Kentucky Dog-Bite Laws

Learn when Kentucky dog owners can be sued for injuries caused by their pets, an owner's potential defenses, and more.

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

Kentucky has several laws that work together to determine how dog-attack incidents are handled in the state. These laws cover everything from when an owner can be held liable for damage caused by their pet, to what happens if both the owner and the victim share some fault for the incident. Kentucky places significant responsibilities on owners, but also recognizes that victims can sometimes be partially to blame for their own injuries. Understanding how these rules work is vital whether you've been hurt by a dog, or your own pet has been accused of an attack.

Strict Liability for Kentucky Dog Owners

Under Kentucky law, owners are strictly liable for property damage, bites, and other injuries caused by their pets. "Strict liability" makes it easier for victims to prove that the owner is legally obligated to pay damages (that is, money to compensate the victim for the losses they suffered in the attack).

In many states, a victim is only entitled to damages if they can show either that the owner knew their dog might be dangerous, or that the attack only happened because the owner was careless. Under Kentucky's strict liability rule, though, even responsible owners with well-behaved dogs can be held liable for any damage their pets do to people, livestock or property.

Keep in mind that Kentucky's dog-attack statute applies to both dog bites and other injuries a dog might cause. For instance, suppose that a dog injures a pedestrian by jumping on them and knocking them down. The injured person may bring a claim against the owner under Kentucky's dog-attack law, in the same way they could if they'd been bitten.

Ky. Rev. Stat. § 258.235(4) (2024).

Legal Defenses for Kentucky Dog Owners

Kentucky's dog-attack statute does not list any exceptions to an owner's strict liability. But Kentucky's courts have ruled that dog owners should not have to pay for all of a victim's damages if the victim was partially to blame for the attack.

This is an example of Kentucky's pure comparative negligence rule. Under this rule, the damages a defendant must pay a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit are reduced in proportion to the defendant's share of responsibility for their own injuries.

This pure comparative negligence rule means that a dog owner's legal defenses in Kentucky are similar to the defenses owners can raise in other states. For example, if an owner can show that a victim was hurt because they were trespassing, or because they were provoking the dog, then the victim's damages will be reduced.

It may seem contradictory to hold an owner strictly liable for an attack by their dog, but also allow the owner to argue that the attack was really the victim's fault. But it's helpful to think of it like this:

  • Under Kentucky's strict liability rule, a dog-attack victim can collect damages from the animal's owner without having to prove that the owner did something irresponsible.
  • Under Kentucky's comparative negligence rule, victims are still obligated to look out for their own safety. Even a strictly liable owner can reduce the damages they have to pay by showing that the victim's own carelessness or bad behavior contributed to the incident.

Exactly how much a victim's damages are reduced will depend on the details of each case.

For example, imagine that an owner gives someone permission to pet their dog. The person pets the dog very enthusiastically, and the startled animal responds by inflicting a very severe bite. In a case like this, a court might hold the victim partially responsible for their own injuries, but still decide that the owner must pay most of the victim's damages.

On the other hand, consider a case where a stranger climbs over a fence and into the owner's backyard in the middle of the night. The owner's dog is startled and bites the trespasser's leg. Here, a court would probably decide that the trespasser is entirely responsible for their own injury. Technically the owner has still violated Kentucky's strict liability law, but the trespasser is so unlikely to collect significant damages that a lawsuit against the owner would almost certainly be pointless.

Maupin v. Tankersley, 540 S.W.3d 357, 361 (Ky. 2018)

Deadlines for Kentucky Dog-Injury Lawsuits

Kentucky's statute of limitations for personal injury cases gives victims one year to file a lawsuit in civil court. The clock starts ticking on the day of the injury. (It can start later if the victim isn't immediately aware they've been hurt--for example, if they're taking a medication that has dangerous long-term side effects. But this exception is unlikely to apply when someone has been attacked by a dog.)

It's extremely important to file any dog-attack lawsuit before Kentucky's one-year deadline expires. A plaintiff who waits too long will almost certainly have their case thrown out of court, even if they have a good argument that they're entitled to compensation.

Ky. Rev. Stat. § 413.140 (2024).

Criminal Penalties and Rules for Dangerous Dogs in Kentucky

Under Kentucky state law, municipalities are primarily responsible for keeping the public safe from dangerous dogs. For example, they can create and enforce their own rules for dealing with dogs that are rabid or found wandering without their owners.

Kentucky also allows any attack victim to ask a court to rule that the owner is harboring a vicious dog. If the court finds that the dog viciously attacked someone without provocation while off its owner's property, it will impose consequences on both the owner and the animal.

In very serious cases, the animal might be euthanized. Owners also face fines and even up to 60 days in jail.

If the owner is allowed to keep the dog, the court will require the owner to take steps to protect people from the animal. This includes keeping the animal in a locked enclosure while on the owner's property, and keeping it muzzled when it's in public. Owners who fail to follow these requirements will face even more serious consequences.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. § 258.235 (2024); Ky. Rev. Stat. § 258.365 (2024); (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 258.990 (2024).)

Next Steps in Your Kentucky Dog-Injury Case

Kentucky imposes strict liability on dog owners, but it can still be complicated to determine how much compensation a victim will receive for an attack. The outcome will depend on how the state's rules apply to the details of the incident. If you have questions about your own situation, it may be helpful to speak with an attorney. A lawyer who has experience handling dog-injury cases will be able to explain your legal options and help you decide on next steps.

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