Dogs are man's best friends, or so the saying goes. However, it doesn't seem that way when you're attacked or bitten by a dog. Being the victim of a dog attack can be frightening. Depending on the size and ferocity of the dog, you may suffer severe injuries. If that's the case, you may be able to file a dog bite claim against the dog's owner just as you would file a claim against a driver in a car accident.
In this article, we'll discuss how dog bite attack cases work. We'll also highlight some standard dog bite rules, including the one-bite rule and strict liability. This article will also explain how trespassing can impact your personal injury claim.
Dog Bites Fall Under Tort Law
Animal bite law covers a specific type of personal injury, or tort, involving people attacked or injured by dogs or other animals. Most of these personal injury cases involve dogs. Still, there are numerous types of animal and animal-ownership situations.
Animal bite cases, therefore, can involve more than dogs. They could involve horses, snakes, and even zoo animals.
Most dog bite cases focus on whether the owner knew, or should have known, that their animal was dangerous. Certain animals are presumed to be dangerous in some states if they are classified as exotic. Some states have enacted breed-specific legislation that, by statute, labels certain breeds as dangerous dogs. However, all victims of dog bites must still prove liability before they recover damages.
Finally, if a dog bite is very severe, you or your loved one could pass away from your injuries. If so, your attorney would file a wrongful death lawsuit under tort law.
A Dog Bite Can Cause a Variety of Injuries
If a dog bites you, there's a strong possibility you'll suffer serious injuries. Depending on the type and size of the dog, you could suffer any of the following:
- Broken bones
- Lost limbs or digits
- Brain injury
- Facial disfigurement
- Internal injuries
This is why you must go to the hospital right away after suffering an injury from an attack. You may think you're okay, but the only way to know for sure is to see a doctor and let them examine you.
State Dog Bite Laws
Animal injury cases, especially dog bites, can be complex. Every state has its own dog bite laws. For example, some states require a plaintiff to prove negligence, regardless of whether the animal's owner knew their dog was dangerous. In these states, your attorney must prove that the defendant should have known their dog was dangerous and failed to take precautions to keep the public safe.
Other states, such as California, impose strict liability on animal owners. In these states, all you have to do is prove that the defendant's animal attacked you and that this attack caused physical injury. You don't need to show that the defendant was negligent.
Some state statutes are particular. For instance, a dog's owner in Colorado is not liable if they maintain a "Beware of Dog" sign on their property.
Several states follow something called the “One-Bite Rule." Under this rule, an owner is only liable if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant knew their dog was vicious. The best way to prove this is to submit evidence that the dog had previously bitten or attacked a human.
Some cities and counties conduct special hearings following a dog bite incident. After a dog bites someone, animal control may confiscate it. If the city or county deems it vicious, then they usually impose special rules and restrictions on the owner. They may require the owner to remove the dog from the neighborhood, or in egregious situations, order the dog euthanized.
Who Is Liable for Your Dog Bite Injuries?
Defendants are the people you sue for the dog attack. You can sue the dog's owner for damages if a dog bites you. In certain situations, you can also sue the landlord of the property if they knew the dog was dangerous and allowed it to remain on the property. You may also be able to sue whoever was walking the dog, even if it was not the owner.
Sometimes, you can file a claim with the defendant's insurance company. Most homeowner's insurance policies and renter's insurance policies will cover dog bite liability. Your attorney will have to check to see what the policy's limits are and if dog bites are excluded. Some insurance companies exclude coverage for claims that involve certain breeds of dogs.
If the defendant's insurance policy doesn't cover your damages, you can sue the defendant personally for animal attacks.
What To Do After a Dog Bites or Attacks You
If a dog bites you, you must protect your legal rights. Depending on the nature and extent of your injuries, you may need to pursue a claim for damages. You need to take specific steps to increase your chances of recovering damages.
These steps include:
- Call 911: Either you or someone else should call 911 immediately following the attack. The police dispatcher will send an officer to the scene. They'll also arrange for an ambulance to come to the accident scene. Make sure you file a dog bite report.
- Seek immediate medical attention: Even if you don't think your injuries are severe, you need to see a doctor. This is the only way to document your injuries. Your attorney must prove your injuries. Submitting a copy of your medical records is the best way to do that.
- Call an experienced personal injury lawyer: Your lawyer can help you file your insurance claim. They will also help you file suit if the insurance carrier refuses to pay your claim or if you have to sue a defendant personally.
Once you hire a dog bite lawyer, they'll handle the legal side of things for you. This gives you a chance to focus on recovering from your injuries.
How Can a Dog Bite Attorney Help?
An uncontrolled animal can cause significant physical harm and long-term emotional trauma. Anyone can be a victim of an animal attack.
Because dog bite laws vary from state to state and city to city, dog bite victims should consult an attorney before taking legal action or speaking to an insurance company. A personal injury lawyer experienced in dog bite cases can help determine the best course of action. They'll also ensure that you file your claim before the statute of limitations period expires.
Find a lawyer to help if you or a loved one become the victim of a dog bite injury.
How Much Is Your Dog Bite Case Worth?
Once your attorney reviews your claim, they'll determine the damages you may be entitled to. In most dog bite cases, you can demand the following types of damages:
- Medical bills
- Future medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Lost future income
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
It is rare for a judge or jury to grant punitive damages in a dog bite case. These are damages that are typically high in order to punish the defendant and deter people from committing the same act. Unless you can prove the defendant lured you onto private property to have their dog attack you, the odds of receiving punitive damages are low.
If your injuries are severe, you may need extensive medical treatment. You'll likely be entitled to significant damages for pain and suffering. Your dog bite attorney will try to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company. This way, you won't need to file a lawsuit.
Common Defenses Raised in Dog Bite Lawsuits
When you sue the dog's owner, they will deny liability. Their insurance company may argue that you provoked the dog. They might say that dog wouldn't have attacked you had you left it alone. This can also be a defense in some states that allows an owner to escape liability if you threatened harm to the owner, another person, or an animal near the dog.
Another defense the dog's owner may raise is that you were trespassing. The judge may dismiss your complaint if the defendant can prove you were unlawfully on private property.
The dog's owner may raise other defenses as well. It depends on what state law says about dog bites. For instance, in states that follow the One-Bite Rule, the defendant can argue that their dog never attacked anyone before. They'll say they had no idea their dog was dangerous or vicious.
Whatever defense the dog's owner or insurance adjuster raises, your attorney will work hard to overcome it.
Schedule a Case Evaluation With a Personal Injury Attorney
Worried that getting legal advice will be expensive? Most dog-bite lawyers offer new clients a free initial consultation. You can receive a free case evaluation regarding your claim. Start by finding a lawyer whose practice area is personal injury and dog bite law. This way, you know that they are familiar with your state's dog bite laws. You can find contact information for an experienced dog bite attorney in Findlaw's directory.