Dog Bite Injuries
Every year, thousands of people suffer dog bite injuries. There are almost five million dog bites a year, 800,000 of which require medical treatment. Children are most often the victims of dog bites.
In Hawaii, the owner of an animal will be held liable if it can be shown that the owner knew or should have known the animal had "dangerous propensities." Specifically Hawaii Revised Stature § 663-9, entitled “Liability of animal owners” provides:
- The owner or harborer of an animal, if the
animal proximately causes either personal or property
damage to any person, shall be liable in damages to the
person injured regardless of the animal owner's or harborer's
lack of scienter of the vicious or dangerous propensities
of the animal.
- The owner or harborer of an animal which is known by its species or nature to be dangerous, wild, or vicious, if the animal proximately causes either personal or property damage to any person, shall be absolutely liable for such damage.
Under HRS §663.9, persons suffering injury caused by an animal must still prove negligence on the part of the animal’s owner or harborer in order to make the owner or harborer liable for the injury. The general rule with respect to all landowners in Hawaii is that a possessor of land, who knows or should have known of an unreasonable risk of harm posed to persons using the land, by a condition on the land, owes a duty to persons using the land to take reasonable steps to eliminate the unreasonable risk, or warn the users against it. The focus should be on whether the condition imposed an unreasonable risk of harm not on whether the condition on the land was “unreasonably dangerous”.
The Hawaii Supreme Court reaffirmed that under Hawaii law, a possessor of land, who knows or should have known of an unreasonable risk of harm posed to persons using the land, by a condition on the land, owes a duty to the persons using the land to take reasonable steps to eliminate the unreasonable risk, or to warn the users against it. The majority rule is that landlords are responsible for attacks by dogs where the landlord is aware of a dangerous animal’s presence on the property, and the landlord has the ability to remove the animal.
A Dog’s Propensity for Dangerousness and Viciousness Runs With its Breed
Under Hawaii law, an owner or keeper of a domestic animal is bound to take notice of the general propensities of the class to which it belongs, and also of any particular propensities peculiar to the animal itself of which he has knowledge or it put on notice; and insofar as such propensities are of a nature likely to cause injury he must exercise reasonable care to guard against them and to prevent injuries which are reasonably to be anticipated from them. In this respect, a vicious or dangerous disposition or propensity may consist of mere mischievousness or playfulness of the animal, which, because of its size or nature, might lead to injury, for it is the act of the animal, rather than its state of mind, which charges the owner or keeper with liability. Under Hawaii law, an animal owner/harborer is legally responsible for injuries and damages proximately caused by the animal.