Hot Dog Bites Girl After Getting Squirted With Mustard

You can be liable for a dog bite, even if the dog was provoked.

Ashley was walking home with a friend when they passed three dogs in a yard. Ashley’s friend began to tease the dogs, squirting mustard at them from a bottle. One of the dogs was hit directly in the face by the mustard. The dogs began to bark and growl, and one of the dogs bit Ashley.

Ashley’s parents sued the owner of the dog on her behalf. Who do you think won?

Under Ohio law, you are responsible for any injury or property damage caused by your dog, and it does not matter whether you or the dog did anything wrong. This is called a strict liability law. The dog is considered to be “yours” if you own the dog, if you are keeping the dog for someone else, or even if you are just allowing the dog to be kept on your property.

There are very few exceptions to this rule. The rule does not apply if the other person was trespassing on your property or if he was attempting to commit a crime. It also does not apply if he was teasing, tormenting or abusing your dog on your property.

That last clause is extremely important. You are not strictly liable for injuries caused by your dog is the dog was being provoked on your property. So, if you are walking your dog down the street and a stranger kicks your dog, you are liable if your dog responds by biting the stranger. Believe it or not.

In Ashley’s case, though, this wasn’t a problem. Everyone agreed that the dogs were being teased, tormented or abused on the property of their owner. The trial court in Lorain County dismissed the case, ruling that the strict liability law did not apply.

The Court of Appeals disagreed, though. On appeal, the court ruled that the strict liability rule applied, even though the dogs were provoked, and even though the dogs were on their owner’s property. Why? Because Ashley was not the person provoking them. According to the court, the strict liability law was waived only with respect to the person who actually provoked the dogs.

So, even though the dogs were in their own yard, and even though they were provoked by having mustard squirted in their faces, the owner was still strictly liable for injuries the dogs caused to anyone other than the girl with the mustard bottle.

Even the court seemed uncomfortable with this ruling. The judge who wrote the court’s opinion admitted that this might be a flaw in the statute, but he said that it was up to the Legislature, not the courts, to fix it.

This is only one case, and it is binding only in Lorain County, but it can be used to influence the outcome in future cases throughout the state.

The current Legislature has shown that it is willing to reconsider statutes relating to “dangerous” or “vicious” dogs. Many dog lovers were pleased with the recent decision to remove pit bulls from the list of animals that are automatically considered to be vicious.

This might be a good time to ask the Legislature to take another look at the strict liability law for dog owners, as well.

Have a question or a suggestion for a topic?  Email dspirgen@SpirgenLawFirm.com.

Patch posts are general discussions and should not be used as advice on any specific legal matter.  If you need legal advice on a particular situation, please consult an attorney.

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Brandon Scullion August 09, 2012 at 02:39 PM
I think the owners of the dog should sue the girls parents who was the perpetrator of the teasing. Fair is Fair. She caused their dog to become aggressive and in turn created the whole ordeal.
Debbie S. August 09, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Who won? The lawyers won, as they always do with such frivolous lawsuits. The owner has a hefty legal fee and a dog who now mistrust kids. Ashley's parents have hefty legal fees and a hurt daughter - not to mention a kid who's been taught that the solution to a problem is a lawsuit. The friend, who apparently has poor judgment and little compassion for animals, really caused the entire problem yet got away without repercussions. This incident did NOT need to be handled through the legal system. Both Ashley and her friend should have been reprimanded and that should have been the end of the "story."
Kristin August 09, 2012 at 04:39 PM
yeah, unless your a mailman just doing your job! i got bit 3 years ago, and got NOTHING because no one would take responsibilty for the dog. They took the dog, and maybe put it down, but i got nothing but muscle damage, permanent physical and mental scars. Couldnt even get a lawyer to touch it. Dog owner was a renter, had no insurance, and landlord played the "i didnt know there was a dog there" card. it's all crap!
Steve August 09, 2012 at 05:05 PM
If that was my little girl that did that to a defenseless animal in it's own yard, a lawsuit would be out of the question. Mustard is as bad as acid in a dogs eye. Insteed, she would be down at the Cleveland pound cleaning up after the dogs every Sat. and Sun. till I felt she learned her lesson. Bad parents=bad kids, bad owners=bad dogs, which these were not.
LB August 09, 2012 at 05:52 PM
I agree with Steve..The parents should've squirted mustard in her eye and see how she liked it.
Teresa August 09, 2012 at 06:05 PM
A little harsh there LB but I certainly understand your anger. I agree with Brandon, animal cruelty is illegal. The parents of Ashley's friend should be cited, fined and made to pay for any medical treatment to the dog or Ashley.
Harvey F. August 09, 2012 at 06:52 PM
"The owner, keeper, or harborer of a dog is liable in damages for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the dog, unless the injury, death, or loss was caused to the person or property of an individual who, at the time, was committing or attempting to commit criminal trespass or another criminal offense other than a minor misdemeanor on the property of the owner, keeper, or harborer, or was committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense other than a minor misdemeanor against any person, or was teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog on the owner's, keeper's, or harborer's property. Additionally, the owner, keeper, or harborer of a dog is liable in damages for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the dog if the injury, death, or loss was caused to the person or property of an individual who, at the time of the injury, death, or loss, was on the property of the owner, keeper, or harborer solely for the purpose of engaging in door-to-door sales or other solicitations regardless of whether the individual was in compliance with any requirement to obtain a permit or license to engage in door-to-door sales or other solicitations established by the political subdivision in which the property of the owner, keeper, or harborer is located, provided that the person was not committing a criminal offense other than a minor misdemeanor or was not teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog." Ohio Revised Code Section 955.28
Jean Williams August 09, 2012 at 06:56 PM
harvey nice cut and paste job !!!!!! I am pretty sure dennis covered that, Hey Harvey What is ORC 955.27
Harvey F. August 09, 2012 at 06:56 PM
For purposes of exception to dog bite statute under which owner of dog may avoid strict liability for dog bite if person bitten was teasing, tormenting, or abusing dog at time of injury, “teasing” means to annoy or to trouble or to worry persistently, to be troublesome, or to pester, “tormenting” is greater annoyance and implies some torture or pain, and “abusing” is mistreatment which includes some physical injury or pain to animal.  Quellos v. Quellos (Ohio App. 8 Dist., 07-11-1994) 96 Ohio App.3d 31.
J. August 09, 2012 at 06:58 PM
The girl at fault needs to pay up. I hope Ashley at least has better judgement in choosing her friends from now on. Too bad the dog bit the wrong girl.
I.M. Wright August 11, 2012 at 03:07 AM
"Both Ashley and her friend should have been reprimanded and that should have been the end of the "story."" I couldn't agree more. But, as with today's society, it is not acceptable to accept responsibility for your actions. It's always someone else's fault. If I were the owner's of the dog, I'd go to court and try to obtain a restraining order against these kids and/or their family members.
I.M. Wright August 11, 2012 at 03:08 AM
if you're going to cite case law and statute, at least know what you're citing. Which you don't.
I.M. Wright August 11, 2012 at 03:09 AM
Very interesting story. And even more interesting (sickening) of how someone can escape responsibility from the smallest loophole. But, the court saying it's not its' job to fix the law is correct.
pit August 11, 2012 at 11:03 AM
We must be careful when we have dogs and spend the necessary protective measures.www.kameres.com
Alyssa August 13, 2012 at 03:11 PM
In the Insurance world.... if you have insurance, your insurance company will always pay out in the event of a dog bite. Even if the dog is in its yard, tied to its dog house and the person who was bitten was beating it with a stick.... and even worse insurance companies will turn you down for insurance after you dog bites said person..... sad isnt it
Dennis Spirgen August 13, 2012 at 05:50 PM
It sounds like you had a bad experience with your insurance company, Alyssa, but I can assure you that many insurance companies do defend dog bite cases. I recently tried and won a dog bite case for a major Ohio insurer. I agree, though, that an insurance company may not want to insure you if you lose a dog bite case.
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