Significant Changes To Wisconsin’s Dog Bite Statute

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Wisconsin’s so-called dog bite statute entitled “Owner’s Liability for Damage Caused by Dog” is currently set forth in Wis. Stat. § 174.02. Section 174.02(1)(a) deals with a “first bite” of a dog while § 174.02(1)(b) deals with a “second bite” of a dog with the owner or keeper of the dog being required to have notice of the dog’s first or prior bite.

Specifically, § 174.02 imposed liability upon a dog’s owner or keeper for injury/damage to a person, domestic animal, or property. For an owner to have liability for a dog’s “second bite”, and therefore to be subject to two times the underlying damages, the owner or keeper must have had notice or knowledge of a prior injury/damage to a person, domestic animal, or property.

Effective November 13, 2015, the Wisconsin Legislature maintained the same liability upon an owner of a dog for a “first bite” relating to injury/damage to a person, domestic animal, or property. However, the Wisconsin Legislature made very significant changes to a person’s potential claim for double damages in its modification of § 174.02(1)(b).

Under the new law, for a person to be entitled to and legally claim double damages for a dog’s prior or first bite, knowledge or notice of the dog’s owner or keeper is still required. However, a dog’s “second bite” can no longer be claimed for damages caused by the dog to a domestic animal or to property. Specifically, the new statute requires:

  1.  A bite to a person;
  2.  A break to the skin of a potential claimant; and
  3.  Permanent scarring or disfigurement.

Not only are these new requirements applicable to the so-called “second bite”, but they are also required of the so-called “first bite” assuming that the owner had notice or knowledge of a prior similar bite. Finally, not only did the Wisconsin Legislature add the requirements set forth immediately above, but also indicated that the so-called “first bite” had to occur “without provocation” to the dog. As a result, the Wisconsin Legislature seems to have added an element of “comparative negligence” in its determination as to whether or not a person is entitled to recover double damages.

The bottom line on Wisconsin’s new dog bite statute is that there is now an increased burden on a potential claimant to be able to claim/obtain double damages, with the bar being raised substantially, before a person would be determined to be legally entitled to such damages. The net result should be a significant reduction in the number of claims and/or payments being made for alleged double damages.

If you should have any questions regarding this article or insurance litigation in general, please contact Brad Matthiesen at [email protected].

Bradley W. Matthiesen

Bradley W. Matthiesen is an insurance trial lawyer and partner with the law firm of Matthiesen, Wickert & Lehrer, S.C. He is licensed to practice in Arizona and Wisconsin. He has been an insurance defense trial attorney for the past 40 years. He also serves as a mediator throughout the State of Wisconsin and Arizona.