A man in Loxley, Alabama was run over by his own dog after the canine released the throttle while the owner was in front of the all-terrain vehicle. The case raises an interesting (if tongue-in-cheek) question of liability under Alabama’s hybrid dog liability statute.
The owner parked the ATV and tied his dog’s leash around the handlebars. According to WKRG, the dog tried to run and released the throttle. The man was airlifted to a hospital.
So here is the question: is a poorly driving dog a valid basis for liability?
Alabama’s Section 3-6-1, does not limit liability to dog bites but any injury by a dog. Putting aside that this is his dog, the question is whether such an accident would fit the law’s provision.
The common law imposes strict liability for dogs if the owner knew or should have known of the animal’s vicious propensity. Sometimes called the “one-free bite rule,” past evidence of vicious propensity like a bite can be enough to trigger strict liability. Other states are moving to a general strict liability rule.
Alabama has a hybrid law. First, in public areas, the law applies a negligence standard. Second, it applies a strict liability approach to the “costs” of any injury caused by a dog. That however covers medical expenses and lost wages. Third, the owner is protected from punitive or statutory damages absent knowledge of the vicious propensity, as under the common law “one free bite rule.”
So it would seem if someone is injured by a poor driving canine, they can collect for costs since the law extends beyond bites and applies strict liability for costs.
There is a question if negligence would apply for a public area like a sidewalk. Location is key since it is a defense against strict liability if “the person so bitten or injured” was not “upon property owned or controlled by the owner of such dog.” Of course, negligence could still be shown from tying a leash to throttle or near the throttle.
Otherwise such a vehicular accident could covered but not for punitive damages unless this dog has previously driven recklessly.