In some circumstances, professional dog walkers can be held liable for a dog bite that occurs on their watch. In many states, they can at least be held partially liable. State laws will determine if partially liable defendants can be responsible for paying all of the damages. If they work for a professional pet-sitting service, there may be insurance to cover their share of responsibility.
What are the two basic types of dog bite laws?
It is important to understand that different states use different rules for dog bites. Generally speaking, these state laws fall into 2 different types:
- strict liability, and
- the “one bite rule.”
Most states, including California, use strict liability for dog bites. In these states, the dog owner is strictly liable for all injuries caused by their dog. Even if the owner took all possible precautions to prevent their dog from biting someone, they are still held liable. However, there are exceptions, like if the victim was trespassing.
Some states use the “one bite rule.” In these states, you must show that the person responsible for the dog was negligent. The most important evidence in proving this is whether the owner was on notice of their dog’s dangerous propensities. If the dog had bitten someone in the past, then the owner knew, or should have known, of the danger posed by their pet.
Can a dog walker be held liable for a dog bite injury in a strict liability state?
Generally, yes. However, you are unlikely to have to worry about this as a victim in a strict liability state. The owner will be held strictly liable, so the owner will compensate you for your losses. If they have one, that compensation will be covered by the owner’s bite liability policy of their homeowner’s insurance.
After compensating you, though, the owner, or his or her insurance company, may seek indemnification from the dog walker for their role in the incident.
For example: Olivia hires Will to walk her dog, Daisy. Olivia tells Will to muzzle Daisy when he walks her because Daisy tends to play rough with children. Will walks Daisy without a muzzle on and Daisy bites a child, requiring medical attention that leads to steep medical bills and a disfigurement.
What about a dog sitter in a state that uses the one-bite rule?
In states that use the one-bite rule, the dog walker would only be held liable if they were negligent. This generally means they failed to take reasonable precautions to keep others safe. A key piece of evidence is whether they knew they were handling a dangerous dog.
What if the dog walker was negligent?
If the dog walker was negligent and that negligence contributed to the injury, they can be held liable.
Holding the dog walker liable can be important. If the dog’s owner is uninsured, they may be unable to compensate you fully. Pursuing the dog walker can provide another source of financial compensation. If the dog walker has liability insurance, they may be even more able to compensate you than the owner.
If the pet sitter is liable, will they cover my losses?
It depends on 2 things:
- the state’s personal injury laws, and
- the dog walker’s share of responsibility for the accident.
Most states use comparative negligence when there are multiple defendants in a personal injury case. When both the dog owner and the dog walker bear some responsibility for your injury, a trial jury would state what percentage of fault each one has for your injuries.
For example: The loved ones of the child hurt by the dog Daisy file a personal injury claim against both Will and Olivia. The case goes to trial and the jury finds that Olivia, the owner of the dog, was 60 percent responsible, while Will, the dog sitter, was 40 percent responsible.
How much each defendant has to contribute to the judgment depends on whether the state uses:
- joint liability, or
- joint and several liability.
In states that use joint liability, each defendant is only responsible for their share of the accident.
For example: The jury finds that the child injured by Daisy has suffered $100,000 in medical expenses and other losses. Will, the dog walker, will only be responsible for covering 40 percent of that, or $40,000.
If either the owner or the walker cannot cover their share of the judgment, you will be undercompensated.
Joint and several liability
In states that use joint and several liability, each defendant is responsible for the entire judgment, regardless of their percentage of fault.
For example: Olivia, the dog owner, is uninsured and cannot cover any of the $60,000 that she is responsible for. Will, however, has extensive liability insurance. Even though Will was only 40 percent responsible, he can be made to cover the entire judgment.
Joint and several liability rules exist to ensure that all victims get all they need to recover, including dog bite victims.
What if the dog owner used a professional dog-walking service?
If the dog bit you and was being walked by a professional dog walker, it will depend on the dog walking company. Some common dog-walking services are:
- Rover, and
- sole proprietorships or small businesses run by the walker.
The results can vary widely.
Wag, for example, uses a liability waiver. This provision of their terms and conditions puts all liability for a dog bite on the animal’s owner. Additionally, Wag’s dog walkers are independent contractors, so their negligence cannot hold the company vicariously liable.
Rover, on the other hand, agrees to cover up to $100,000 in losses if you get hurt by a dog that a Rover walker or dog sitter harbors.
If the walker has his or her own business, their insurance coverage will matter. If they have very little or none at all, you will likely have to hold them personally liable. Unless they or the pet owner are wealthy, they will unlikely pay for all of your losses out of their own pocket.
The dog bite lawyers at our law firm have found that it is important to include as many potentially liable parties in the dog bite case. This can make it more likely that you get what you deserve.
What if the dog walker was underage?
If the dog walker was underage, his or her parents would be held liable for their role in the dog attack.