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So, you have a dog. A big dog. And you’re wondering if you should put up a “ Beware of Dog ” sign in your yard. Is doing so going to indemnify you against legal liability if your dog bites someone, or is it actually a very bad idea?
The fact is, it depends on where you live. In some states, a “ Beware of Dog ” sign might be considered an indication that a person should not venture onto your property, and if they do, they’ll have to suffer the consequences. In other states, it might mean “Okay, you knew that you had a bad dog; you said so! And now, you’re liable for whatever your dog does.”
I’ve talked about this before, in The Law Regarding Dog Bites and Other Injuries. In that post, I pointed out that you might think it’s funny, or cute, to put up signs that say “Rottweiler – I Don’t Call 911,” or “Guard Shih Tzu on Duty.” “Cute” is a very bad idea. It won’t indemnify you if your dog bites someone.
For instance, if you post a sign saying “ Beware of Dog,” you could be assumed to know that your dog is vicious and likely to bite. Depending on the state you live in, you might be much better off with “Dog on Premises,” or simply “No Trespassing.” In other words, if you come onto a property where there’s a dog, you’re taking your chances.
“Beware of Dog” signs can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you’re warning people. On the other, you could be seen as having admitted that your dog is dangerous. How the signs are interpreted can vary from state to state.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at each state and how they view dog signs and the liability thereof. I’m going to deal with this in alphabetical order, so that you can easily find your state.
If you live in Alabama, you will have no protection whatsoever from “Beware of Dog” signs. If you put up a “No Trespassing” sign, though, the courts will probably assume that you did not intend to have anyone come onto your property, and you will have a stronger case if your dog bites someone.
Likewise, in Alaska, you will get little or no protection from signage. And if your dog is running at large, he can be shot, and you will have no legal recourse.
In Arizona, if you know that your dog is likely to bite, you are required by law to keep him confined, and also required to post a sign stating that you have a vicious dog.
In Arkansas, it’s zip, zero, zilch. You have no protection whatsoever. Even signs won’t protect you, so if you have a dog that’s likely to bite, you should get dog bite insurance.
In California, it doesn’t matter what kinds of signs you put up. If your dog bites someone, you are, quite simply, screwed.
In Colorado, if you have a “Beware of Dog” sign on your premises and someone is bitten, you will probably get a pass.
But not in Connecticut – you don’t get a pass.
If you live in Delaware, and you have a dangerous dog, you have to post a sign that is visible from at least 100 feet of the travelled road.
Put up a sign saying “Bad Dog.” If you do that, then unless you’re negligent, you won’t be liable.
In Georgia, even if your dog is “potentially” dangerous, you have to let people know. You have to do this at every entrance to your property, and a “No Trespassing” sign will not get you a pass.
In Hawaii, if your dog is secured on your property, and someone who hasn’t been invited enters, you’re not liable. If you didn’t post signs, you could be in trouble.
I like Indiana, because in Indiana, all dogs are assumed to be harmless. That means that if someone comes onto your property and gets bitten, the aggrieved party has to prove that your dog was vicious; you don’t have to prove that he wasn’t. It would still be a good idea to put up signs, though.
In Iowa, unless you can prove that a person was trespassing on your property, you will be liable for injuries caused by your dog, unless you had a “No Trespassing” sign posted on your property.
Kansas is pretty laidback. A dog gets a “first bite pass” unless you had reason to think that he was vicious.
Keep your dog out of Kentucky! Your dog has no legal protection there, whatsoever. If anyone – anyone at all – sees your dog bite a person, then they’re legally entitled to kill your dog, no questions asked.
In Louisiana, if you have a “dangerous” dog, then you have to post signs at every entrance point to your property, and those signs must be very visible and readable.
In Maine, if your dog bites a person, you can be liable for damages. The state won’t likely kill your dog, though.
In Maryland, anyone can lawfully kill a dog that wounds or attacks livestock or humans. And you will have no legal recourse if someone kills your dog for those reasons.
Post a “No Trespassing” sign. In Massachusetts, you will be liable for damage caused by your dog but not if you have warned people against trespassing.
In Minnesota, anyone who owns a “dangerous” dog has to post a sign.
In Mississippi, you’re a lot better off. If your dog bites a person, that person actually has to prove that the dog was known to be dangerous.
In Missouri, your dog might not necessarily be determined to be at fault if he bites someone. In fact, if you can prove that the “victim” contributed to the injury, you might get a pass.
In Montana, unless the other party was engaging in illegal activity, you will be liable if your dog bites someone.
In Nebraska, anyone who owns a “dangerous” dog has to post signs on his or her property and keep the dog away from other people.
Nevada is a bit easier. If you’re held liable for a dog bite in Nevada, the burden of proof shifts to the injured person; they have to prove that you were negligent; you don’t have to prove that you weren’t. A warning sign would be helpful but is not necessary.
In New Hampshire, you will be held liable for any injuries that your dog inflicts, unless the injured person was trespassing. You should post signs.
In New Jersey, a “Dangerous Dog” sign has to be posted from at least 50 feet in order to constitute a proper warning.
In New Mexico, you must also post warning signs that indicate that there is a dangerous dog on the premises, and they must be visible from at least 50 feet.
There are no signage regulations whatsoever in New York. That said, though, it couldn’t hurt to put up a sign in order to minimize your liability.
This is another state in which there are no “Beware of Dog” sign liability issues.
In Ohio, if you own a dog that falls under the “dangerous breed” classifications, you have to post a “Beware of Dog” sign so your liability is not in question.
In Oregon, if you post signs and someone gets hurt, they have to prove negligence. You might not be held liable.
In Pennsylvania, you are required to post signs if you have a dangerous dog. You also have to post signs using symbols that would indicate to children that there is a dangerous dog on the premises.
There are no written laws in South Carolina. Dangerous dog signage is advised but not required by law.
This is another state that does not mandate signage. If you live in South Carolina, and your dog bites someone, that person has to prove that your dog is vicious; you don’t have to prove that he isn’t.
In Tennessee, if you are being attacked and your dog protects you, the dog gets a pass. If your dog bites someone for no apparent reason, that person has to prove that you were negligent; you don’t have to prove that you didn’t do anything wrong.
The laws in Texas are plain and simple; if you have a dangerous dog, you have to keep him confined.
Utah kind of looks at dog issues as being 50/50, or 30/70, or something else entirely. In other words, it’s comparative fault. You might have a “warning “ sign up, but you might still be partly at fault. So, if a person wanders onto your property in defiance of “No trespassing” signs, they’re partly at fault. On the other hand, if you knew the nature of your dog, and you didn’t post a “Go away or my English Mastiff will chew you up and gnaw on your bones for years to come” sign, you might also be partially at fault. Tread carefully.
In Virginia, you are required by law to post signs that are visible to both kids and adults.
In Washington, if your dog has ever bitten anyone, then you are required by law to notify the public by means of stating, through signs, that there is a dangerous dog on the premises.
There are no written laws in West Virginia. Your liability is very high, though. If your dog hurts someone, you will be held liable, and the affected party does not have to prove that you were negligent.
This is another state in which signs will not give you any protection.
And yet another. You’ll get no protection from signage in the State of Wyoming. All that Wyoming requires in the way of proof of dangerous dog breeds is one person’s opinion that the breed is dangerous.
Is that screwed up? You bet it is. But it is what it is.
I’m not a lawyer, and I’m the last person who can fight these totally screwed up laws in Wyoming and other places. All I can tell you is that you need to know the laws in your state. They might be pretty screwed up laws, but they’re still the laws and you still have to obey them.
Got a dog? Get a sign. It might not mean much in the grand scheme of things, but at the very least, it might indemnify you if someone comes for your dog. It might not make a huge difference, but it couldn’t hurt. I don’t think I can really offer you much more than that.
In my opinion, if you have a dog, have a sign.