Signed into Law: Liability Limitations under Wisconsin’s Dog Bite Law

Senator Frank Lasee (R-De Pere) and Representative Mary Czaja (R-Irma) introduced Senate Bill 286 to reform Wisconsin’s long standing “dog bite” statute. The legislation, supported by WDC, was signed into law on November 11, 2015, as 2015 Wisconsin Act 112.

Under prior law, Wis. Stat. § 174.02(1)(b), dog owners were liable for double damages for dogs that cause injury to people, domestic animals, or property if they have previously done so. The prior law did 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 for the second incident despite the innocuous nature of the “first bite.”

The most important change in this act is to the double damages provisions. Now, an owner may only be liable for double damages for injuries caused by their dog 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. That is, both bites must break the skin and cause permanent scarring or disfigurement and the owner must have known of the first bite.

Act 112 also increases the monetary forfeitures (i.e., penalties imposed by a governmental entity) for dog owners. Pre-Act 112, for first time damage to “a person, domestic property, deer, game birds or the nests of eggs of game birds” the maximum forfeiture was $500. Act 112 allows for up to $2,500. Pre-Act 112, the maximum penalty for subsequent injuries for owner with notice of the first injury was $1,000. Under Act 112, the maximum penalty is raised to $5,000.

Act 112 also changes who can request a court to order that a dog be killed. Under prior 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 Act 112, 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.