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  • Writer's pictureKeith Diaz

Dog Bite Injury Law In New Hampshire

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

Being bitten by an aggressive dog is a deeply unsettling and terrifying experience. The unexpectedness of a dog attack, combined with the pain of being bitten, can create a sense of panic, shock and vulnerability.

Dog bites can result in a wide range of injuries and damages, including puncture wounds, lacerations and skin tears. Dogs have powerful jaws that can cause significant punctures and tearing of the skin. Severe dog bites can lead to broken bones, especially in the hands or arms if a person uses them fend off the attack. Dog bites can also result in permanent scars, which may require surgical correction. Dog Bites can also introduce bacteria into the body, leading to infections like cellulitis or, in rare cases, more serious conditions like sepsis. If the dog hasn't been vaccinated, there's a risk of rabies transmission.

Photograph of a vicious dog trying to bite an innocent person

Often times, physical damage caused by dog bites encompass immediate medical care, surgery, rehabilitation, and any ongoing medical treatments. If a victim is unable to work due to the injury, they can claim compensation for lost income. For long-term injuries or complications that require ongoing medical attention a victim can claim future medical expense.

Some victims might relive the trauma and experience heightened fear around dogs. This includes anxiety, nightmares, and general emotional suffering post-incident. Some victims develop long-term fears of dogs or similar animals. The memory of the incident often replays in the victim's mind. For many, there is an outright fear of dogs. The trauma can extend to victims becoming hesitant to engage in activities where dogs might be present. The experience is not just a fleeting moment of pain; it often evolves into a prolonged journey of recovery, both physically and mentally.

A victim of a dog attack can recover money for these injuries.

New Hampshire has a statute purposed to help dog bite victims recover money from a person who owns, keeps, or possesses a dog that bites them. The statute holds dog owners responsible for keeping their dogs under control and holds owners strictly liable for any damage which a victim proves was occasioned by a dog's vicious or mischievous conduct:

NH RSA 466:19 Liability of Owner or Keeper. – "Any person to whom ... damage may be occasioned by a dog not owned or kept by such person shall be entitled to recover damages from the person who owns, keeps, or possesses the dog ..." (Excerpt).

The statute is of some interest to personal injury attorneys because the dog bite victim does not have to prove that the owner, keeper, or person controlling the dog negligently caused the dog to bite its victim.

At trial the plaintiff need only prove:

1. The dog had an owner, keeper, or handler other than the plaintiff;

Image of a person being bitten by a dog

2. The dog bit the plaintiff, and

3. The bite caused injury to the plaintiff.

Importantly, while the statute is often referred to as the "dog bite statute", it does not require proof of a dog bite. The New Hampshire Supreme Court has held that under RSA 466:19 a victim may recover money caused by a dog's mischievous conduct, a broad term referring to injury occaisoned by a dog. Under the statute, a dog bite is merely one kind of mischievous conduct.

Consider the following facts from an actual case where the victim was not bitten by a dog but under RSA 466:19 considered injured by a dog:

The victim was riding their bicycle on a public road. As they were passing in front of a house, a small white dog came toward the bike rider. Startled and afraid the dog was coming toward his right leg to bite him, the biker instinctively stuck their right leg out to ward off the dog. At the same time, the biker looked down and to the right, toward the dog, and removed his right hand from the handlebar. He lost his balance and fell, as the front tire of the bicycle jackknifed. The entire incident took only a matter of seconds. The dog never bit or made physical contact with the plaintiff. Bohan v. Ritzo, 141 N.H. 210 (1996).

Dog Bite Injury | Negligence v. Strict Liability What is the Difference?

Lawyers refer to NH RSA 466:19 as a strict liability law because there is no requirement to prove that the defendant's negligence caused the dog's mischief. If the statute did not exist, the plaintiff would have the burden to prove that the injury caused by a dog was due to the negligence of the dog's owner, keeper, or handler. Under such circumstances, a plaintiff would have to convince a jury that the owner or person controlling the dog breached their duty of care to prevent the dog's mischief. In response to the plaintiff's accusation, the defendant could argue that they were not to blame for the dog's mischief which they did not foresee because they trained their dog, kept them on a leash, and had never seen their dog act aggressive toward a person. Under such facts, negligence can be difficult thing to prove as even well-trained dogs can be unpredictable, even the seemingly normal ones under the care of a responsible owner. Fortunately, NH RSA 466:19 holds dog owners strictly responsible for the conduct of their dog - even if the dog owner acted reasonably and with care. The statute places an absolute mandate on dog owners to be responsible for their dog's conduct which makes it easier for a personal injury attorney to pursue a claim on behalf of their injured client.

Defendants Are Not Without A Safety Line

According to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, if you're bitten by a dog, you don't have to prove that the dog's owner was careless. But, if there are signs that the person bitten (the plaintiff) acted carelessly with the dog, the dog's owner (the defendant) can say it was partly the plaintiff's fault they got hurt.

For example, if someone teases a quiet dog by hitting it with a stick and then gets bitten, that action can be considered when deciding how much money, if any, the dog's owner should pay. The group of people making the decision (the jury) might look at how the person acted carelessly when making up their minds.

Every case needs to be judged on its own merits. Therefore, if you or someone you know has been the victim of a dog bite, consult Apis Law about the facts of the incident.

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