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Is a Dog Sitter Liable if a Dog Bites?

By Keith Stachowiak on October 3, 2022 // Leave a Comment

Liability of Dog Sitter for Dog Bites

I am watching my child’s dog, at his request, at my home. The dog bit a furnace repair person. Am I responsible for the tradesman’s injuries since I don’t own the dog?

Yes, you are responsible for damages, along with your child—the dog’s owner.

Why is this? What else do you need to know about the Wisconsin laws on dog bites? How can you get the guidance you need in this stressful and confusing situation? Here’s what you need to know.

Wisconsin Laws on Dog Ownership and Dog Bites

Whether you are a dog owner, a dog sitter, or have been injured by a dog, it’s important to understand your state statutes on dog liability laws. Wisconsin has a statute (or law) on liability for injuries caused by dogs in Chapter 174 of the Wisconsin Statutes.

Wisconsin Statute 174.02 states that the owner of a dog is liable for the full amount of damages that can be caused by a dog for injuring a person, another domestic animal, or property.

Ignoring a problem can make things worse: if the dog has injured a person, domestic animal, or damaged property in the past, specifically by biting a person with sufficient force to break the skin and cause permanent physical scarring or disfigurement, the owner is liable for twice the full amount of damages caused by the dog in any future incidents. There also may be local ordinances that might define these situations in more detail, adding additional layers to the issue.

Who is Considered a Dog Owner, a Dog Keeper, or a Dog Sitter?

Wisconsin Statute 174.02 defines the liabilities of “an owner of a dog.” The broad definition of a dog owner is someone who owns, harbors, or keeps a dog. Ownership is easy to determine, but what does it mean for a person to “harbor” or “keep” a dog?  

  • Harboring a dog: This term means you give shelter or refuge to a dog. It implies less ownership than keeping a dog.
  • Keeping a dog: This term means you have responsibility for the dog's care, custody, and control. It implies more ownership than harboring a dog, but the owner can terminate a keeper’s authority.

For even more detail on how these terms can impact liability, here is the jury instruction that a judge typically reads to a jury before it begins deliberation on a dog-related lawsuit. The instructions define the terms as follows:

A person keeps a dog if (he) (she) exercises a measure of care, custody, or control over the dog. A person's status as a keeper can change over time, with the focal point being the time of the injury. A person harbors a dog if (he) (she) shelters or gives refuge to a dog. Neither the casual presence of dogs on one's property, a meal of mercy to a stray dog, nor the mere ownership of the property on which the dog resides makes one a keeper or harborer. There must be evidence that (Defendant) furnished the dog with shelter, protection, or food or exercised some degree of control over the dog or the property where the dog resides.

Wis. JI Civil No. 1390.

Additionally, keeping a dog includes letting the dog stay on your property and feeding it. There must be evidence that the person has furnished the dog with shelter, protection, or food or exercised some control of the dog.

Pet-sitting a dog owned by a neighbor or relative, such as in the example shared above, would be in this category, along with other situations like foster care, boarding, or daily doggy daycare facilities.  

Is a Dog Owner or Dog Sitter Held Liable for the Cost of the Injury Caused by Their Dog?

When you are pet-sitting a dog, you are providing the dog food and shelter, so you would be harboring the dog. You are also most likely exercising care, custody, and control over the dog, so you would be considered a keeper of the dog. As a result, you would be liable for injuries and damages caused by the dog.

Who Pays for a Dog Bite Lawsuit or Settlement?

The dog owner is typically held liable when a dog causes injuries or damages. However, if someone other than the owner is harboring or keeping the dog, they can also be held liable. The home or renter’s insurance of either person will typically have coverage for injuries or damage caused by dogs and may even cover injuries that occurred while away from your home.

How to Find a Reputable Dog Bite Lawyer

We all do our best to provide careful, responsible care to our pets and to everyone that they encounter. When circumstances arise that result in a dog bite or damage, no one is happy. Whether you are the owner or keeper of the dog, you need to know your rights and responsibilities.

Getting help from Murphy & Practhauser’s experienced dog bite lawyers will help you understand both sides of the situation. Our knowledge and experience will ensure that the situation is resolved correctly, protecting you and your loved ones now and in the future.

With locations in downtown Milwaukee, Mequon, West Bend, Waukesha, and the south side of Milwaukee, getting advice from our award-winning team is easy and convenient for everyone in southeastern Wisconsin. Whether you are a dog owner who needs help or if you have been injured by a dog owned or kept by someone else, contact the dog bite attorneys at Murphy & Prachthauser for a free evaluation of your potential dog bite case.