What is a dog owner’s liability for personal property damage in a bicycle vs. dog collision on public roadway?

UPDATED: Aug 17, 2011

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What is a dog owner’s liability for personal property damage in a bicycle vs. dog collision on public roadway?

Setting, a rural road outside the town limits. A semi-pro cyclist traveling on the public road at a high speed (he says 49 mph) collided with the family dog who ran out in the road. The cyclist was thrown from his bike, and sustained injuries to his spine and ribs. The dog had lacerations on his hind leg deep enough to expose the bone. Both parties took care of their respective medical/vet bills. However, the cyclist wants the dog owner to pay $460 repair bill for his bicycle.

Asked on August 17, 2011 Pennsylvania


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

If the dog owner was neligent (or unreasonably careless) in some way, then the dog owner may be liable. Negligence could be found from not having the dog secured; so if the dog was free to run out in the road, that could be enough to show negligence on the dog owner's part, which could make him liable for the cyclist's unreimbursed (by insurance) costs. (Dog owners are expected to keep their animals secured, whether by a fence, invisible fence, rope/chain, etc.) What the dog owner might be liable for could be reduced by the cyclist's own fault or negligence, so if the cyclist was riding too fast for the area or conditions or drunk or not paying attention (e.g. zoning out his iPod while riding), he may be entitled to less, since parties themselves at fault are not entitled to full recovery.

Note that if you choose to not pay, he will have to sue you--and then win in court--to recover anything. While you don't want a  lawsuit, this does potentially give you some leverage, since the burden is on him to act. You may wish, assuming you agree that you were at least partially at fault in not securing your dog, to see if you can't settle for some lower payment and let both of you avoid litigation.

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