Dog Bites and Animal Attack Overview
Dogs are a source of joy for many Americans. Unfortunately, that joy can instantly turn to terror when a dog attacks you. The victim has a dog bite claim against the pet owner under most state laws. They can file a personal injury claim to recover damages from the animal's owner. A dog bite injury lawsuit can help the victim pay for medical bills, disfigurement, lost wages, and other damages.
Did An Animal Bite You?
You will be disorientated and upset after a dog bite injury. You must keep as calm as possible while remembering the next few steps:
- Seek medical treatment: Your priority after a bite incident is to seek medical attention. Even if the dog was a domestic animal or a neighbor's pet, you never know if the animal had rabies. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports dog bites cause a quarter of rabies cases. An animal bite can lead to permanent scarring, serious injury, infection, or death when left untreated.
- File a dog bite report: Once you receive medical treatment, file a dog bite incident report with your local animal control agency. This ensures there is evidence of your attack and allows animal control to keep the public safe. If the agency decides the animal is a dangerous dog, it can take steps to prevent future harm to the animal or others.
- Gather evidence: Make sure to get any witnesses' names and phone numbers. You must also contact law enforcement if the dog violated local ordinances or leash laws. There could be criminal charges against the owner if they acted with negligence.
- Locate a personal injury attorney: Consult a local dog bite lawyer. A personal injury attorney will ask you for details surrounding your animal bite. These attorneys have experience with animal bite cases and can tell you if there is a legal claim. They can also let you know what type of damages you may be able to recover against the pet owner, business, or landlord. You should provide the name and phone number of the animal's owner. If you don't have this information, a neighbor or a witness might be able to help.
- File an insurance claim: Your lawyer can file a claim with the appropriate insurance company. That may be the homeowner's insurance, renters, or umbrella insurance.
Are Pet Owners Liable for Dog Bites?
The first person responsible for what their dog does is the animal owner. Each state has its own laws or case law for when that responsibility comes into play. Some states have dog bite statutes signed into law, while others use a negligence standard.
- Strict Liability: Animal owners in these states are responsible if their dog bites or attacks someone. There are no exceptions. The owner is responsible ("liable") to the victim for the animal bite. It does not matter if the owner did anything to cause the animal injury. They will be responsible for a victim's injuries by a court and must pay damages. It also does not matter if the owner had no idea the dog was dangerous. Under strict liability states, the owner is still responsible.
- One Bite Rule: Dog owners in these states will not be liable to victims the first time their dog attacks. They would be liable in some of these states if the owner of the animal knew the dog had "dangerous propensities." This means the owner knew, or had reason to know, the dog was dangerous and could cause an injury. Examples of dangerous propensities include unprovoked snapping, biting, and signs of aggression. A few states find an owner had reason to know the dog had dangerous tendencies based on the breed of dog. Pet owners of allegedly aggressive dogs like pit bulls or Rottweilers could have had reason to know the dog was dangerous.
- Negligence: States that do not have dog bite statutes will look to see if an owner was negligent in controlling their dog. If they didn't act like a reasonable dog owner would have acted, then a court says they are liable to the victim. An example would be if the owner knew there was a hole in their fence but didn't fix it. They let the dog stay in the yard and didn't watch him. The owner would likely be negligent if that pooch got loose and bit someone.
- Exceptions: As with most laws, each state has some exceptions. For example, most states will not find an owner liable if the victim provokes the animal. If someone was trespassing on private property, then the pet owner will likely not be liable for the dog attack either. Some states have exceptions excluding responsibility if the victim was trying to harm another person near the dog.
Here, you can learn more about how these statutes and exceptions factor into damages.
Is Anyone Else Responsible for A Dog Bite Injury?
Animal owners are not the only ones responsible for animal bites. Here are a few scenarios where someone other than the animal's owner could be liable for an animal attack:
- Animal keepers: Anyone responsible for the care or custody of an animal, even if temporary. These people are an animal's keeper (sometimes called a "harborer") and can be responsible for an animal bite. Examples include boarding facilities, animal shelters, and animal sitters.
- Parents of minors: If a person under the age of majority in your state owns the dog that attacked you, their parents may be liable. In many states, an injured person can bring a legal claim against a minor's parents, even if the parents had no direct involvement with the animal.
- Property owners: A property owner can be liable for injuries caused by an animal the owner allowed onto their property.
- Landlords: When a landlord knows a tenant owns a dangerous animal and does not have it removed, the landlord is liable for animal bite injuries. This happens often in common areas of apartment complexes. If the property has a no-pets rule, but the landlord allows the dog who attacks someone, he can also be liable to the victim.
Are There Defenses in Dog Bite Cases?
Sometimes an owner of a vicious animal might not be liable for an animal attack. In legal terms, if an injured person assumes the risk, they are contributorily negligent. An injured person is contributorily negligent when they fail to exercise the degree of care for their safety that a reasonable person would exercise under similar circumstances. Here are a few examples:
- If the animal owner knows his dog is dangerous but warns others about his dog. This owner takes precautionary measures to keep the animal away from others. He tells people to stay away when he is walking his dog. A victim who ignores the owner's warnings to stay away from the dog will likely not win a lawsuit against the owner.
- If a person climbs over a fence, then they are trespassing. If they get bitten by a dog on the other side, a jury will likely decide they "assumed the risk" of what was on the other side of the fence. The dog was likely protecting his yard from an intruder. A reasonable person would not hop over a fence into private property and could expect an animal there.
- If an owner puts up a "Beware of Dog" sign and a person ignores it. By ignoring it, he gets bitten by a dog. The owner might not be responsible for that person's injury because a normal person would know it's likely they could get bitten by a dog.
- If a person provokes an animal, the owner may not be liable for an injury. If a dog bite victim makes a threatening gesture toward an animal or its owner, and the animal attacks, the owner may not have to pay damages.
The animal owner is responsible for bringing up these defenses in their case. They have the burden of proof to convince a jury of their arguments.
What Damages Are Available After an Animal Attack?
Depending on the seriousness of injuries resulting from an animal attack, you may recover the following:
In some cases, you may also get punitive damages. These damages punish someone for their behavior. The wrongdoer's conduct must be more than negligent. It needs to be intentional or reckless. An example would be if a dog owner knew their dog was very dangerous but let it run off-leash often. This owner and their dog lived close to a school. As a result of the owner being reckless in allowing their dog to run around, the dog attacks a nearby child. It's likely a jury would award punitive damages here.
Related Dog Bite Injury Resources
Need a Dog Bite Attorney's Help?
If an animal bites you or a loved one, you could recover damages for any injuries. Determining your legal rights can is complex. It may be unclear who to sue or what damages you can get. To help make sure you receive compensation, you should contact a local personal injury attorney who handles dog bite law or animal bite cases.
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Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.