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No Free Bite for Dog Owners in the District of Columbia

July 17, 2015 By Cynthia M. Weisz

A number of states impose strict liability upon owners of dangerous dogs or dogs that have a propensity for viciousness.  These states impose liability only if it can be demonstrated that the owner has knowledge of a dog’s vicious propensities.  In the District of Columbia, an owner’s liability is not strict, but rather based upon an owner’s negligence in the care, training, management, and control of the dog.  An owner’s lack of knowledge of his or hers dog’s dangerous propensities is not a defense, therefore, an owner does not get one free bite.
District of Columbia Statutes, Sections 8-1808 and 8-1812 state that if a dog injures a person while running at large, the owner can be found negligent regardless of whether they had prior knowledge of a dog’s vicious propensity.  A dangerous dog is defined as follows: one that chases or menaces a person or domestic animal in an aggressive manner, causing less than severe injury; or one that approaches a person or domestic animal without provocation in a menacing manner or has demonstrated a propensity to attack without provocation, or otherwise endangers the safety of human beings or domestic animals; or one that is running at large and had been impounded by an animal control agency three or more times within a 12 month period. 
The legal responsibilities of dangerous dog owners include: either confining a dangerous dog indoors or securing confinement outdoors in a locked structure designed and constructed to deter escape of the dog, and prevent contact with the dog from humans and other domestic animals; if not confined, a dangerous dog must be controlled by a responsible person and muzzled and restrained by a substantial chain or leash that is no longer than 4 feet. Additionally, owners of dangerous dogs must register the dogs with local authorities as “dangerous,” and have a microchip containing owner information implanted.  Finally, owners must post their property with a written warning that a dangerous dog is on the property. The warning must have a conspicuous warning symbol which informs children of the dangerous dog’s presence.  In addition to civil liability, the owner is subject to a fine of up to $10,000 if a dangerous dog kills or seriously injures a human or domestic animal, without provocation.