Last week, we reviewed situations affecting a pet owner’s liability for bite wounds inflicted by his dog. But what about injuries caused by police a dog?
In a recent Arizona case, a man driving a stolen car fled the police before suddenly stopping and fleeing the scene. He jumped a couple of fence lines and then hid in a bush. The police demanded that he come out with his hands-up. The suspect refused.
A police dog was unleashed. He ran toward the bush where the suspect remained in hiding, lunged at him, and bit his face. The injury was severe and disfiguring. Are the police liable for the injuries?
The Arizona law protects the city from liabilities that may arise from a dog bite if the dog is assisting in the apprehension of a suspect and a reasonable person would believe that using a police dog was necessary force. In this case, the court may find that the police acted reasonably because the victim was a suspect of criminal activity, fled the scene, and allegedly refused to cooperate with the police.
At first blush, it seems that the police have substantial immunity from liabilities resulting from injuries inflicted by police dogs. In truth, protection from liability is only conferred in the
• apprehension or holding of a suspect where the police has a reasonable suspicion of the suspect’s criminal activity,
• investigation of a crime or possible crime,
• execution of a warrant, and
• defense a peace officer or other person (see state statute § 11-1025(B)).
There are circumstances when the police are liable. As mentioned above, using a police dog is a form of force and is subject to the “reasonable person” scrutiny. In other words, the court must determine if a reasonable person would agree that the force was necessary. If not, then the police may be liable for injuries.
The police are generally liable if other people are injured in the pursuit of a suspect. For example, assume that a bystander happened to be near the bush where the above suspect was hiding. If the dog attacked the bystander while in pursuit of the suspect, then the police are liable for the injuries inflicted on the bystander.
Most people will not be affected by injuries inflicted by police dogs, but in the event that such a situation arises, contact a personal injury attorney in Phoenix for expert advice.