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What rights do victims of dog bites have in Rhode Island?

Dogs have earned the title of “man’s best friend.” They greet you with pure joy after time apart, whether the absence was only a few minutes or several days long. They listen intently to your every word and never talk back. They are there to comfort you when you have had a bad day and love you unconditionally.

The same fierce loyalty that makes a dog such a wonderful companion also makes them very dangerous. Dogs are protective by nature, and they can lash out unexpectedly when they sense that something is a threat to their safety or their owner’s safety.

What rights do victims of dog bites have in Rhode Island?

Liability for personal injuries is generally determined by answering the question “would a reasonable person have acted in the same or similar manner?” If the answer is no, the individual could be liable for any damages caused by their negligent actions.

This is not the case for dog bites. Under Rhode Island Statutes section 4-13-16, owners are strictly liable for the damages their dog causes to another person or pet regardless of whether they were acting reasonably or unreasonably.

The strict liability law applies to any harm that the dog causes on private or public property other than the private property belonging to the dog’s owner.

A lesser-known fact is that strict liability applies to any injuries, not just dog bites. A girl who tears her ACL when a dog bumps into her or a boy who breaks his leg when a dog lurches in front of his bike can both seek compensation through a personal injury claim.

We have already mentioned that the strict liability law does not apply to situations that occur on private property belonging to the dog’s owner. Are there any exceptions? Are there any defenses? We will address these questions in the second post of this two-part series.

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