Stiff Penalties in Store for Dangerous Dog Owners

Martinson & Beason

If you own an animal who injures or kills another, you could face severe fines or even jail time, under a new bill recently passed by the Alabama legislature.  The criminal punishment is an addition to existing civil liability pursuant to Ala. Code § 3-6-1. The new law was sponsored by Senator Livingston from Jackson County. Its purpose is to impose requirements to keep the animal controlled and to provide liability for owners who do not control their animals.

The bill, which is known as Emily’s Law, comes on the heels of a fatal dog attack in Jackson County, Alabama. In December, 24-year-old Emily Colvin was killed by a pack of five dogs in front of her house in Jackson County, Alabama. Another woman was also injured and one dog attempted to attack a deputy who shot and killed the dog. The dogs, which were all reportedly pit bulls, had not attacked humans before, but the Sheriff’s office had received complaints the dogs were dangerous.

The final version of SB232 passed the Alabama House of Representatives on February 27, 2018 and was delivered to the Governor’s desk on March 1, 2018. The law allows for a sworn statement to be delivered to an animal control officer who is then tasked with completing an investigation. If the animal control or law enforcement officer determines the dog is dangerous, the dog is impounded and the owners are summoned into court. If the court finds the dog is dangerous and has caused serious physical injury, it will be humanely euthanized. The owner must comply with all court orders or face criminal liability.

The law imposes requirements on the owner of a dangerous dog to keep the dog controlled or face criminal penalties. When the dog the dog attacks someone causing serious physical injuries or death, and the owner of the dog knew the dog was dangerous and acted with reckless disregard, that person is guilty of a Class C Felony. If a dog is declared dangerous by the court, and later unjustifiably attacks someone, the owner is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. If the dog hasn’t been declared dangerous, but the owner knew of the danger and recklessly disregarded it, the owner is guilty of a Class B Misdemeanor.

The owner of a dangerous dog is also civilly liable for damages under existing Alabama law. When the attack occurs on the owner’s property, and the owner knew of the dog’s dangerous propensities, the owner is liable for the damages incurred by the injured party. Through a civil action, a dog bite victim may be able to recover damages for medical bills, pain and suffering, and other special damages.

Owners of dangerous dogs should carefully consider their potential civil and criminal liability in owning a dangerous dog. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a dangerous dog attack, contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible to make sure your claim is heard before the statute of limitations runs.