There are multiple ways under Colorado law to hold a person responsible, or liable, for a dog bite or animal attack. This page covers some of primary causes of action available to those injured from a dog bite. Each dog bite case is different, and there might by other theories of liability available to an dog bite / animal attack victim.
Colorado’s Dog Bite Law is found in the Colorado Revised Statutes at C.R.S. 13-21-124:
Civil actions against dog owners.
(1) As used in this section, unless the context otherwise requires:
(a) “Bodily injury” means any physical injury that results in severe bruising, muscle tears, or skin lacerations requiring professional medical treatment or any physical injury that requires corrective or cosmetic surgery.
(b) “Dog” means any domesticated animal related to the fox, wolf, coyote, or jackal.
(c) “Dog owner” means a person, firm, corporation, or organization owning, possessing, harboring, keeping, having financial or property interest in, or having control or custody of, a dog.
(d) “Serious bodily injury” has the same meaning as set forth in section 18-1-901 (3) (p), C.R.S.
(2) A person or a personal representative of a person who suffers serious bodily injury or death from being bitten by a dog while lawfully on public or private property shall be entitled to bring a civil action to recover economic damages against the dog owner regardless of the viciousness or dangerous propensities of the dog or the dog owner’s knowledge or lack of knowledge of the dog’s viciousness or dangerous propensities.
(3) In any case described in subsection (2) of this section in which it is alleged and proved that the dog owner had knowledge or notice of the dog’s viciousness or dangerous propensities, the court, upon a motion made by the victim or the personal representative of the victim, may enter an order that the dog be euthanized by a licensed veterinarian or licensed shelter at the expense of the dog owner.
(4) For purposes of this section, a person shall be deemed to be lawfully on public or private property if he or she is in the performance of a duty imposed upon him or her by local, state, or federal laws or regulations or if he or she is on property upon express or implied invitation of the owner of the property or is on his or her own property.
(5) A dog owner shall not be liable to a person who suffers bodily injury, serious bodily injury, or death from being bitten by the dog:
(a) While the person is unlawfully on public or private property;
(b) While the person is on property of the dog owner and the property is clearly and conspicuously marked with one or more posted signs stating “no trespassing” or “beware of dog”;
(c) While the dog is being used by a peace officer or military personnel in the performance of peace officer or military personnel duties;
(d) As a result of the person knowingly provoking the dog;
(e) If the person is a veterinary health care worker, dog groomer, humane agency staff person, professional dog handler, trainer, or dog show judge acting in the performance of his or her respective duties; or
(f) While the dog is working as a hunting dog, herding dog, farm or ranch dog, or predator control dog on the property of or under the control of the dog’s owner.
(6) Nothing in this section shall be construed to:
(a) Affect any other cause of action predicated on other negligence, intentional tort, outrageous conduct, or other theories;
(b) Affect the provisions of any other criminal or civil statute governing the regulation of dogs; or
(c) Abrogate any provision of the “Colorado Governmental Immunity Act”, article 10 of title 24, C.R.S.
Added by Laws 2004, Ch. 168, § 1, eff. April 21, 2004.
The Colorado Dog Bite Statute applies only to a “serious bodily injury.”
C.R.S. 18-1-901(3)(p) defines “serious bodily injury” as “bodily injury which, either at the time of the actual injury or at a later time, involves a substantial risk of death, a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement, a substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, or breaks, fractures, or burns of the second or third degree.”
C.R.S. 13-21-124(1)(a) defines “bodily injury” as “any physical injury that results in severe bruising, muscle tears, or skin lacerations requiring professional medical treatment or any physical injury that requires corrective or cosmetic surgery.”
Notably excluded from the definitions of “serious bodily injury” and “bodily injury” is “emotional distress” commonly referred to as pain and suffering and/or non-economic damages.
Consistent with the Colorado Revised Statutes referenced above – if a dog bite victim relies exclusively on the Colorado Dog Bite Statute, their recovery will be limited to economic damages as the statute does not provide for the recovery of non-economic damages.
Under Colorado law economic damages include past medical bills, future medical bills, past psychological counseling, future psychological counseling, past loss of income, and loss of earning power as a result of disability or disfigurement.
Colorado law does not limit economic damages in most cases.
Under Colorado law non-economic damages include non-pecuniary harm, pain and suffering, inconvenience, emotional stress and impairment of the quality of life also commonly known as emotional distress.
Colorado law limits non-economic damages in most cases.
C.R.S. 13-21-102.5 limits the amount an injured individual hurt after January 1, 2008 can recover for noneconomic loss or injury to $468,010 which may be increased by the court upon clear and convincing evidence to a maximum amount of $936,030.
Colorado law also allows a dog bite victim to recover under other theories instead of solely via the Colorado Dog Bite Statute including for “negligence“, for violating the “one bite rule” or “negligence per se“- e.g. for violation of an animal control law.
The “one bite rule” is a common law doctrine that a dog owner and/or dog handler is not liable for injuries caused by their dog unless they are aware that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities. To overcome the “one bite rule” the dog bite victim must prove that (1) the dog previously bit someone and (2) the dog owner and/or handler was aware of the dog’s previous conduct.
Negligence concerns a person’s responsibilities or duties owed to a dog bite victim.
To establish “negligence” in Colorado a dog bite victim must establish:
(1) the dog bite victim suffered from injuries or damage;
(2) the dog owner / dog handler at fault owed you a duty;
(3) the dog owner / dog handler at fault broke that duty; and
(4) the dog bite victim’s injury was caused by the other dog owner / dog handlers failure.
Negligence per se claims are based on an at-fault person’s failure to follow the laws or regulations that led to the dog bite victim’s injuries.
To establish “negligence per se” in Colorado a dog bite victim must establish:
(1) the dog owner / dog handler party was in violation of a law, regulation, or statute.
(2) the statute violated is one that was enacted to prevent the injury that the dog bite victim suffered.
(3) the dog bite victim is one of the people intended for protection under the statute violated.
(4) the dog owner / dog handler’s violation of the statute proximately caused the dog bite victim’s injuries.
Another category of damages that can be recovered by dog bite victims under Colorado law is physical impairment.
In Colorado physical impairment and disfigurement damages are considered an element of damages separate from the categories of economic and non-economic damages.
Under Colorado law physical impairment and disfigurement damages are not capped.
There is no clear definition under Colorado law of “physical impairment”.
The Colorado Code of Regulations defines “Physical impairment” as “any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems including, but not limited to, the following: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory, including speech organs, cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genito-urinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine. The term “physical impairment” also includes, but is not limited to, such diseases and conditions as the following: orthopedic, visual, speech, and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.”