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3.9-33  Strict Liability of One Who Keeps a Dog

Revised to January 1, 2008

Anyone who owns or keeps a dog is held strictly liable under our law for any damage caused by the dog, irrespective of whether the owner or keeper was negligent in controlling the dog.  The statute is General Statutes § 22-357, and the relevant portions of the statute state:

"If any dog does any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper . . . shall be liable for such damage, except when such damage has been occasioned to the body or property of a person who, at the time such damage was sustained, was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog."

A "keeper" of a dog means someone other than the owner who harbors or has possession of any dog.

The statute creates two exceptions to this rule of "strict liability."  The first is that the statute exempts from liability the owner or keeper whose dog does damage to a person who was committing a "trespass or other tort."  The word "tort" means a wrongful act.  "Committing a trespass or other tort" means more than merely entering on the property or in the area where the dog was, but rather entering to commit an injury or a wrongful act.  This means such wrongful acts committed against the person or property of the owner or keeper or (his/her) family, or similar wrongful acts, against which the dog, with its characteristic loyalty, would take defensive or protective action, or those, if committed against the dog, as would likely excite it to use its natural weapons of defense.

The second exception applies if you find that plaintiff was "teasing, tormenting, or abusing" the dog.  Teasing, tormenting or abusing a dog means engaging in actions that would naturally annoy or irritate a dog and provoke it to retaliation.  Such actions are those of such a nature as would naturally antagonize the dog and cause it to attack and which are improper in the sense that they are without justification.1  Playing with the dog in a friendly manner does not fall within the definition of "teasing, tormenting, or abusing" the dog.2

So the elements that the plaintiff must prove are 1) that the defendants were the owners or keepers of a dog, 2) that the dog did, in the language of the statute, "any damage to . . . the body or property" of the plaintiff, and 3) that neither of the exceptions applies.
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1 Kowal v. Archibald, 148 Conn. 125, 128-30 (1961).

2 Weingartner v. Bielak, 142 Conn. 516, 520 (1955).

Notes

There should usually be a charge on the issue of proximate cause to establish a nexus between the actions of the dog and the injury of which the plaintiff complains.

N.B. For a child under seven years of age at the time the damage was done, the statute creates a presumption that the child was not committing a trespass or other tort or teasing, tormenting or abusing the dog, so that the burden of establishing any such conduct is on the defendant.  See General Statutes § 22-357.
 


 

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