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Dogs In Restaurants Are A Bad Dog Law

Dec 8, 2007
A Possible New Dog Law

There has been talk recently about a new dog law in Oregon that would allow dogs in restaurants. If one state passes such a law, then other states are sure to follow. As an injury lawyer who has handled many dog bite injury cases, I believe that such a law is a very bad idea.

With more and more people going out in public in recent years with pets such as dogs and treating them as if they were equal members of the family - almost as if they were human - there is a heightened risk to the public at large of being bitten or attacked. Coffee shops, restaurants, or any other business that is open to the public, rather than requiring owners to tie their pets up outside, would become potential places of risk for dog bite injuries.

New Dog Law - A Further Catering to Dog Owners

Some coffee shops and restaurants already cater to dog owners for business. For instance, they may have dog water bowls or special areas where owners may chain or tie their dogs while their owners are inside conducting business. Even in this situation, third parties such as other customers could be injured by dogs present on the business property.

In such situations, dog owners are always independently liable for their negligent actions. For example, if the owner were to tie up his dog next to a revolving door where a large number of people are going in and out, this would be negligent. Prudent business owners will assess risk and weigh the cost benefit analysis of risk or harm versus the benefit of having a pro-dog environment or a safe environment that takes into consideration the needs of the non-dog-owning public.

Dog Laws Affect Businesses and Consumers

Dogs bite people for a variety of reasons and the dog biting psychology is very complex and is a field of its own. An injury can range from a laceration to multiple lacerations, punctures, removal of flesh, or even a no-bite injury such as that which occurs when a patron trips and falls on the extended dog leash tying up the dog.

Businesses of every kind have a common law and statutory legal obligation to prevent injury to others and provide a safe business environment free from foreseeable harm, including dog bites. While dog owners are always independently liable for their dog's bad behavior, the owner of the business premises may become a second source of liability. In certain cases, businesses may become the primary source of a financial recovery since they are a deeper pocket. Hence, they may become the central focus or target of a tort claim for money damages in a dog bite injury claim. Such damages may include medical bills, lost wages, and a pain and suffering award. Because dog bites often result in facial or other bodily injury including scarring, many pain and suffering awards have been significant depending upon the jurisdiction.

Who do Dog Laws Hold Responsible for Injury?

While the dog owner may be primarily liable many dog owners may avoid ultimate legal responsibility for their bad dog ownership because they may not have homeowners or renters insurance which would provide coverage for such claims. In such situations, a dog owners low net worth may compel a legal claim against the deeper pocket business entity. Most commercial business policies will cover a limited amount of no fault medical coverage for people injured upon their property irrespective of fault (such amounts may range from $5,000 to $15,000 or more). Beyond no fault medical provisions, most commercial policies carry fixed coverage amounts, some up to a million dollars or more. Depending upon the type of business entity involved, there may be personal liability of the business owner if the commercial policy is exhausted by a large money award.

The business owner faces a unique legal liability to third parties, including those injured by dogs upon their property. This is because a business owner invites the public to transact business; in return, the law imposes a heightened duty to care for third parties in order to prevent negligent occurrences such as dog bites. According to this scenario, the customer is called a business invitee and the law imposes a legal duty upon the business owner to prevent harm, usually by making the owners affirmatively remove the harm or at a minimum advising the person of the risk of harm at hand through a warning or notice that dogs are present and may bite.

A business owner's legal liability becomes heightened even more if there are prior bad dog bite injuries which have occurred in the past. A business owner in such a situation may face strict liability in certain jurisdictions if there is a history or minimal pattern to a dog bite attack or bite of any kind. Certainly the risk to a business owner for legal liability is much greater, as is the public's when they frequent businesses which cater to dogs and the safety of their other customers is forgotten and ignored.
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