Last Updated: 4/20/2023
Generally, unless a dog attack victim is engaged in "unlawful conduct", the owner is responsible for controlling the dog and liable for any injuries via a dog bite claim. Iowa law states:
"The owner of a dog shall be liable to an injured party for all damages done by the dog, when…the dog is attacking or attempting to bite a person, except when the party damaged is doing an unlawful act, directly contributing to the injury" (Iowa Code Sec. 351.28).
If someone trespasses on a dog owner’s property, the property owner may not be liable for a dog bite or attack.
Trespassing and Dog Owner Liability
Trespassing is an unlawful act, so if a bite victim was trespassing, he or she cannot go after the dog owner for damages related to injuries. What counts as trespassing is a difficult question, however, and has many gray areas.
Under Iowa law, trespassing happens either when someone enters a property without justification after receiving notice not to enter the property, or when the person enters without the owner's permission.
Unless property is behind a locked gate or contains a sign discouraging visitors, there may be an implied invitation to members of the public to enter for common errands like selling door-to-door or asking for directions, for example.
Per Iowa Code Section 716.7(3), the general public also has the right to retrieve any personal property that enters someone else's property as long as they don't linger and take a direct route to the lost property. For example, a child has a legal right to enter someone's yard to retrieve a stray ball.
When are dog owners liable or not liable for a bite?
Because of Iowa's strict liability system, dog owners may be liable for dog bites under many circumstances. A dog owner may argue, though, that the person was trespassing, in which case the bite victim may have to prove he or she was not trespassing. For example, a bite victim may argue he or she approached a house with no fence and no signs discouraging trespassing, knocked on someone’s door for directions, and was attacked by the dog when the homeowner opened the door.
If a bite victim assaults, beats or harms the dog owner in some way, they cannot claim the dog owner is liable for the injuries, however. Assaults can include yelling and other threatening behavior. Robberies and other situations that excite a dog and prompt it to bite also may not warrant liability for the dog owner.
Discuss your particular case with an attorney, as the details of these cases can vary from one incident to the next.
How do I obtain compensation for a dog bite?
If you were bitten by a dog, and you didn't engage in unlawful activity, you may be able to obtain compensation for your injuries in a personal injury lawsuit. There are many procedural and substantive considerations to dog bite lawsuits, so seek legal help from a qualified attorney.