Kansas Dog-Bite Laws

Dog owners' legal responsibilities, the deadline for filing a dog-injury lawsuit, and more.

By , J.D. · University of Michigan Law School
Updated by Charles Crain, Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

Kansas holds dog owners to different legal standards depending on whether they know (or should know) that their pet is particularly dangerous. State law also covers topics including what defenses an owner can raise in court, and how much time an attack victim has to file a lawsuit. Both dog owners and dog-attack victims should be aware of how these rules work, so they can understand their rights and obligations under state law.

Liability for Kansas Dog Owners

Kansas has two rules for when dog owners are liable for damages (like medical bills or pain and suffering) caused by their pets:

  • Owners who know (or should know) that their pets are dangerous can be held strictly liable under Kansas' one-bite rule.
  • Owners who don't have reason to think their pets are unusually dangerous can be held liable if they are negligent.

Kansas' One-Bite Rule for Owners of Dangerous Dogs

The so-called "one-bite" rule bases owners' liability on what they knew about their dog's dangerousness. Kansas' version of the rule makes owners strictly liable if they know that their dog has "vicious propensities," and someone is injured because of those propensities.

There's no list of specific behaviors or actions that automatically make a dog vicious. Often, the fact that the dog has bitten someone before is sufficient evidence to show the owner knew or should have known the dog might bite someone else. However, other evidence that the dog acts aggressively or has caused other types of injuries may also be used to demonstrate the owner knew or should have known the dog might cause an injury.

For a dog's behavior to qualify as "vicious" it must be out of the ordinary for dogs. Unprovoked biting, for example, is not typical of dogs. On the other hand, it's considered normal for a dog to act out if it has been provoked or startled. So a dog that has displayed that behavior probably wouldn't be classified as vicious.

If a dog is vicious, then the owner is automatically responsible for injuries caused by their pet's vicious tendencies. That means a victim doesn't need to prove that their injuries were caused by the owner's irresponsibility.

For example, imagine that an owner knows that their dog has a tendency to bite, and responds by taking it to obedience school and keeping it on a short leash. If the dog bites someone in spite of these precautions, the owner is still liable for the victim's injuries. They can't argue that they should be excused because they did their best to keep people safe from their pet.

(Mills v. Smith, 9 Kan. App. 2 (Kan. Ct. App. 1983).)

Liability for Negligent Dog Owners in Kansas

Even if the owner had no reason to think their dog might be vicious, they might still be liable for negligence.

In a negligence case, the injured person must show that the dog's owner failed to use reasonable care, and that this failure caused the dog bite or other injury. Whether the owner used reasonable care depends on whether they:

  • took the kinds of precautions any careful dog owner would take, and
  • took precautions based on their knowledge of their own dog's tendencies and habits.

For example, imagine that a dog has a tendency to get excited and run towards guests when they walk through the owner's door. The owner invites someone over without telling them about the dog, and without making sure the dog is restrained when the guest arrives.

If the dog knocks the guest over and injures them, the owner probably wouldn't be strictly liable--the dog's behavior likely wouldn't be considered abnormally vicious. On the other hand, the owner might be liable for negligence, since they didn't take reasonable precautions based on what they knew about their pet.

(Gardner v. Koenig, 188 Kan. 135 (Kan. 1961).)

Owner Liability When Dogs Kill or Injure Pets

Kansas has a statute that applies specifically to situations where a dog has killed or injured a domestic animal (meaning a dog, a cat, or any other animal kept as a household pet). Under this law, the dog's owner can be held financially responsible for all of the damages caused by the attack.

(Kan. Stat. § 47-645 (2024).)

Defenses to a Kansas Dog-Bite Claim

Depending on the circumstances, an owner could have several defenses in a dog-injury lawsuit. In Kansas, one of the most important defenses available to dog owners is comparative negligence.

"Comparative negligence" means that a person's injuries were partially or entirely the result of their own irresponsible behavior. Kansas uses a version of this rule called modified comparative negligence. This means that if a victim is less than 50% responsible for their injuries, they can still collect damages from the person or people who share responsibility. But someone who bears 50% or more of the responsibility for their own injuries cannot collect damages from anybody.

In a dog-attack case, owners could argue that a victim bears some or all of the blame for their own injuries because, for example, they were provoking the dog. A victim could also be held responsible for their own injuries if they were committing a crime (for example, trying to rob the dog's owner) when they were attacked.

Keep in mind that even owners who are sued under the state's strict liability rule are allowed to argue that the victim is wholly or partially responsible for their own injuries. When Kansas' strict liability rule applies, it means that a victim can collect damages without having to show that the owner did something irresponsible to cause the attack. But the state still allows owners to present evidence that the attack would not have happened (or would not have been as serious) if the victim had behaved more responsibly.

Kansas dog owners can also argue that they should not be held liable because the attack victim was trespassing. Under Kansas law, property owners have few obligations to people who intentionally come onto their property without permission (or without a legal reason to be there, like mail delivery). If a property owner's dog notices and attacks a trespasser, the owner almost certainly will not be held legally responsible. The owner would have to do something much more serious--for example, ordering their dog to attack a trespasser who clearly doesn't pose a threat to the owner or his property.

(Mills v. Smith, 9 Kan. App. 2 (Kan. Ct. App. 1983); Jones v. Hansen, 254 Kan. 499 (Kan. 1994).)

The Deadline for Filing a Kansas Dog-Bite Lawsuit

Every state has laws called "statutes of limitations" that create deadlines for filing civil lawsuits. The specific deadline depends on what kind of case the person wants to file. Kansas' statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits sets a two-year deadline for filing a case based on a dog-attack injury. It's extremely important to meet this deadline--even if you have a strong case, your lawsuit will almost certainly be dismissed if you wait too long to file it.

Next Steps in Your Kansas Dog-Bite Case

Whether you're a dog owner in Kansas, or you've been hurt by someone else's pet, it's important to understand what state law means for your case. If you have specific questions, it may be helpful to find a local attorney with experience handling dog-attack matters. A good lawyer will be able to explain how the law applies to your situation and help you decide on next steps.

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