First, a little bit of background – Alabama common law, as was the law in most states, allowed a dog “one bite” before the dog owner could be held civilly liable for the dog’s actions. In other words, civil liability of the dog owner could not be established unless the bite victim could prove that the dog owner knew that his dog had a vicious propensity; namely, that the dog had bitten someone before. Only after this had been established could a victim of a dog bite pursue compensation against a dog owner by then attempting to prove that the dog owner was “negligent” in not taking reasonable measures to prevent his or her dog from biting someone.
Over time, Alabama courts carved out an exception to the “one-bite” rule. Courts held that when a dog is a “vicious breed” then an owner automatically is on notice that the dog may have a propensity to bite. Hence, if someone was bitten by a dog of a vicious breed then they did not have to prove that the dog previously had bitten someone.
The Alabama legislature has gotten into the act, as have numerous cities and counties, in further eroding the “one bite” rule. Alabama Code Section 3-6-1 states that a person who is bitten while legally on (in addition to invited guest, think meter reader, mailman, etc.) the property of a dog owner (or immediately chased therefrom) shall be entitled to actual damages from the dog owner, even if the owner did not know of his dog’s dangerous propensities. Of course, if the dog owner knew of the dog’s dangerous propensities, then the amount of damages he is responsible for is not limited to the “actual damages.”
Going even further, Alabama Code Sections 3-1-3 and 3-1-5 hold dog owners liable for injury caused when they allow their dogs to “run at large.” And, these code sections apply in all counties which have adopted them. In addition, many cities have “leash laws” which basically state that any dog off the leash – namely, “running at large” is considered dangerous and vicious, and thus the dog owner is responsible for whatever injury the dog causes. Accordingly, if you are jogging down the road or riding your bicycle in the road and a dog bites you, or in the case of a person riding a bicycle, causes the person to crash, then in these jurisdictions (and, there are many throughout the State), the dog owner can be held liable for the injuries caused by his dog.
What happens though if you are in a part of the State which does not have a leash law; and which has not adopted the State law holding owners liable for allowing their dogs to “run at large;” and you are chased, run into or otherwise crash because of a dog not a “vicious breed?” Unfortunately, if this is the case, you may be forced with having to prove that this is not the first time the dog has bitten, chased or otherwise acted aggressively. Don’t expect a lot of help from the dog – owner.
To address these situations, my law firm and AlaBike have created a card which we will send to the property owner advising of the dog’s aggressive behavior as well as making the property aware of their legal duties. Click on the card below:
In addition, be sure to notify the local police department and file a report AND you also can notify me – firstname.lastname@example.org (please call me to confirm receipt of your email as our spam blocker is quite robust 205-254-6060) and notify Jeff Feet at AlaBike at email@example.com.
Both groups will begin a data base so “proof” of a previous event AND notification to the property owner can be documented. Document in as much detail the event – where, when, type of dog, where dog left from/returned to, conversation with the dog owner or anyone identifying the owner etc. Obviously, you too should feel free to notify the property owner of the incident.
Anyone who has ridden a bicycle knows how dangerous dogs running at large can be. There is very little a bicyclist can do, especially when traveling at a high rate of speed, when a dog darts out and into, or directly in front of, a cyclist. These incidents literally can happen in the blink of an eye and the resulting injuries can be catastrophic. Obviously, a dog being a dog is not to blame – but, a less than responsible pet owner is. As someone who rides bicycles and owns a dog, I personally understand that the duty on a dog owner to keep his/her dog from harming someone is not onerous, but rather is part of the small price we pay for living with other people in a civilized society.
Generally speaking, a dog owner’s homeowner’s policy will cover for injuries caused by the dog.
 Obviously many dog lovers and dog experts would take the position that any dog can and will bite and that the so-called “vicious breed” is a misnomer and doesn’t really exist. That position notwithstanding, courts did allow for claims to be brought despite the one bite rule when the dog doing the biting was considered “vicious” – like Dobermans, Pits etc.