Oregon Dog-Bite Laws

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

By , MSLIS Long Island University
Updated by Charles Crain, Attorney UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated 3/29/2024

Oregon dog owners can be held responsible under state law for bites and other injuries inflicted by their pets. But an owner's liability, as well as the compensation a victim can receive, depend on the specifics of each case. Whether you're an owner, or you've been hurt by a dog in Oregon, it's important to understand how the state's laws apply to your situation.

Oregon Dog Owners' Strict Liability for Economic Damages

Oregon law establishes a dog owner's strict liability for economic damages resulting from any injury caused by a dog—not just a bite. "Strict liability" means owners are automatically liable. They can't escape responsibility by claiming they didn't know their dog might be dangerous, or by arguing that they took all reasonable precautions to protect people from the animal.

Oregon law specifically states that:

  • "the plaintiff need not prove that the owner of the dog could foresee that the dog would cause the injury," and
  • the dog's owner "may not assert as a defense that the owner could not foresee that the dog would cause the injury."

So what are "economic damages"? Under Oregon law, economic damages can include compensation for:

  • medical bills ("reasonable charges necessarily incurred for medical, hospital, nursing and rehabilitative services and other health care services")
  • loss of income and past and future impairment of earning capacity, and
  • reasonable and necessary expenses incurred for substitute domestic services.

(Or. Rev. Stat. § 31.360 (2024); Or. Rev. Stat. § 31.705 (2024).)

Negligent Dog Owners' Liability in Oregon

In Oregon, a dog owner can be held legally responsible for all of a victim's losses if the owner's negligence allowed the incident to happen. This applies to all injuries--not only bites, but also injuries caused by scratching, tripping, frightening, or knocking down the victim.

To prove negligence, a victim has to show that the defendant didn't "take reasonable precautions to prevent a foreseeable risk of injury by the animal" So, for example, an owner could be found negligent if they fail to properly restrain a large dog, and it then runs around and knocks someone over.

The key here is that the full spectrum of damages will be available to a claimant who can demonstrate the dog owner's negligence. This compensation includes money to cover the victim's "pain and suffering" and other noneconomic effects of the incident.

(Westberry v. Blackwell, 282 Or. 129 (1978); Medlyn v. Armstrong, 49 Or. App. 829 (1980).)

Oregon's "One-Bite" Rule for Owners of Dangerous Dogs

The rules we've discussed so far apply to most dogs and their owners. But Oregon has different liability rules for owners who know that their dogs are "abnormally dangerous."

How Oregon law defines "abnormally" dangerous behavior. Oregon's courts have explained that "abnormally dangerous" behavior means a tendency to bite or launch other unprovoked attacks. Behavior that most (or all) dogs display at least some of the time doesn't qualify as "abnormally" dangerous. For example, it's generally considered normal behavior for dogs to run around, or to bite in self-defense. These tendencies can be dangerous, but aren't generally what the law means when it talks about "abnormally dangerous" behavior.

Strict Liability under the "one-bite" rule. If an owner knows their dog has a tendency to bite or attack, then they can be held strictly liable if the dog eventually injures someone. This is Oregon's version of the so-called "one-bite" rule, which places greater legal responsibility on owners who know (or should know) that their dogs are particularly dangerous. Despite its name, a dog doesn't actually have to have bitten someone in the past for the "one-bite" rule to apply. An owner will be held liable under this standard if the dog's behavior would make a reasonable person concerned that it could hurt someone in the future.

When an owner should know their dog is abnormally dangerous. Keep in mind that an owner won't be liable under this rule unless their dog injures someone in a way that could have been anticipated based on its previous behavior. For example, imagine that a dog runs after a bicycle and knocks over the rider. If that dog had chased after bicycles many times in the past, it would support the victim's argument for strict liability.

But imagine that the owners respond to their dog's bicycle-chasing by making sure it's always either on a short leash, or securely confined in a fenced-in backyard. If a visitor approaches the dog and it bites them, the dog's history of running after cyclists wouldn't prove that the owners should have anticipated this kind of behavior.

The owner's knowledge, not the dog's behavior, is what creates liability under this rule. So the best evidence that the rule applies would be:

  • the dog exhibiting dangerous behavior in front of its owner, or
  • complaints made directly to the owner about the dog's behavior.

(Westberry v. Blackwell, 282 Or. 129 (1978).)

Oregon's Statute of Limitations for Dog-Bite Lawsuits

Each state has laws called statutes of limitations that set deadlines for filing civil lawsuits. If you try to file a lawsuit after the deadline has passed, the court will dismiss it automatically. (In rare cases it's possible to argue that you're entitled to more time, but you're much better off moving quickly and meeting the deadline.)

Oregon doesn't have a statute of limitations specifically for dog-bite lawsuits. Instead, these cases are covered by Oregon's personal injury statute of limitations. Under this law, a victim has two years from the date of their injury to file a lawsuit against the person (or people) responsible.

(Or. Rev. Stat. § 12.110 (2024).)

Oregon's Rules for "Potentially Dangerous" Dogs

Oregon has specific legal procedures that apply to "potentially dangerous dogs."

Keep in mind that, even though they raise similar questions about a dog's behavior, deciding that a dog is "potentially dangerous" is different from deciding that it's "abnormally dangerous." As we discussed above, whether a dog is "abnormally dangerous" is a question that comes up in civil lawsuits when a plaintiff wants to show that an owner should be held strictly liable.

On the other hand, any person who believes a dog is "potentially dangerous" can file a complaint with the city or county where the dog and its owner reside. A court will then hold a hearing to decide if the animal is potentially dangerous. Oregon defines a potentially dangerous dog as one that, without provocation:

  • "menaces a person" while off its owner's property
  • injures a person, or
  • injures or kills another domestic animal while off its owner's property.

If a court finds that a dog meets this definition, it can impose "reasonable restrictions" on the dog's owner. These restrictions are intended to ensure ensure the safety and health of the public.

The court can also order that the dog be euthanized. Before doing so, the court must consider factors like:

  • the severity of the bite (if the dog bit a person)
  • the dog's overall behavior before and since the incident
  • whether the owner can protect people from the dog
  • whether a different owner or a new location would help protect people from the dog

Once a court has declared a dog potentially dangerous, its owner faces more serious legal consequences if the dog goes on to hurt someone or damage property. In that situation the owner is strictly liable for the economic damages resulting from the victim's injuries or damaged property.

(Or. Rev. Stat. § 609.035(6) (2024); Or. Rev. Stat. § 609.090 (2024); Or. Rev. Stat. § 609.093 (2024); Or. Rev. Stat. § 609.095 (2024); Or. Rev. Stat. § 609.115 (2024).)

Criminal Charges for Oregon Dog Owners

In addition to the civil liability we discussed above, in serious cases Oregon dog owners can be found guilty of violating the state's law against "maintaining a dangerous dog." This law applies when:

  • there is an incident in which the animal's behavior meet's the state's definition of a "dangerous dog," and
  • the owner's criminal negligence allows the incident to happen.

How Oregon defines a "dangerous dog." State law can classify a dog as dangerous for three reasons:

  • It seriously injures or kills someone in an unprovoked attack.
  • It is used as a weapon in the commission of a crime.
  • It is involved in two incidents where its behavior meets the definition of a "potentially dangerous dog" (under the rules we talked about in the previous section). In addition, the first incident must have led a court to find that the owner violated Oregon's law against "maintaining a public nuisance."

(Or. Rev. Stat. § 609.098, (2024).) ; Or. Rev. Stat. § 609.095 (2024).)

Criminal negligence. Like the concept of civil negligence we discussed earlier, criminal negligence applies in situations where someone should be aware of a risk and fails to take reasonable steps to protect people. But criminal negligence is much more serious. Under Oregon law a person can be found criminally negligent if:

  • the risk is "substantial and unjustifiable," and
  • the failure to address the risk is a "gross deviation" from what a reasonable person would have done in the same situation.

(Or. Rev. Stat. § 161.085 (2024).)

Consequences for owners and their dogs. In most cases, violating the law against maintaining a dangerous dog is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $6.250. But if the dog has killed someone, then the owner can be charged with a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $125,000. Whether the owner is found guilty of a felony or a misdemeanor, their dog will be euthanized.

In addition, the owner can be ordered to pay restitution to victims for property damage, injuries, or deaths caused by their dog. Even if a victim receives restitution under this law, they can still sue for damages in civil court.

(Or. Rev. Stat. § 609.990 (2024); Or. Rev. Stat. § 161.605 (2024); Or. Rev. Stat. § 161.615 (2024); Or. Rev. Stat. § 161.625 (2024); Or. Rev. Stat. § 161.635 (2024).)

Dog owners have a number of legal defenses if they're sued in civil court. For example, an owner can argue that the plaintiff:

An owner could have other defenses depending on the details of the case. For example, if a plaintiff sues under Oregon's version of the one-bite rule, then an owner would want to argue that they had no reason to know that their dog was dangerous. And in a negligence case the owner would want to provide evidence that they took reasonable precautions to keep people safe from their dog.

The defenses of provocation, trespassing, and assault on the owner also apply in cases involving potentially dangerous dogs. But note that different defenses could be applicable in a criminal case.

Getting Help With Your Oregon Dog-Bite Case

Both owners and victims may find it helpful to speak with a personal injury attorney if they have specific questions about their situation. A lawyer who has experience with dog-bite cases can offer advice on how to proceed. If you're facing criminal charges related to a dog bite or other injury, a criminal defense attorney can explain your options and help protect your rights.

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