Ohio Dog-Bite Laws

A dog owner's liability for bites and other injuries in Ohio, the deadline for filing a dog-bite lawsuit in state court, and more.

Updated by , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

If you've been hurt by a dog in Ohio, state law will determine if you can hold the owner legally responsible for your injuries. State and local law also controls when dogs can be declared dangerous to the public, and imposes requirements on the owners of these animals. Whether you're an Ohio dog owner, or you've been injured by someone else's pet in the state, make sure you know how these rules apply to you.

Ohio's "Strict Liability" Dog-Bite Statute

Under Ohio law, a dog's "owner, keeper, or harborer" is strictly liable for any injuries or property damage caused by the animal. Ohio is a so-called "strict liability" state, meaning it doesn't require an injured person to prove that the dog's owner acted negligently.

In a negligence case, a plaintiff has to show that the defendant failed to act with reasonable care, and that this failure led to the plaintiff's injury. In contrast, under a strict liability rule the victim just has to show that the defendant owned the dog, and that the dog caused the victim's injuries.

If an owner is found liable under this law, then they will be responsible for paying compensatory damages to the victim. Compensatory damages cover direct financial losses (like medical bills and lost income) as well as less tangible consequences like the victim's pain and suffering.

Ohio does not allow plaintiffs in strict liability dog-bite cases to recover punitive damages. We'll talk in the next section about what a plaintiff must prove to recover punitive damages.

Note that, even though it's common to talk about "dog-bite laws," Ohio's statute also applies to other types of injuries. So, for example, if a large dog hurts someone by knocking them over, that person would have the same legal case against the owner as a person who suffered a bite injury.

(Ohio Rev. Code § 955.28(B) (2024).

Who Can Be Held Strictly Liable in a Dog-Attack Case

A person doesn't have to be a dog's owner to be held strictly liable for injuries caused by the animal. Under Ohio law strict liability can apply to:

  • the dog's legal owner
  • the dog's "keeper" (that is, someone who had--or was supposed to have--physical control over the animal when it injured someone), or
  • the dog's "harborer" (that is, someone who has possession and control over the premises where the dog lives).

This means, for example, that a pet sitter or dog walker could be liable for injuries caused by a dog that's in their care. It also means that a landlord could be liable as a "harborer." But landlords aren't generally responsible for the behavior of their tenants' dog. For a landlord to be liable, a tenant's dog would have to injure someone in an area like a lobby or parking lot--places the landlord controls and is responsible for keeping safe.

(Ward v. Humble, 2022 Ohio 3258 (Ohio Ct. App. 2022).)

Potential Defenses to a Dog-Bite Injury Claim In Ohio

Ohio recognizes that a dog and its owner are not necessarily legally responsible for all injuries inflicted by the animal. Owners have several defenses in a dog-bite case, including several that are explicitly laid out in the state's dog-bite statute. For example, an Ohio owner is not liable if their dog injures someone who was:

  • committing or attempting to commit criminal trespass or another criminal offense on the owner's property
  • committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense against any person, or
  • teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog on the owner's property.

Keep in mind, though, that when it comes to dog-bite liability Ohio law distinguishes between "minor misdemeanors" and more serious criminal offenses. For example, imagine that someone accidentally wanders onto a dog owner's property, and is bitten by the dog before they realize they're trespassing. This is likely the kind of "minor misdemeanor" that would not allow the owner to escape liability. On the other hand, someone who intentionally trespasses and refuses to leave would be committing a more serious offense. In a case like that the bite victim would have trouble successfully suing the dog's owner.

Finally, note that Ohio law specifically protects solicitors (for example, door-to-door salesman). Even a solicitor operating without required permits is not committing a serious offense that would excuse a dog bite or other attack.

(Ohio Rev. Code § 955.28(B) (2024).

Liability Under Ohio's "One-Bite" Rule

In addition to its strict liability statute, Ohio also has a common law negligence rule for dog-bite liability. Under this rule, an owner (as well as a keeper or harborer) can be held liable for injuries caused by a dog if:

  • the dog was vicious
  • the defendant knew about the dog's viciousness, and
  • the defendant was negligent in keeping the dog.

(Beckett v. Warren, 2008 Ohio 4689 (Ohio Ct. App. 2008).)

Negligence in a One-Bite Rule Case

This is a version of the so-called "one-bite" rule, which bases an owner's liability on their knowledge of their pet's dangerous tendencies. In a typical negligence case, a victim is required to show that their injuries were directly caused by the defendant's failure to act responsibly. Under Ohio's one-bite rule, though, a victim can prove negligence just by showing that the owner chose to keep the animal despite knowing about its dangerous tendencies.

So, for example, in a typical negligence case a victim might have to show that they were injured because the dog's owner failed to keep a strong enough grip on their pet's leash. Under Ohio's one-bite rule, on the other hand, the owner of a vicious dog would be liable for an injury even if they took all of the proper precautions.

(Flint v. Holbrook, 80 Ohio App. 3d 21 (Ohio Ct. App. 1992).)

How Ohio Decides If a Dog is Vicious or Dangerous

Courts don't use a specific definition of viciousness or dangerousness in one-bite-rule cases. For example, one court ruled that it might be reasonable to deem a dog vicious only if it had killed or seriously injured someone in a previous incident. But it also said that it might be enough for the dog to have bitten or attacked someone on a previous occasion. Whether a dog is deemed vicious in a particular case will depend on the evidence and the arguments offered by the plaintiff and the defendant.

(As we'll discuss below, dogs that might pose a threat to the public can also be declared "dangerous" or "vicious" by a judge after a court hearing. It's important to keep in mind that these hearings are a different kind of legal proceeding, with different consequences for the dog and the owner, than a civil lawsuit where someone is seeking to recover damages for their injuries.)

(Dillon v. Ohio Dep't of Rehab. & Correction, 2023-Ohio-942 (Ohio Ct. App. 2023).)

Damages in Ohio One-Bite Rule Cases

In a strict liability case the victim only has to show that they were injured by a dog that was owned, kept, or harbored by the defendant. Under the one-bite rule, the victim must also prove that the dog was vicious, and that the owner knew about this viciousness. So, why would someone ever sue under the one-bite rule, instead of just making the more straightforward strict-liability argument?

The main reason for pursuing a one-bite-rule case has to do with damages. As we discussed above, in a strict liability case the victim can only recover damages that directly compensate them for the harms they've suffered (for example, lost wages and pain and suffering).

On the other hand, in a case brought under the one-bite rule, a victim may also be able to recover punitive damages. These damages are intended to punish the defendant and deter others from engaging in similar behavior.

An owner found liable under the one-bite rule isn't automatically required to pay punitive damages. But keeping a dangerous dog, despite knowing that it might hurt someone, is the kind of behavior that punitive damages are designed to punish and deter. So Ohio law gives judges and juries the option of imposing extra damages in appropriate cases. But an owner can be found strictly liable even if there's no evidence they behaved irresponsibly—so it wouldn't make as much sense to allow punitive damages in those cases.

(Beckett v. Warren, 2008 Ohio 4689 (Ohio Ct. App. 2008).)

The Ohio Statute of Limitations for Dog-Bite Injury Lawsuits

A statute of limitations is a law that places a deadline on your right to file a lawsuit in your state's civil court system. Different kinds of cases are subject to different deadlines, but the consequences for missing the filing deadline is the same: the court will almost certainly dismiss your case, unless the circumstances call for a rare extension of the filing deadline.

There's no specific Ohio statute of limitations for dog-bite lawsuits. Instead, these claims typically fall under the larger umbrella of "personal injury." Ohio's statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits says that any lawsuit seeking a legal remedy for "injury to the person" must be filed within two years. So someone who's been injured by a dog has two years from the date of the incident to file a personal injury complaint in Ohio state court.

(Ohio Rev. Code § 2305.10 (2024).)

Ohio's Rules for Dogs That Might Be a Threat to the Public

The overall rules for Ohio dogs and their owners are set by the state. But municipalities are allowed to create and enforce their own ordinances covering things like:

  • registration requirements for a new pet
  • an owner's obligation to keep their dog leashed in public, and
  • what an owner must do to make sure their dog doesn't escape their property.

Local governments are also responsible for enforcing laws for dealing with dogs that have threatened or hurt people.

When a Dog Can Be Declared Vicious, Dangerous, or a Nuisance

If a dog has hurt someone, or engaged in other dangerous or threatening behavior, local animal control officials can request a court hearing. At the hearing they can ask the judge to declare the animal vicious, dangerous, or a nuisance. (It can be a little confusing that these hearings use terms like "vicious" and "dangerous" that are also used in civil lawsuits. But keep in mind that

The owner also has an opportunity to defend themselves and their pet. Some of the same defenses that owners can raise in civil lawsuits also apply in these hearings. For example, a dog's behavior will be excused if it was the result of being provoked.

The judge will look at the evidence and decide if the animal's behavior makes it vicious, dangerous or a nuisance under Ohio law.

Vicious dogs. This definition applies to dogs that have killed or seriously injured a person.

Dangerous dogs. This definition applies in three situations. First, it covers dogs that have injured a person (but not so seriously that they can be deemed "vicious"). Second, covers dogs that have killed another dog. Third, it covers dogs whose owners have repeatedly failed to keep their pets properly confined or restrained (for example, secured on the owner's property or on a leash while in public).

Nuisance dogs. This definition applies to dogs that haven't hurt anyone, but have behaved in threatening ways or ways that could have led to an injury. For example, a dog could be classified as a nuisance if it chases someone, tries to bite someone, or approaches someone in a way that would make a reasonable person think it was about to attack. Note that a dog can only be classified as a nuisance if it behaves this while off its owner's property.

The Consequences If a Dog is Declared Vicious, Dangerous, or a Nuisance

If a court finds that a dog is vicious, dangerous, or a nuisance, it can impose requirements on the owner. For example, owners of dangerous dogs:

  • must keep their pet in a locked enclosure while at home, and either muzzled or a short chain-link leash when in public
  • can be ordered to get liability insurance to cover future injuries or property damage caused by their pet, and
  • must obtain a dangerous dog registration certificate and make sure the animal wears tags identifying it as dangerous.

Owners who fail to follow these requirements risk even more serious consequences for themselves and their pets. For example:

  • If the owner of a dangerous dog fails to make sure the dog is properly restrained, they can be found guilty of a misdemeanor.
  • If the owner of a vicious dog fails to properly restrain their pet, and it goes on to hurt someone, then the owner can be charged with a misdemeanor and the animal may be euthanized.
  • If the owner of a vicious dog fails to properly restrain their pet, and it goes on to kill someone, then the owner can be charged with a felony and the animal must be euthanized.

(Ohio Rev. Code § 955.11 (2024) Ohio Rev. Code § 955.221 (2024); Ohio Rev. Code § 955.222 (2024); Ohio Rev. Code § 955.99 (2024).)

Next Steps in Your Ohio Dog-Bite Case

The stakes can be high--both financially and personally--if you've been injured by someone else's dog, or own a pet that has been accused of hurting someone. Sometimes these cases can be handled relatively easily, but if you're not sure how to proceed it may be helpful to speak with an attorney. An Ohio lawyer with experience in cases like these will be able to help you understand your options and decide on your next steps.

Make the Most of Your Claim
Get the compensation you deserve.
We've helped 285 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you