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Ohio Dog-Bite Ruling Allows for Non-Economic, Punitive Damages

Posted by attorney John Sauter

Victims of dog attacks were given greater rights by the Ohio Supreme Court in the January 2010 Beckett v. Warren decision, which opens the door to recovery of non-economic and punitive damages if the dog's vicious propensities were known to the owner and no reasonable precautions were taken to protect others. Damages previously allowed under Ohio's dog-bite statute - for reimbursement of medical expenses only - can still be claimed.

Prior to the Ohio Supreme Court's decision, victims of dog attacks could seek relief only under Ohio dog-bite statute, R.C. 955.28. The statute imposed strict liability on the owner of a dog "for any injury...that is caused by the dog" unless the injured person was trespassing or committing a criminal offense.

For strict liability under the statute to attach, the victim must show (1) ownership of the dog; (2) whether the dog's actions were the proximate cause of the injury; and (3) damages. Prior to Beckett, non-economic and punitive damages were not compensable.

Beckett, however, concluded that "there are two bases for recovery in Ohio for injuries sustained as a result of a dog bite: common law and statutory." The Court continued, "in a common law action...a plaintiff must how that (1) the defendant owned or harbored the dog; (2) the dog was vicious; (3) the defendant knew of the dog's viciousness; and (4) the dog was kept in a negligent manner after the keeper knew of its viciousness."

As a result of the Beckett ruling, a dog's propensity towards violence and its viciousness, as well as how the dog was maintained are now relevant issues for a plaintiff seeking non-economic and punitive damages.

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