Significant Changes To Wisconsin’s Dog Bite Statute

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

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 44 years. He also serves as a mediator throughout the State of Wisconsin and Arizona.