Utah legal analyst explains laws surrounding dog attacks

Nov 8, 2023, 9:17 PM | Updated: 11:00 pm

Hoover, a five-month-old pit bull. What laws exist to protect people from dog attacks?...

Hoover, a five-month-old pit bull. (Salt Lake County Animal Services)

(Salt Lake County Animal Services)

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah — In Utah, there are several state and local laws that exist to keep people safe from potentially dangerous dog attacks. But this week a woman died after she was hospitalized with multiple serious injuries from a dog attack.

Sandra Miller, age 63, died Monday, about a week after police said her son’s two adult and five juvenile pit bulls attacked her. 

Miller is one of about 43 people who die from dog attacks in the United States each year.  According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, that’s among the about 4.5 million people in the U.S. bitten by dogs each year (most of them, children.)

Of those, over 800,000 must receive medical attention. What has Utah done to prevent these types of attacks?

What laws are there surrounding dogs?

KSL Legal Analyst Greg Skordas said it’s a difficult issue, especially since dogs and other pets can bring so much joy to people.

“It’s hard to balance the love that we have, and the joy we get from our animals from the fact that they are animals, and they’re not necessarily at their best behavior all the time,” he said.

In this situation, the dogs may not have been legal.  According to the city of Taylorsville’s website, the city only allows up to two dogs per household, and only up to four animals in total. Additionally, pet owners must license dogs, cats, and ferrets annually.

Then there’s a state law, which Skordas said makes having “dogs-at-large” a misdemeanor. He said that happens to be a law that many people don’t take seriously. 

“It’s hard for municipalities to get a lot of a lot of energy toward prosecuting individuals who just happen to be negligent pet owners,” Skordas said. “A lot of jurisdictions still don’t put that as a high priority.”

Can someone be charged if their dog bites someone?

Despite that, he said people can receive a lot of money by filing a dog bite claim through homeowners insurance. 

As for Miller’s son, the owner of the dogs who attacked her, it’s unclear what will happen. Skordas said it’s possible to be charged with negligent homicide if a dog kills someone. But, in this case, it might not be necessary.

“Sometimes as a prosecutor, you have to take into account the fact that he has probably been punished about as severely as you could imagine,” Skordas said.

“He’s lost his mother. As a result of this, he lost all [seven] of his animals. And so you wonder what charging him criminally with a misdemeanor really does at that point, whether that’s sort of piling on.”

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Utah legal analyst explains laws surrounding dog attacks