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Cat Bite Lawsuit Basics

Family pets bring an incredible amount of joy. But, no matter how much they feel like family members, dogs and cats are animals, and interacting with them can sometimes lead to injuries. Read on to learn more about the basics of a cat bite lawsuit.

The Nature of Cat Attacks

Cat bites differ from dog bites in several significant ways. Bites or scratches from cats sometimes occur, even from the friendliest and gentlest cats. Cats have extremely sharp claws and teeth, and getting a scratch or bite from a frisky or playful cat is not uncommon. But that doesn't change the fact that cat bites can be extremely dangerous. Cats' needle-like teeth inject bacteria in the cat's saliva deep into tissue, frequently leading to infections or disfigurements that can be as bad as dog bite injuries.

Differences between cat bites and dog bites will impact an owner's legal responsibility for injuries. Cat attacks are not as frequent as dog attacks, perhaps due to the different nature of interaction between cats and humans. Cats are typically less territorial than dogs, but a cat bite is more likely to result when an unfamiliar person handles a cat. Also, unlike dogs, it's not uncommon for cats to roam free outside. Allowing a cat free rein wouldn't necessarily constitute negligent behavior on the owner's part. But a minority of states, including California, have stringent “cat codes" and dog bite laws that place more responsibility on handlers.

Theories of Liability for Cat Bites

Most states have laws that dictate how injury claim liability is determined when an animal causes an injury. Generally, three theories of liability can be applied in these sorts of cases:

  1. Strict liability
  2. "One bite rule"
  3. Negligence

Many states choose to hold an owner strictly liable for dog bites. In strict liability states, dog owners are held absolutely responsible for injuries caused by a dog, and dog bite victims need not establish any level of fault or negligence. But, no state laws hold cat owners strictly liable for cat bites.

Some states adhere to the "one-bite rule" of animal attacks. Under this rule, a pet owner is liable if they had reason to know of that animal's dangerous propensities. The general idea is that an animal will be allowed only one "free" bite, after which a homeowner is on notice for their animal's aggressive temperament and will be liable for any injuries. Aside from forming the basis of personal injury cases, cats with dangerous tendencies could get dragged away by animal control.

If no other statutes apply to your situation, you can proceed with a cat bite lawsuit under a general negligence tort theory. In this sort of case, you would need to establish that the responsible party breached a duty of reasonable care and that breach caused the cat bite injury to occur. In cases where a negligent defendant acted very egregiously, you may be able to recover punitive damages on top of ordinary compensatory damages.

Defenses Against a Cat Bite Lawsuit

If your cat has injured someone else, you may have various affirmative defenses to liability in a personal injury lawsuit. One such defense is that the injured person "assumed the risk" of injury. This defense may be available when the injured person was aware of the risk of a cat bite, voluntarily assumed that risk, and a bite actually occurred. In this situation, the law provides that the injured person can't turn around and hold you liable for the injuries.

Another potential defense is that the injured person was contributorily negligent and thus partially responsible for his or her own injury. Everyone has a duty to act as a reasonable person. Suppose the injured party acted unreasonably by provoking or harassing the cat. In that case, the law may find they contributed to the situation due to their negligence. This might reduce or drop a plaintiff's recovery in a personal injury lawsuit.

Get Legal Help With Your Cat Bite Injury

If a cat bite has injured you, you may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit. A client relationship with a personal injury lawyer can help you hold animal owners and their insurance companies accountable through cat-bite or dog-bite lawsuits. Most dog-bite lawyers will also handle cat-bite cases, and a free consultation is usually just a phone number away.

A personal injury attorney can help you with your insurance claim and ensure you're compensated for any lost income, medical treatment and medical bills, and any accompanying emotional distress. All lawsuits have statutes of limitations (filing time limits), so you may want to consider getting legal advice sooner than later.

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