Dog Days of Summer…

"No more pencils, no more books,

No more teachers' dirty looks ..."


School is in recess and the carefree days of summer play are here, but parents need to be even more vigilant to the perils our kids' face. Dog bites present one such peril. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year with 885,000 (more than 2,400 a day!) dog bites serious enough to require medical attention. The vast majority of these dog bites happen to kids.

The legal right to recover from a dog attack has changed over time. Years ago, law schools would teach the legal principle of "the first bite is free." This crass adage meant that it was difficult to legally recover for a dog attack, if the owner of the dog did not know that the dog had a tendency to harm others. That is, the owner could not be liable for the first attack (bite), but would be liable for subsequent attacks...hence, the first bite was free. The "first bite is free" approach had developed over years of Court decisions focusing on the common law of negligence.

In addition to the common law, the Ohio Legislature passed a law in 1987 that detailed the right to recover into the Ohio Revised Code. The Code allowed that an "owner, keeper, or harborer" (and, yes, it is possible for the owner, keeper, or harborer to be three different people) of the dog may be liable for injury to person or property caused by the dog under the following conditions:

o The person injured was not a trespasser on the property where the injury occurred or trying to commit a crime to any person on the property.

o The person injured was not taunting or teasing the dog.

o If the injured person was a door-to-door salesperson, the owner is not off the hook just because the salesperson did not have a proper permit to solicit on the property.

o The law generally defined a "keeper" as the one who is in charge of the dog at the time of the attack and defined a "harborer" as one who has control of the premises where the dog lives.

Note, there is no consideration of whether the owner knew that the dog had a tendency to harm, thus, the "first bite is free" doctrine no longer exists under the Ohio Revised Code. Additionally, in certain cases, the owner may not be liable for injury to the harborer or keeper, since it possible that those persons may have contributed to the accident in some fashion.

As parents we need to take care and watch out for our kids at all times. Summer presents additional challenges. Despite our best efforts, harm may occur. Knowing our rights is an important way to protect our kids.