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Animal Attack Claims and Lawsuits

Jan 1, 15

Most household animals, including dogs and cats, are trained, well groomed and friendly. But unfortunately, there are some animals that cannot successfully interact with humans and every year several thousands of people, including children, are injured in attacks by these types of animals.

Although an animal attack may seem like an open and shut case, the owners of the attacker are often not held liable for their animal’s actions. If the victim was inside of the owner’s fence, for example, the issue of responsibility can quickly become complicated. That is why it is so important to hire a skilled and knowledgeable attorney, who can help you sort out the details and legal issues of an animal attack case.

A “Case by Case” Basis

Because of the complicated and differing nature of animal attacks, liability often depends on the circumstances surrounding the attack. Laws also vary from state to state.

In South Dakota, dog bite claims and lawsuits may be brought under one of two different legal theories:

The “one-bite” rule, which holds a dog owner liable for injuries if the animal had a known propensity for violence or acts of aggression.  The most convincing evidence would be that the dog has bitten someone or tried to bite before, for this reason the name “one-bite” rule.  However, a prior bite is only one way to show an animal’s previous aggression and therefore, there are exceptions to the rule.

As a traditional negligence rule, if the evidence suggests that an owner of an aggressive or vicious animal knew or reasonably knew that the animal may attack yet failed to prevent the animal from causing harm to others, may be held liable for the animal attack and resulting injuries. 
Under S.D.C.L. § 40-34-14 a vicious dog is defined as:

One that approaches in a “vicious or terrorizing manner” or otherwise attacks on public property such as a street, sidewalk or park.
A dog that approaches in a “vicious or terrorizing manner” or otherwise attacks  on permissive private property, wherein the victim had the property owner’s consent to be there.  This also applies to employed people, such as mail carriers, meter readers, service members and delivery workers. These people have the permission of property owners to enter the property in order to complete their assigned task.

The Next Step

The legal ramifications of an animal attack case can often come down to the little details. The victim must determine and prove that their case applies to the specific state statutes. It is important to take these steps following an animal attack.


  • Seek medical treatment as soon as possible.
  • Report the incident to law enforcement.
  • Photograph the injuries sustained from the attack.
  • Photograph the location where the attack happened.
  • Gather contact information for the animal’s owner and any witnesses, if present.
  • Consult with a South Dakota dog and animal bite attorney.



  • Admit fault or accept responsibility without understanding the law.
  • Sign anything from the animal owner, insurance company, or anyone else involved without first speaking with a qualified and knowledgeable attorney, in order to protect the success of your case.


Animal attacks can cause both physical and emotional anguish. If you or a loved one has been the victim of an animal attack, meet with one of our personal injury experienced attorneys to learn about your rights.

It is great to work with the attorneys at Johnson, Janklow, and Abdallah. They always provide excellent advice and service that is second to none.

Mike Miller | former NBA player

The lawyers at Johnson, Janklow, and Abdallah are consistently ranked as the top business lawyers in the state. Our business can always count on them to aggressively fight for our rights and provide straight-forward advice on complex issues.

Mark McNeary | Primrose Retirement Communities, LLC

Lawyers from Johnson, Janklow, and Abdallah regularly participate in legal education by judging intramural student skills competitions; helping prepare our nationally competitive litigation skills teams; serving or leading the South Dakota State Bar's Law School Committee; and, from time to time , providing guest lecturers. The Law School is grateful for the generous participation of lawyers like those from Johnson, Janklow, and Abdallah.

Tom Geu | former Dean, USD School of Law