Injuries inflicted by animals kept as pets are an all-too-common occurrence. The law governing the circumstances under which the animal’s owner (or his or her homeowner’s insurance company) is responsible for damages can vary widely from state to state. In Alabama, as in many other states, an important question is that of whether, before the injury, the animal had shown vicious or otherwise dangerous propensities or characteristics. This is sometimes (and misleadingly) referred to as the "first bite" rule; it is not really necessary, for the owner to be liable, that an actual previous biting had occurred, but rather that the owner know of the animal’s tendency to engage in any kind of behavior that could cause harm or danger to someone. In a 1988 Alabama case, for example, a visitor was injured in a fall after being chased by a dog, and the owner knew of its propensity to bark at and chase people.
In 1992 an Alabama case recognized that an animal’s owner is responsible to know the propensities of the breed of animal he or she owns (such as a pit bull).
Statutes enacted by the legislature or ordinances passed by municipalities can also be very important in cases seeking damages for such injuries. Section 3-1-5 of the Alabama Code, for example, provides certain requirements for confinement of dogs to the owner’s property. (For further discussion of cases, see Alabama Tort Law, 4th edition, Lexis Law Publishing.)