On August 29, 2009, the state of Missouri drastically changed its laws relating to the liability of a dog owner whose dog bites another individual. Revised Statute of Missouri section 273.036 is the Missouri statute governing a dog owner’s liability when their dog bites another person. This new Missouri law states “the owner or possessor of any dog that bites, without provocation, any person while such person is on public property, or lawfully on private property, including the property of the owner or possessor of the dog, is strictly liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's or possessor's knowledge of such viciousness." RSMo section 273.036(1).
This new Missouri dog bite law has created a two-prong test where a dog owner is strictly liable for personal injuries, and property damages, caused as the result of their dog biting another person without provocation, and while the dog bite victim was lawfully on the property of the dog owner.
Missouri’s new dog bite laws have elevated the responsibility of dog owners for the actions of their pets. The new law states that a dog owner is ‘strictly liable’ to an individual who is bitten by their canine, if the bite occurred without provocation, and while the victim was lawfully on the property. Strict liability is a legal doctrine that makes individuals responsible for damages of their actions, such as dog ownership, regardless of any "fault" on their part.
By including the concept of strict liability in Missouri’s new dog bite statute, a dog owner is liable to an injured dog bite victim meeting the above two-prong test, regardless of their intent to cause the injury. This new Missouri Dog Bite statue provides additional protections to those injured as a result of unprovoked dog bites in the State of Missouri.
Missouri’s new dog bite laws do recognize situations where an individual bitten by a dog may share some responsibility for the attack. The new Missouri dog bite law specifically states that a dog owner is liable for their dog biting another person, only if the bite occurs ‘without provocation’. Provocation may come in a clear and intentional manner, such as hitting, tormenting, abusing, or teasing a dog. Under Missouri law, provocation may also come through unintentional acts, such as stepping on a dog’s tail. The defense of provocation is taken on case-by-case basis in which juries must weigh the arguments of Missouri dog bite lawyers at trial in determining whether an act amounts to provocation.