Dog Bites and Animal Attacks: Who's Responsible?

  • Personal Injury
October 16, 2023

Dog and animal bites can be serious business. While most of us have at least been nipped on the leg by an over-exuberant pet at some point, a vicious attack can cause severe physical and psychological harm. If you’ve been the victim of such an attack, you may wonder who is legally responsible and whether you can recover damages for your injuries.

In almost all cases, the animal’s owner is potentially responsible for the attack. However, dog attack cases (by far the most common type of animal attack) are a little complicated in Colorado, as there are two distinct ways of proving legal responsibility: strict liability and negligence.

Strict Liability

Colorado’s dog bite statute allows for strict liability on the part of the owner in some cases. What is “strict liability”? It means the dog owner is liable for damages even if their actions weren’t negligent. Essentially, the plaintiff must prove that the dog attack happened, not that the owner did something wrong.

However, strict liability does not apply in every dog bite case. For it to apply, two conditions must be met:

  1. The plaintiff was lawfully on public or private property
  2. The plaintiff suffered serious bodily injury or death due to the attack. “Serious bodily injury” means at least one of the following:
    1. Serious permanent disfigurement
    2. Protracted loss or impairment of function
    3. Bone fractures

The first of these is pretty straightforward; it just means that the plaintiff wasn’t trespassing at the time of the attack. The second element—serious bodily injury—will be evident in some cases and more contentious in others. The plaintiff has the burden of demonstrating that their injuries meet this standard.

If both of these conditions are met, and no exceptions apply, the dog’s owner is liable for the attack without the need for the plaintiff to prove anything else.


The dog bite statute includes a list of exceptions to the rule. If one of these exceptions applies to the facts of the case, the dog’s owner will not be held strictly liable for the attack.

  1. The victim was unlawfully on public or private property (i.e., trespassing) at the time of the attack
  2. The victim was on the dog owner’s property, and the property was clearly and conspicuously marked with signs stating “no trespassing” or “beware of dog”
  3. The dog was being used  by law enforcement or military personnel for official duties
  4. The victim knowingly provoked the dog
  5. The victim is a veterinary worker, dog groomer, humane agency staff, dog handler, trainer, or dog show judge performing their professional duties
  6. The dog was working as a hunting dog, herding dog, farm or ranch dog, or predator control dog at the time of the attack


If the dog owner is strictly liable for the attack, they are only liable for economic damages, such as medical bills, time lost from work, etc. The victim cannot recover non-economic, i.e., “pain and suffering,” damages.


If the strict liability statute doesn’t apply in your case, you may still be able to recover damages if you can show that the owner was negligent. Here are the elements of a negligence claim:

  1. The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff
  2. The defendant breached that duty of care
  3. The defendant’s breach was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries
  4. The plaintiff’s injuries can be quantified in terms of monetary damages

For example, you may be able to show that the animal had displayed vicious tendencies in the past, such as biting other people or even snarling at passersby, and that the owner, knowing this, failed to take proper care to keep the animal from harming people.

Talk to an Experienced Attorney

If you’ve been attacked by a dog or other animal, you may be able to hold the owner responsible and recover damages. Our team of attorneys has experience in this type of case and can help you reach a fair result. To get the process started with a free consultation, contact our office today.

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