In today’s video Attorney Ben Schwartz answers a viewer question about a lost dog bite case in Delaware.
Hi, I’m Attorney Ben Schwartz.
Today we are going to answer a question from Haleen down in the Milton, Delaware area, almost to the beaches. Haleen asks, if my dog has escaped and like 6 months go by, am I still responsible for injuries caused by the dog? That is a very insightful question, because Haleen, Delaware has a strict liability that puts the legal responsibility for all of the damages, or injuries caused by a dog, on to the owner of the dog. § 3053F Liability of dog owner for damages, says the owner of a dog is liable in damages for any injury, death, or loss to person, or property, and it goes on…
So, what happens if the dog escapes and is gone for 6 months? You presume the dog has left and is not coming back. You still are the registered owner, you are still the owner on the license of the dog. What happens if the dog goes out and bites someone? You are now responsible for the injuries to a child that the dog has bitten. If the dog runs out in the road a county away and causes cars to get in a car accident, are you now responsible for the injuries from that car accident caused by the dog? Yes, because the statute is very clear and it is very plain. It says that the owner of the dog is liable for any injuries, or damages, or losses caused by the dog.
I think that the answer to your question is, yeah as the owner, as the person on the license for that dog, you have the legal responsibility for whatever the injuries or damages that the dog causes. The only thing I can tell you is, all of the dog-related laws in the State of Delaware are administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. I would say that if you are the owner of a dog, and the dog runs away somehow; it got out and 6 months is gone by, you are convinced there is zero chance of getting the dog back. This means you have searched every local animal shelter, and you have looked on the list in Delaware for dogs that are lost and found. You have done everything you can think of. You posted flyers everywhere that the dog might be gone. You put it on social media, you are convinced that the dog is never going to be found. I would send a certified mailed letter to the Delaware Department of Health and Human Services. I would tell them that the dog ran away 6 months ago, and that way you are disclaiming any responsibility for any injuries or damages the dog may cause.
This is not something that I would take lightly. If it were my dog, and my dog ran away, I would be heartbroken. If your dog ran away, I think that you are probably heartbroken too. At the same time, to answer your question, yes you’re still legally responsible under Delaware law. This is just one suggestion I think you could do to try to mitigate against that responsibility.
I’m Attorney Ben Schwartz. If you have questions for me about dog bites, personal injury law, or the law in general, please feel free to send me an email below.