“Dogs have owners, cats have staff,” as the classic saying goes. Cats also get preferential treatment under Utah law. In Utah, dog bite victims have several potential claims against the dog’s owner, including strict liability under certain circumstances. Do these same laws apply to cats?
The rules are different for cats, however. You cannot sue for a cat bite unless the owner knew that the cat was dangerous.
In Jackson v. Mateus (Utah Supreme Court, 2003), Ms. Jackson mistakenly thought a tabby cat owned by the Mateuses was one of her own cats. While petting the cat it bit her, which caused serious injuries due to Ms. Jackson’s pre-existing autoimmune disorder.
Ms. Jackson sued, arguing that cat owners had a duty not to let their cats roam at large. The Utah Supreme Court disagreed. A pet owner is typically only “liable for the injuries caused by a domesticated animal where the owner knew or should have known of the animal’s vicious or dangerous propensity,” the court said. In this case, there was no evidence that the Mateuses had any such knowledge; the 10-year-old tabby had never bitten anyone before.
Ms. Jackson also argued that owners should have the same liability under Utah statutes for cat bites as they do for dog bites. Again, the court said no. Utah’s dog bite statute, enacted in 1898, is limited by its terms to dogs. The court said it could not ignore the wording of the law. Changing the dog bite statute to include more than dogs would be up to the Utah legislature, the court said. The court noted that it had previously rejected a similar argument by someone who had sued the owner of a horse.
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