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Liability of Undomesticated Animals


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A large amount of people across the United States own dogs and cats. Owner’s liability with domesticated animals is well understood. For example, If Fred has a dog, and his dog bites someone, Fred can be liable for his pet’s harm to the victim if he “knows or has reason to know that the animal has dangerous propensities abnormal to its class.” If Fred owns a miniature Yorkshire Terrier, it would be unlikely for Fred to know that such an animal would have “dangerous propensities abnormal” to Yorkshire Terriers, considering how small and timid those types of dogs can be.

However, it can be hard to prove whether the animal has dangerous propensities until it exhibits them. In other words, until Fred’s dog bites someone, Fred will never truly know that his dog has the propensity to bite, or become abnormally aggressive. Historically speaking this was always a problem, and has been coined with the phrase, “every dog gets one free bite.”

But what if Fred owned a Tiger, or a Lion escaped the Houston Zoo, and injured several people? Contrary to the domesticated animal standard above, the bar for presumptive liability is much lower for non-domesticated animals such as lions and tigers. In fact, liability would probably be fairly easy to prove. Even if an owner has exercised the “utmost care to confine the animal,” the owner of a tiger, or lion would be liable for the damage they cause to real or personal property, or persons. This is known as strict liability, or liability without fault.

Interestingly, injuries caused by livestock share the same theory of liability as undomesticated animals, even if they do not exhibit any “dangerous propensities.”

If you have been injured by any kind of animal, please contact Reich & Binstock today.

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