For many Americans, dogs are the perfect companions. From off-leash parks and pet-friendly businesses to the increasing presence of emotional support animals, canines are common in public spaces. Unfortunately, humans and dogs do not always get along. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are over 4.5 million incidents of a dog biting a person each year in the U.S. Of that number, nearly 1 in 5 cases require medical attention.

Depending on the severity of the bite, medical expenses may be steep. In many cases, the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance may cover a claim for certain damages, though the policy may only offer limited coverage if the bite occurs off the owner’s property. If there is no homeowner’s insurance and the two parties cannot come to an agreement about compensation, Ohio law allows the injured party to bring a suit against the individual responsible for the dog at the time of the incident.

 Two options for bringing a claim: Ohio common law versus statutory law

An individual who decides to pursue an injury claim may choose to present their case under common law or under Ohio’s statutory laws on dog bite liability. Ohio’s statues hold the owner or handler strictly liable for any harm the dog causes—even if it is the first incident. Exceptions include cases where the injured person provoked the dog, was trespassing or was committing a criminal offense on the owner’s property.

According to common law, a dog that has not bitten before or shown signs of viciousness is often allowed “one free bite.” While a claimant may pursue punitive and economic/non-economic damages, he or she must be able to prove that the owner or handler was negligent or knew the dog was vicious.

By contrast, the claimant does not need to prove these things if he or she brings the case under Ohio statutory law to receive compensation for injuries and other damages. However, in this case, the injured party cannot recover punitive damages.