Dogs have incredibly powerful jaws that can inflict severe injuries on the human body. While the vast majority of dogs pose no threat to humans, the reality is that dog bite injuries commonly occur.  Data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that approximately 800,000 people seek medical care each year due to dog bite injuries and that around 50% of these dog bite victims are children.

Here, we want to discuss who is responsible for injuries resulting from dog bites in Montana.

Montana’s Strict Liability Dog Bite Law

If we turn to Montana Code Annotated 27-1-715,  we can see that Montana operates under what is considered a “strict liability” dog bite law. What this means is that the owner of the dog can be held liable for any damages suffered by the victim regardless of whether or not the dog has ever bitten anybody before or the owner was aware of the viciousness of the dog. So long as the victim was on public property or lawfully on private property, and as long as they did not provoke the dog, the owner will be responsible for covering the medical expenses.

The law in Montana operates a bit differently than it does in other places. In some states,  dog owners will only be held liable if their dog has been deemed vicious or has bitten somebody before (one-bite rule).

What if Someone is Trespassing on Private Property? Are Dog Owners Responsible for Bite Injuries?

There are times when the strict liability dog bite law in Montana will not hold up and when the owner will not be responsible for the injuries caused to the victim. As we mentioned above, the owner will only be responsible if the victim was in a public location or lawfully in a private place. A dog owner will not be held liable if the injured person was bitten while they were trespassing on private property.

This generally follows the premises liability laws in Montana. There are very few exceptions upon which a trespasser will be entitled to compensation if they are injured on private property.

My Dog Bit Someone But Was Provoked – What Happens Now?

The dog bite laws in Montana prohibits a bite injury victim from recovering compensation if they provoked the dog. However, this can bring about various questions about what is considered “provocation.”

The Supreme Court of Montana ruled in 1995 that provocation in these situations will be decided on a case-by-case basis. However, the Court did establish some guidelines for these situations. In particular, the Court explained that simply extending your hand near a dog is not provocation, but thrusting your hand towards the dog or making a threatening or quick gesture could be considered a provocation.

If your dog bit somebody because they (the dog) were provoked, your case may end up going to court. This is particularly true if the person who was bitten tries to recover compensation from you either through your insurance or through a personal injury lawsuit. Because these cases are to be determined on a case-by-case basis, you may need to seek assistance from an attorney who can help you determine the best steps forward.