Dogs can make wonderful companions, and adopting one from a shelter helps society as a whole by keeping stray animals off the streets and reducing euthanization rates. However, sometimes people will get dogs from shelters that turn out to be violent and cause injury to the owners or others in the household. If this happened to you, here's what you need to know about holding the shelter liable for damages and losses.
Liability Based on Negligence
In this situation, it may be possible to sue the facility for negligence. To successfully win damages, you must prove the following four factors:
- The shelter had a duty to you
- The shelter violated that duty
- You were injured as a result
- The shelter's actions were the proximate cause of your injuries
The biggest challenge you'll face is showing the shelter was obligated to perform certain actions, namely to assess whether the animal was dangerous and warn you if there was a concern. Unfortunately, there currently aren't any disclosure laws requiring shelters to provide new owners information about the dogs they're adopting, though many do.
Therefore, you may need to use other means to show the shelter had a duty to determine the animal's fitness for adoption and tell you about his or her temperament. For instance, you may have to treat the lawsuit like a product liability case wherein you can invoke a failure to warn claim.
A failure to warn claim holds a manufacturer, distributor, or retailer liable for failing to warn customers about the potential dangers of the products they produce or sell. In this case, the product is the dog. Though the shelters aren't selling animals per se, they are making them available for public consumption, so you could make a good case about their duty to ensure the "product" was fit to be adopted.
Other Challenges to Winning
One other challenge you may encounter when you file a lawsuit is, if the shelter is run by the government, you may be required to file a complaint with the agency before you can sue. Government agencies generally want to handle issues before they reach the courtroom to save money. This wouldn't be a problem except the window to file a complaint is often narrow (e.g. within 60 days of the injury occurring). If you fail to file a complaint before the deadline, you right to sue will be lost forever.
It's essential you ask whether the shelter is government owned or run and research what the complaint procedures are to avoid ending your lawsuit before it has a chance to see the inside of a courtroom.
For more information about this issue or help with a case, contact a personal injury attorney, like Daniels Long & Pinsel.