It’s a situation that unfolds on roads across America every day. A driver is minding their own business, traveling down a quiet street, when suddenly, a loose dog runs out into the middle of the street, causing the driver to swerve and crash. Fido is fine – but the driver isn’t. Now they’ve got a broken arm, not to mention considerable damage to their vehicle. So, who is responsible in this situation? Is a dog’s owner liable for compensating the injured driver when their pet causes an accident? Or is the accident victim stuck with the bill? We will explain some key points about liability for auto accidents caused by loose dogs.
Oklahoma Leash Laws: Who is Liable When a Dog Causes a Car Crash?
While dogs can be man’s best friend, they can also cause serious injuries when not properly leashed or fenced in. When an animal suddenly runs out into the road, most drivers’ instinct is to veer out of its path. That’s good news for the animal but not so helpful for the driver, who will likely crash into a mailbox, tree, ditch, telephone pole, or oncoming vehicle. Alternatively, the driver might react by slamming on his or her brakes – which will probably cause a rear-end collision with the vehicle following behind. Regardless of whether a driver’s immediate reaction is to swerve or stop, vehicle damage and personal injury are both likely outcomes.
But does that mean the dog’s owner is liable? For the answer, one must turn to Oklahoma’s leash laws. (Keep in mind that every state’s leash laws are different. If you’re not a resident of Oklahoma, you should check what your state’s statutes say about dog ownership and liability for injuries.) Here’s what the applicable statutes say about leashing your dog in Oklahoma:
- Under 4 O.S. § 43, it is illegal for dogs to roam free in counties with populations greater than 200,000 residents. This includes Oklahoma County, which has a population of nearly 720,000 residents, and neighboring Cleveland County, which has a population of around 270,000. Any loose dog “running at large” in such counties can be taken to the pound, and the dog’s owner can be charged with a misdemeanor.
- If you live in Oklahoma City, you’re subject to additional leash laws by city ordinance. The following quote is taken directly from a local government newsletter: “In the City of Oklahoma City, dogs must be kept on a leash at all times outside of their home. This ordinance is in effect not only for the safety of the dogs but the safety of other citizens as well… If you want to report a loose dog in your neighborhood, call the Action Center at (405) 297-2535.”
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Dog owners have a duty to comply with state laws and applicable local ordinances. If a dog’s owner carelessly violates the law and allows them to roam freely despite the safety risks, they could be liable for resulting injuries. This includes dog bite injuries – for which Oklahoma dog owners have “strict” (automatic) liability under 4 O.S. § 42.1 – and Oklahoma truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, and other types of automotive accidents. Had the owner followed the law and restrained their dog properly, the preventable crash – and resulting injuries – would never have occurred.
That being said, courts have returned conflicting rulings in cases involving personal injury liability for dog owners. For example, in Williams v. Hill (1995), the Supreme Court of Alabama ruled that defendant William Hill was not liable for a motorcycle crash caused by his Golden Retriever Buddy Bear because the dog did not have an extensive history of chasing motor vehicles. However, in Laylon v. Shaver (1992), the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York ruled that defendant James Shaver was liable for a bicycle accident caused by his Doberman Pinscher because Shaver was negligent in allowing the dog to roam freely.