Unlike most states, Idaho does not have a specific law on the books that addresses a dog owner's civil liability for bites and other damages caused by their animal. Instead, Idaho's courts apply the “one bite” and negligence rules in dog bite lawsuits. These rules have been in established via court rulings (known as “precedent”) handed down over the years in Idaho's appeals courts. In the sections below, we'll examine some key aspects of these rules, including what typically must be show in order to hold a dog owner liable for a bite, defenses a dog’s owner might raise when faced with dog bite lawsuit.
Idaho follows the “one bite” rule for dog bite claims. In other words, a dog’s owner will be held liable if:
The “one bite” rule is so-named because a dog owner will typically not be found liable if their dog has never bitten anyone or shown aggressive tendencies before -- in other words, the owner is not likely to be held liable for the first time the dog bites. Once the dog has at least “one bite” on its record, however, the owner is essentially "on notice" and is responsible for controlling the dog so that it does not bite again. And if the dog does bite again, the owner will most likely be on the hook for all resulting damages.
Not all dog-related injuries are caused by biting. For instance, a dog may cause injury by jumping on a person, knocking a person down, or scratching them. For injuries that are not caused by a bite, the injured person may be able to bring a negligence claim to court. In this kind of claim, the injured person would have to prove that the owner failed to use reasonable care to prevent the harm -- for instance, by failing to keep the dog on a leash or otherwise properly restrained under the circumstances. Then, the injured person will have to show that the owner’s failure to use care played a significant and foreseeable part in the resulting injuries.
Idaho dog owners may also face civil or even criminal liability under dog-related statutes -- such as “dangerous dog” ordinances and leash laws passed at the local (city, county, township) level.
No matter the basis for liability, all dog bite injury lawsuits filed in Idaho must be brought to court within the statutory time limits. Learn more: How long do I have to file a dog bite lawsuit in Idaho?
Idaho law allows criminal charges to be filed against dog owners in a number of situations. Idaho Statutes section 25-2805 says that an owner may be charged with a misdemeanor for allowing their dog to run "at large" if the sheriff has previously served the owner with notice to stop that kind of behavior.
The statute also defines a "vicious dog" as "any dog which, when not physically provoked, physically attacks, wounds, bites or otherwise injures" a person other than a trespasser. It allows the owner of a "vicious dog" to be charged with a misdemeanor if the owner does not keep the dog in a secure enclosure.
A dog’s owner might raise several defenses to a dog bite claim in Idaho. For instance, if the owner is facing a claim under the "one bite" rule, he or she might argue that the dog has never bitten or acted aggressively before. Without evidence that the dog has acted aggressively in the past, the injured person will have a very difficult time holding the owner liable under the one bite rule.
In a dog bite claim based on negligence, the most common defense raised is that of comparative negligence, usually based on provocation. Basically, the dog’s owner argues that the injured person is partly or wholly to blame for his or her own injuries -- for instance, because the injured person provoked the dog by teasing, taunting, or injuring it. In Idaho, the injured person will not be allowed to recover any damages if he or she is found to be 50 percent or more at fault for the underlying incident.
Learn more about how comparative negligence rules apply in Idaho dog bite cases here: What if I am partly at fault for my dog bite injuries in Idaho?
Finally, under both the one bite and negligence rules, an injured person may not be able to recover damages if he or she is trespassing at the time the dog bite or similar injury occurred.