Dog Bite Laws in Colorado

CRS 13-21-124 is the Colorado code section that governs dog bite lawsuits in the state.

Strict liability for dog owners exists when certain conditions are met. If a person suffers serious bodily injury or death from being bitten by a dog while lawfully on public or private property, he or she is entitled to bring a civil action for economic damages against the dog owner. This is based in Colorado premises liability law. It does not matter if the dog has previously been violent, or the owner did not know of the violence.

Serious Bodily Injury

"Serious bodily injury" is bodily injury that either at the time of the actual injury or a later time involves a:

  • substantial risk of death;
  • substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement;
  • substantial risk of long-lasting loss or impairment of function of any part or organ of the body; or
  • broken bones, fractures, or burns of the second or third degree.

Damages

Under the statute, a person is only entitled to collect "economic" damages, which include:

  • medical bills;
  • future medical bills;
  • psychological counseling costs;
  • loss of income;
  • future loss of income; and
  • loss of earning power.

A person is not entitled to collect "non-economic" damages, like pain and suffering, under the statute but can do so under a regular negligence action.

Euthanization

When a person is seriously injured or killed as the result of a dog attack and proves the dog owner had knowledge or notice of the dog's viciousness, the dog can be euthanized. Upon motion made by the victim or his or her representative, the court may enter an order instructing the animal to be euthanized by a licensed veterinarian or licensed shelter at the owner's expense.

When the Owner Is Not Liable

A dog owner is not liable to a person who suffers bodily injury:

  • when the injured person is unlawfully on public or private property;
  • when the person is on the dog owner's property and a warning sign is posted;
  • while the dog is used as a police or military dog in the performance of its duties;
  • as a result of the injured person knowingly provoking the dog;
  • if the person is a vet, dog groomer, or other professionals who works with dogs; or
  • while the dog is working to hunt, herd, farm, ranch, or control predators on the property of the dog's owner.

Negligence Actions

If the Colorado code section does not apply, there is nothing to stop an injured person from suing a dog owner under a standard negligence action.

When this is the case, the injured person must meet the definition of negligence, and prove his or her case accordingly.

Below, our Colorado personal injury attorneys address frequently asked questions about dog bite actions in personal injury lawsuits and the injuries you may have suffered:

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1. What is a dog bite injury lawsuit in Colorado?

Dog bite lawsuits in Colorado are covered by CRS 13-21-124.

When certain conditions are met, strict liability for dog owners exists. If:

  • a person suffers serious bodily injury or death;
  • due to a bite by a dog;
  • while lawfully on public or private property;
  • he or she is entitled to bring a civil action for economic damages against the dog owner.[1]

Whether the dog has been violent before, or the owner even knew of previous violence, is irrelevant.

1.1 What is strict liability?

Strict liability means that an injured person does not have to prove that the owner of the dog was negligent, just that the serious bodily injury or death occurred.2

If the elements of the statute are met, the dog owner is liable for the injured person's economic damages.

2. What is "serious bodily injury" under the law?

For an injured person to collect damages under the statute, he or she must suffer "serious bodily injury."

The statute first defines "bodily injury" as any physical injury that:

  • results in severe bruising, muscle tears, or skin lacerations requiring professional medical treatment; or
  • requires corrective or cosmetic surgery. [3]

"Serious bodily injury"is:

  • high risk of death;
  • significant risk of severe long-lasting or permanent disfigurement;
  • major risk of enduring loss or impairment of use of any part or organ of the body; or
  • broken bones, fractures, or burns of the second or third degree.[4]

2.1 What kinds of harm reach the level of serious bodily injury?

Many different things can reach the level of serious bodily injury, including, but not limited to:

  • life-threatening injuries;
  • severe tearing of the skin, especially if on the face;
  • broken bones as the result of a dog attack;
  • organ damage, such as to the liver;
  • loss of feeling in the hands or feet (paralysis); or
  • amputation.

3. What kinds of damages can I recover under the code section?

Under the statute, a person is only entitled to collect "economic" damages, which include:

  • medical bills;
  • future medical bills;
  • psychological counseling costs;
  • loss of income;
  • future loss of income; and
  • loss of earning power.5

3.1 When can I collect non-economic damages for a dog bite?

A person cannot collect "non-economic" damages, like pain and suffering, under the statute but can do so under a regular negligence action.

Non-economic damages include:

  • pain and suffering;
  • loss of consortium (companionship and sex);
  • grief;
  • sorrow; or
  • psychological harm.

Non-economic damages are limited by caps, so their recovery is often limited, except in cases of permanent physical impairment.

4. Can a dog be euthanized as the result of a lawsuit?

When a person is seriously injured or killed as the result of a dog attack, he or she must prove that the dog owner had knowledge or notice of the dog's viciousness.

Then, the injured person can make a motion ( or through his or her representative) asking the the court to enter an order that the animal be euthanized. Euthanasia occurs at the owner's expense and must be performed by a licensed shelter or qualified veterinarian.

Euthanasia may seem extreme but to have it approved by the court, it must be shown that the dog has a history of violent behavior and that the owner was aware of it.

5. When is an owner not liable for a dog attack?

A dog owner is not liable to a person who suffers bodily injury:

  • when a person is trespassing;
  • when appropriate warning signs have been placed to warn about the dog;
  • while a dog is "on duty" with police or the military;
  • when a person's actions were purposely to aggravate or incite the animal;
  • if the person is a professional who works with dogs; or
  • while the dog is working to hunt, herd, farm, ranch, or control predators on the property of the dog's owner.[7]

So, even if a person suffers serious bodily injury, he or she cannot recover if any of the above is true.

6. Can I sue a dog owner if the statute does not apply to my case?

If the Colorado code section does not apply, there is nothing to stop an injured person for suing a dog owner under a standard negligence action.

To prove negligence occurred, a person who is injured (the plaintiff) must prove:

  • that the person being sued (the defendant) owed a duty of care to the plaintiff;
  • that the defendant breached that duty of care;
  • that the defendant's breach was the cause of the injury; and
  • that the plaintiff sustained injuries that can be quantified in terms of monetary damages.8

In determining whether a person breached a duty of care, the jury will consider:

  1. whether a reasonable person
  2. of ordinary prudence
  3. would have acted in the same way
  4. in the same circumstances.

6.1 What does a negligence action allow me to do?

If a person suffered injuries as the result of a dog attack, but they did not rise to the level of "serious bodily injury," that person can still recover both economic and non-economic damages through a negligence action.

The injured person must prove that:

  • the dog owner had a duty to keep his or her dog from harming others;
  • the dog owner failed to protect others;
  • the dog caused the injuries suffered; and
  • the amount of damages the person suffered as a result of the attack.
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Call us for help...

For questions about dog bite cases in Colorado or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our skilled Colorado personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us. (For cases in California or Nevada, please see our pages in California dog bite laws and Nevada dog bite lawyers). 

We represent clients in and around Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Lakewood, and several nearby cities.


Legal References:

  1. CRS 13-21-124 (Civil actions against dog owners).
  2. CRS 13-21-124(2) (A person or a personal representative of a person who suffers serious bodily injury or death from being bitten by a dog while lawfully on public or private property shall be entitled to bring a civil action to recover economic damages against the dog owner regardless of the viciousness or dangerous propensities of the dog or the dog owner's knowledge or lack of knowledge of the dog's viciousness or dangerous propensities. (emphasis added)).
  3. CRS 13-21-124(1)(a) (“Bodily injury” means any physical injury that results in severe bruising, muscle tears, or skin lacerations requiring professional medical treatment or any physical injury that requires corrective or cosmetic surgery.).
  4. CRS 18-1-901 (Definitions).
  5. Same as 2.
  6. CRS 13-21-124(3).
  7. CRS 13-21-124(5).
  8. Lopez v. Trujillo, 399 P.3d 750 (Ct. App. Div. 1 2016). (To prove a prima facie negligence claim, the plaintiff must prove: (1) the defendant owed a legal duty of care; (2) the defendant breached that duty; (3) the plaintiff was injured; and (4) the defendant's breach caused that injury. citing Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322, 325 (Colo.2004). Of these elements, duty is the threshold element.)

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