve MG 25 May 2007 02:42 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Grendel (Post 185253)
They don't want to see a picture because they don't really care that it's there. They just want you to "warranty" that it is. That way, if someone gets hurt by your dog and there isn't a BoD sign, they can refuse to cover you.

You have to keep in mind that the insurance business isn't about helping people - it's about collecting premiums while keeping claims payments to a minimum.

While I agree with your general statement about insurance companies, I don't think that's the case with the Beware of Dog sign in my policy, because my written policy does have several strict stipulations, and this was not one of them. This was just an additional letter I received as a suggestion.


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