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Under Utah Law An Owner Is Strictly Liable For Damages Caused By Their Animals

Interviewer: What about animal bites, for instance? Do you take animal bite cases as well?

Robert Cummings: That’s a very good point, and yes. An owner of a dog, specifically, and animals in general is responsible for that animal, and the harm that that animal causes. Under Utah law, an owner is what’s known as strictly liable for damages caused by their animal. What this means is, if a person is bit by a dog, the owner of that dog will be responsible to cover the damages inflicted by that dog, regardless if they took all steps necessary to ensure that their animal wouldn’t bite somebody else. If they’re on a leash, and it’s a fluke and the leash breaks, and that dog chases off after and bites somebody, the owner’s going to be liable, even though the owner took the steps to make sure the dog was on a leash. Animals are somewhat uncontrollable, and we can’t rationalize with them. The owner’s going to be liable for the damages caused by that dog.

The Laws Regarding Liabilities Applies to All Animals Even Exotic Ones like Bears and Wolves

That applies to other animals as well. In law school, all lawyers learn about the cases where a homeowner has a grizzly bear in their back yard in a cage. Because of the dangerous nature of grizzly bears, or even if you’re talking of wolves or other types of exotic animals, the law says that no matter how many precautions the owner puts in place, no matter what level of care the owner uses, if that dangerous animal gets out and causes harm to somebody else, the owner is liable because of the nature of exotic animals. That’s the same rationale that applies to dog owners. Personal injury attorneys definitely handle dog bite cases, and stuff of that nature. I would say at this point, too, and you might note to the transcriber, put this back up in the other category. There’s also cases of what’s known as product liability cases. This is where a manufacturer creates a widget or some type of device, and puts it out into the market. The device or widget doesn’t perform as expected, and causes harm to individuals.

Product Liability Cases Constitute Another Major Arena of Personal Injury Law

I think the quintessential product liability case, or the one that comes to mind for me, and the easiest to explain, is the Ford Pinto cases from the mid-70s, Maybe late 60s, mid-70s. Ford put out the Pinto, and if the Pinto was rear-ended by another car, the Pinto was susceptible to exploding. Therefore, Ford was liable for creating a device and putting it out on the market. A device that could harm individuals if it malfunctioned. There could also be product liability for medication. In the early 2000s, there was the Vioxx litigation and other Fen-Phen litigation in the late 90s. Those were prescription pills that were put on the market. They have an intended benefit, or an intended use, and there happens to be a flaw or a defect, and that flaw or defect causes harm to individuals. The most recent, I’d say, big product liability case that people might have remembered was the Toyota litigation; the unintended acceleration. That’s another product liability type case; very, very large cases, very complex cases involving hundreds of thousands of people, and millions of dollars. That is another category of personal injury law.