In Indiana, dog bite cases follow a particular rule – that being the “one bite rule.” This rule states that owners would be liable for injuries caused by their dog if they knew or should have known that their dog was dangerous. In Indiana, dog owners are not liable if they did not know their dog was dangerous.

However, what duty does an animal shelter have in telling a prospective dog owner that the dog they are adopting is dangerous? The standard here is that a prior owner, or in this case an animal shelter, cannot misrepresent the potential danger an animal poses to a potential buyer or transferor. A recent Indiana Court of Appeals case discussed this very issue.

This case is Brown v. Southside Animal Shelter, Inc., and it discusses the standards that an animal shelter might have when it is transferring a pet to someone wanting to adopt that pet. This case involved a family wanting to adopt a dog, a dog with a past bite history, and the animal shelter that was going to give said family that dog. In this case, as stated above, the dog did have a past bite history, and so there was a duty to not misrepresent that to the family, so that the animal shelter would not be liable in the event that the dog bit someone after being adopted.

If the shelter does not disclose that a dog is dangerous, they may be open to civil liability in the event that the dog’s dangerous propensities come to light after adoption. In order for a shelter to avoid civil liability, the dog must be cured of its injurious tendencies. In some cases, shelters or other transferrers have gone so far as to lie about a dog’s history, stating that the dog is safe, without even looking to see if the dog has a history of viciousness.

In this case, the trial court ruled on a summary judgement motion in favor of the plaintiff family in this case, because it stated that Southside Animal Shelter, “…had a duty to inform the Browns of [the dog’s] past bite history, and because there are issues of material fact regarding whether Southside breached that duty.” However, this summary judgement was overturned by the Court of Appeals, specifically because there were issues of material fact to address. The Court of Appeals also noted that there were other matters to address concerning whether or not Southside Animal Shelter exercised reasonable care in ascertaining the dog’s history.

So what does this mean for animal shelters or those looking to adopt a pet?

It is important to always look to see if a dog has a violent history. If that dog does have a violent history, and it bites someone, the owners would be liable if they knew about that history. In some cases, the animal shelter could be liable for failing to disclose that violent history to the new owners of the dog. It is important to know whether or not a dog has a history of biting people. If it does, and the owners are aware of that history, then they will be considered liable in any case where their dog bites another person. If they are not made aware by the shelter from which they adopted the dog, then the shelter may be liable in the event a dog that was at the shelter bites someone when they did not disclose to the new owners the dog’s violent tendencies.

If you or a loved one have been affected by an injury, accident, or death, contact an experienced personal injury attorney at Hurst Limontes, LLC. We have decades of combined experience fighting for our clients in any number of personal injury claims. Call 317-636-0808 or email us for a FREE and confidential consultation.