Dog Bite Laws

The Rhode Island Supreme Court summarized the state’s dog bite statute in just 10 words: “strict liability attaches for any injury occurring outside the dog’s enclosure.” Johnston v. Poulin, 844 A.2d 707 (Rhode Is. Sup. Ct., 2004). Strict liability means that an owner of a dog is responsible for the dog’s actions even if the owner was not negligent or did not intend for the dog to bite another person.

The Rhode Island dog bite law requires dog owners to place a “beware of dog” sign near any premises that is occupied by a dog. This simply means that the responsibility of informing about the dog’s presence in the location is solely upon the dog owner. A picket fence which covers the whole yard would not be sufficient indication of a dog’s presence because the pedestrian might enter the area without realizing the presence of a dog.

Damages may be awarded to the bitten plaintiff if no fences, signs or other indication was given regarding the dog’s presence. The dog bite law not only applies to bites but also to all injuries caused by a roaming canine. This even includes scratches. The law also grants protection to other dogs, domestic animals, sheep, cattle, lamb, fowl, hogs and swine if a dog bites them.

The law has also established a rule against a dog biting for the second time. This is actually a punitive measure stating that if the dog had formerly attacked an individual outside of its enclosed area, then the second attack must result in double damages against the owner and the destruction of the dog.