Dogged: An Overview of Policy and Strict Liability Under Rhode Island’s Dog Laws

Owners of pets, especially pet dogs, are prone to anthropomorphism or attributing human traits to their beloved canine companions. Such outlook should not be objectionable per se as it is the pet owner’s prerogative.

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However, in light of Rhode Island’s dog laws, and the state’s employment of strict liability in reference thereto, it is important to keep in mind the standpoint the law utilizes with respect to dog bite injury liability – that is, pet dogs are “property,” and correspondingly, the government, through federal, state, and local laws, may regulate the ownership or manner of ownership of pet dogs.

To be precise, dog owners do not have absolute dominion over their pets. The state, through laws, rules, ordinances, or regulations, intervenes when the dog owner or dog keeper is found liable, either by act or omission, for the actions of its pets, especially when harm or injury is caused to third persons or their respective properties.

The basis for the said state intervention is this concept called “police power.” Police power is the power granted to local government units to establish and enforce laws protecting the welfare, safety, and health of the public.

As mentioned, Rhode Island employs “strict liability” when it comes to the implementation of its dog laws – this means that once a dog causes injury to third persons or other domestic animals, the owner or keeper of the offending canine is automatically liable therefor. The aggrieved party need only show the amount of damages he or she claims to be entitled to.

It is important to note that “strict liability” is applied only when the errant canine causes injury while outside the property of its owner or keeper. When damage or injury is suffered within the property of the dog owner or keeper, a different set of rules apply.

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Ann S. Sheeley of Sheeley Law LLC has more than 25 years of experience specializing in personal injury, criminal law, and worker’s compensation. She believes that individuals accused of crimes have a right to be represented by top-notch defense lawyers. Learn more about her practice here.