Who Can I Sue If A Police Dog Bites Me?
Many Connecticut police departments employ service dogs–often known as K9 officers–to assist with traffic stops and drug searches. But even these highly trained animals can be dangerous when they come into contact with innocent members of the public. Dog bites by K9 animals are a growing problem throughout the country. For instance, in 2015, video footage from Nevada showed a K9 attacking a toddler, which led local officials to pay a $13,000 personal injury settlement.
CT Extends Special Protections for Families of Police Officers
Under Connecticut law, the “owner or keeper” of a dog is strictly liable when the animal commits “damage to either the body or property of any person.” The owner or keeper is not liable, however, if the attack was provoked–i.e., the dog was teased or tormented into biting–or the victim was committing trespass or a similar tort at the time.
The “keeper” of a dog includes “any person, other than the owner, harboring or having in his possession any dog.” This may be another member of the owner’s household. It can also refer to someone who offers “lodging, shelter, or refuge,” to the dog, according to the Connecticut Supreme Court. So in theory, if a person allows a stray dog to stay with them, they can be considered the “keeper” if the animal later attacks someone.
But Connecticut lawmakers have carved out important exceptions to the “keeper” rule in recent years to accommodate demands from law enforcement agencies that use K9 officers. In 2015, the General Assembly amended the state’s dog bite statute to provide that “a household member of a law enforcement officer” is no longer assumed to be a “keeper” of a police animal. In other words, if an officer brings their K9 home, the other members of the household are not legally presumed to have control of the dog if there is an attack.
Technically, this is only a presumption. A dog bite victim can still offer proof to establish the household member “was a keeper of such dog and had exclusive control” of the animal at the time of the bite. And the police department itself may still be held liable as the owner. But the law nevertheless treats families of law enforcement different than any other person who is considered a “keeper” of a dog. And on May 31 of this year, the General Assembly further clarified this exception to extend to family members of officers belonging to the Connecticut Department of Correction, as well as the State Police and the State Capitol Police.
Have You Been Injured in a Dog Bite or Animal Attack?
In its report approving the 2015 legislation, the General Assembly cited lobbying from officials in the City of Stamford, who argued that without special protections the K9 program would not be financially viable due to the potential liability of officers’ family members. In response, the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association argued there was no reason to afford immunity to “the keeper of a police dog when the dog is not performing official duties.”
If you or a family member have been seriously injured by a K9 or a privately owned dog, an experienced Waterford – New London, CT, animal attack injury lawyer can help you seek the compensation you deserve. Contact Polito & Harrington LLC today to schedule a consultation with one of our personal injury lawyers.