, Derry, New Hampshire

Crime / Court

July 6, 2011

Dog owners will pay for their pet's actions

I was taking a walk one evening and a dog walker lost control of their dog. The dog ran away, dragging its leash behind. The dog ran past me and then circled around in such a way that the leash wrapped around my ankles and pulled me down, and I sprained my wrist.

I know dog owners are responsible if the dog bites someone, but what about me, where I was not actually bitten?

Dog owners are strictly liable for injuries caused by their dogs, not only where the dog actually bites someone, but also where "damage may be occasioned" by the dog.

This goes not only for the dog owner, but also the keeper or possessor of the dog. In New Hampshire, this is RSA 466:19.

What strict liability means is that the injured person does not need to prove negligence. Before statutes such as this were placed on the books, there was something called the "one free bite" rule. What this meant in legal lore was that if a dog bit someone, then after that the owner was on notice of the dangerous propensities of the dog. After the "free bite", under the old law, the owner knew or should have known that the particular dog was prone to bite, this being a requirement to prove negligence.

In many states, including New Hampshire and Massachusetts, there is now strict liability by statute. So, neither the dog nor the owner gets a free bite. The owner or keeper of the dog are said to be strictly liable without proof of negligence and they should hope their homeowner's policy is paid.

My mother died and now we cannot find the original will. She had only a copy. The lawyer who did the will can't be found and after making inquiries no one knows whether that lawyer had the will, whether he gave it to my mother or where the original is. Will the probate court accept the copy?

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