Historically, dog owners have not been held liable for injuries caused by their dog if they had no reason to know the dog might be dangerous. This is known as the “one bite” rule, under which every dog gets one free bite at an unsuspecting human being with no consequences. This is a great rule for dogs and careless dog owners, but not so much for the innocent victims. Imagine a similar law for humans: Everybody gets one free murder!
The rule originally made some sense. If the dog had never bitten anyone before, how was the owner supposed to know it might bite someone? It wasn’t the owner’s fault. This is arguably true, but it certainly wasn’t the victim’s fault. The owner chose to have a dog. If that dog causes injuries to another person, the dog owner should be held responsible for any damages.
Many states, including Kansas, still apply the “one bite” rule. Missouri law, however, provides for strict liability for dog owners under Missouri Revised Statute Section 273.036.1: “The owner or possessor of any dog that bites, without provocation, any person while such person is on public property, or lawfully on private property, including the property of the owner or possessor of the dog, is strictly liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s or possessor’s knowledge of such viciousness.”
As you can see, the law provides an exception for cases where the biting victim was on the property unlawfully. So if your dog bites a burglar, you’re in the clear. Otherwise, keep Fido on a tight leash in Missouri. I’m sure your adorable little puppy would never hurt a fly, but if he does, compensation is coming out of your wallet.