Legislature Moves Bill to Change “Dog Bite” Statute

Senator Frank Lasee (R-De Pere) introduced Senate Bill 286 on October 2. This bill proposes to change Wisconsin’s long standing, and flawed, “dog bite” statute. Under current law, Wis. Stat. § 174.02(1)(b) mandates double damages for dogs that cause injury to people, domestic animals, or property if they have previously done so. Current law does not take into account the severity or type of the damage done. For instance, a dog could cause minor property damage, which would count as the first bite, and then cause physical damage to an individual on the second bite. The owner would be liable for double damages in the same manner as an owner whose dog caused disfiguring personal injuries on both occasions despite the fact that the first owner had no notice their dog was capable of causing such damage. SB 286 is an attempt to remedy this unfairness.

The largest change is to the double damages provisions. Now an owner may be liable for double damages for injuries caused by their dog only if a dog bites a person with “sufficient force to break the skin and cause permanent physical scarring, or disfigurement” if the owner knew the dog had previously done so. This change ensures that dog owners will not unfairly have double damages triggered by minor damage to personal property.

The bill also increases the monetary forfeiture a court can level against owners for damage caused by a dog. Under current law for first time damage to “a person, domestic property, deer, game birds or the nests of eggs of game birds” the maximum forfeiture is $500. Under the bill it is raised to $2,500. Under current law the maximum penalty for subsequent acts is $1,000. Under the bill it is raised to $5,000.

SB 286 also changes who can request a court to order that a dog be killed. Under current law only the state or a municipality may ask a court to order a dog be killed if the dog caused serious injury to a person or domestic animal on at least two separate occasions. Under this bill in addition to the state and municipality being able to make this request, a person injured by the dog or whose child was injured by the dog, or whose domestic animal was injured by the dog may also make this request.

SB 286 received a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Insurance, Housing, and Trade on October 6 and was passed by the committee on a vote of 5-0 on October 15. The State Senate subsequently passed the bill on October 20. The bill has been placed on the Assembly calendar for November 3.