Dogs are called man’s best friend for a reason. For most people, they’re a source of happiness, companionship, and endless cuddles. But occasionally, someone might find themselves in a situation where a dog feels threatened or rabid, resulting in a serious health and safety issue—a dog bite.
Every dog owner naturally believes that their dog is a “good boy,” but there’s no sugarcoating the fact that sometimes, a dog will bite if pushed to its limits (or when it has negligent owners). These dog bites can lead to severe injury, emotional trauma, and sometimes even death.
The best course of action if you or someone you know has been involved in a dog bite accident is to file a personal injury claim. That way, you can seek the compensation you deserve. But how does one even do that?
Today, we’ll be going through your rights as a victim or a dog owner regarding dog bite injuries and what you can do to seek justice after an accident.
Table of Contents
- Dog Bites Aren’t Always Playful
- What to Do After Dog Bite Accident
- Why Seek Legal Counsel After a Dog Bite Accident?
- Understanding Dog Bite Laws
- How a Lawyer Can Prove Negligence in a Dog Bite Case
- Possible Damages from a Dog Bite Accident
- A Lawyer Can Defend Dog Owners, Too
- Know Your Rights After Being Involved in a Dog Bite Accident
Dog Bites Aren’t Always Playful
Some dogs, especially teething pups, like to nibble on their owner’s fingertips or the furniture in the living room. But a severe dog bite from an aggressive dog is nowhere near as cute or playful.
A dog bite is defined as an injury caused by an attack that includes piercing, cutting, or gripping at a person’s skin because of a dog bite, thereby causing physical traumatic injury. These bites can often lead to wounds and bruises. But in the most severe cases, they can also result in fractures, crushed bones, tearing, and dislocations.
Not only that, but a really bad dog bite can lead to emotional trauma. Imagine a child trying to play with a dog for the first time and getting bitten. This causes not just physical injury to the child but psychological trauma that can last years.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, over 4.5 million people suffer from dog bites every year. More than half of those people are children. Other high-risk groups include the elderly and postmen delivering mail.
What to Do After Dog Bite Accident
If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve been bitten by an aggressive dog, you should first seek medical attention. Your health and safety are more important than anything, so try to call 911 or have witnesses around you contact a doctor to get your injuries checked immediately.
But before you leave the scene, make sure to obtain the information of the person who owns the dog. Get their name, address, and contact details. Later, you’ll learn that establishing the undeniable fact that this person is the owner of the dog that bit you is one of the most important things you need to do to file a personal injury claim.
You might also want to take photos of the dog that bit you if you’re able. Take pictures of your injuries, torn clothes, and other things that can serve as evidence of the attack later.
Then, file an incident report with the police. Keep this report with you—it’s a pertinent document should you wish to take legal action against the dog owner.
When you’re settled and getting the medical treatment you need, recount the details of what happened during the attack and write it down. Documenting the event according to how you remember it is one of the best things you can do to prove liability later if you file a claim.
Lastly, call up a dog bite injury lawyer. With a trained professional that knows the ins and outs of personal injury law and dog bite accidents, you can prove negligence and liability so that you can get the compensation and justice you deserve.
Why Seek Legal Counsel After a Dog Bite Accident?
If the injuries you or your loved one has sustained after a dog bite are serious, it’s best to hire a lawyer to help you navigate your next steps. Hiring an attorney gives you your best shot at winning a dog bite injury claim because they can help assess your situation, build the strongest case against the dog owner, and get you the compensation you deserve.
When choosing a personal injury lawyer to assist you with your situation, make sure to hire an experienced one that specializes in dog bite injuries. Choosing a lawyer that handles your specific type of injury claim specifically is the key to getting the best possible outcome for you.
But why should you hire a dog bite lawyer instead of handling the situation yourself?
1. A Lawyer Can Help You Develop Your Next Legal Steps
They will explain the dog bite laws in your city and state. Then, they can recommend the best legal course of action you should take if you want to be compensated for the accident.
They will assess your unique dog bite story and look for loopholes and workarounds to create the best strategy for you should you choose to file a lawsuit against the dog owner. That means that they will help you gather evidence to prove the dog owner’s liability for the accident and beat the defense the pet owner will most likely use.
2. Your Lawyer Will Also Help You Compute The Compensation You Are Eligible For
It’s never a great feeling to have to file a claim against someone because of what their dog did, but your medical bills must be paid off, too. If the dog owner’s liability is proven, this money can be taken from their insurance or out-of-pocket.
And if you don’t want the trouble of filing a case or personal injury claim, a lawyer can still help. They will negotiate a settlement price with the other party’s team on your behalf.
3. A Dog Bite Lawyer Can Also Talk To Insurance Companies For You
Many insurance companies have strategies to avoid paying for accidents like dog bite situations. Lawyers are used to this and can protect you from insurance companies giving you unfair treatment.
Make sure never to talk to an insurance company without consulting your lawyer. Better yet, allow your attorney to represent you when dealing with them so that they don’t use anything you say against you later.
Understanding Dog Bite Laws
One of the key jobs of a personal injury lawyer is to help you understand dog bite law in your jurisdiction. Here are some of the things they might cover:
When is the Owner at Fault?
Most states follow the “strict liability” rule. This means that the dog owner is at fault if the injured person was bitten by their dog and if the accident happened either on the owner’s property or in a public place. It also means that the owner is responsible for the incident if there was no provocation of the dog and the victim was not trespassing in the area of the attack.
Meanwhile, some states (like Nevada, Oregon, Maryland, and more) follow the “one-bite” rule. This rule states that a dog owner is only liable for a person’s dog bite injuries if the dog has previously shown aggressive tendencies by biting another person before. Basically, the dog gets one free pass of biting someone, and the owner is only charged for subsequent attacks.
States that follow the strict liability rule deem the dog owner responsible for covering damages, regardless of whether the owner knows that their pet has vicious tendencies.
Is a Dog Bite Accident a Civil or Criminal Liability?
The simple answer is that it’s both. Some states, like California, require the injured person to file a civil lawsuit about the dog bite accident as soon as they are able. They have a deadline of two years to file this civil case.
Sometimes it’s right and just for the dog owner to face criminal liability, especially if they were negligent.
Depending on how dangerous the dog is proven to be in court, a liable dog owner can be charged with a misdemeanor (if the attack resulted in injury only) or a felony (if the attack resulted in the victim’s death). In the most severe and brutal cases of dog bites that lead to death, the owner can face manslaughter and even murder charges.
What Happens to the Dog?
Most of the time, it’s the dog owner that pays the price after a dog bite attack. They may be asked to pay for compensatory damages in a personal injury claim. In a criminal lawsuit, they can also pay high fines, be sent to jail, or never be allowed to own a dog again.
But in some cases, the state might require the dog that attacked the victim to go under mandatory euthanasia. This is the case only when the dog is a clear threat to others in the long run, like if they were trained specifically to attack people or if they have rabies.
How much of a threat the dog is to society is determined through a court hearing. The owner’s party may bring in evidence to defend the dog. But if they are not able to prove that the dog won’t hurt anyone again, they won’t be exempted from mandatory euthanasia.
How a Lawyer Can Prove Negligence in a Dog Bite Case
The person who sustained the injury from a dog bite incident holds the burden of proof. That means if you were the one bitten by the dog, it’s your responsibility to prove that the dog’s owner is liable for your physical injuries because they were negligent as owners.
To prove liability and negligence, having as much evidence as possible about the case is important. You and your lawyer’s goal is to show that the owner was reckless in how the dog was handled and that it was a direct cause of the dog bite and its consequent injuries. That is why it’s pertinent to collect photos, police reports, and even eyewitness accounts of the episode.
Here are the three key things your personal injury lawyer will attempt to establish to prove that the dog owner was negligent:
- Duty of care: First, you need to prove that the owner was responsible for keeping the dog from hurting anyone. In most states, this is easy to prove because of the strict liability rule.
- Breach of duty: You must then demonstrate that the dog owner violated their duty of care by failing to take precautions to keep their dog from biting people. For example, you can show evidence that the owner did not put their untrained dog on a leash while in public, or failed to put up a “beware of dog” warning sign around their property even if they know that their dog is of a breed known to be extra aggressive.
- Cause: Lastly, you must show that the dog owner’s breach of duty is the direct cause of the dog biting the victim.
Possible Damages from a Dog Bite Accident
There are many kinds of damages you can file a claim for after a dog bite accident. Physical damages, like medical bills, are easier to prove. Meanwhile, intangible damages, like psychological trauma and depression, are much harder to prove in front of the court.
Some monetary damages your lawyer can work up for your case include:
- Medical bills
- Physical or occupational therapy as a result of dog bit injuries
- Medical equipment used at home for recovery
- Lost wages
- Reduced earning capacity due to injuries
- Emotional trauma
- Depression due to the death of a loved one after a dog bite accident
A Lawyer Can Defend Dog Owners, Too
Not all dog bite accidents are the injured person’s fault. Sometimes, dog owners can be found innocent and not be liable for dog bite injuries.
Here are some defenses lawyers use to protect dog owners when the dog bite accident was not their fault:
No Proof of Ownership
If there’s no proof that the person being sued is the owner of the dog, you can’t make a case against them.
Sometimes, stray dogs will trespass into the homes of people who don’t own them. When people lurk in that property and get bitten, their kneejerk reaction is to blame the owner of the property, even if there’s no way to prove that they actually own the dog.
If a person provoked a dog by threatening or teasing them, and it directly results in the dog’s aggravation which caused it to bite, they can’t be compensated for their injuries. If it is proven that the injured person attacked the dog first, or was throwing items at it before the bite incident, the owner is not liable for the incident.
That’s why it’s important to respect a dog’s space when walking in the streets. Dogs are territorial and can be easily triggered. So, don’t tease them by going near their private property or pretending to kick or throw something at them, because you may end up regretting it.
If the injured person knows that there is a risk of getting bitten by a dog and proceeds to interact with a dog, the owners are not liable for dog bites. For example, if there is a huge “beware of dog” sign near the owner’s home and someone still lurks around it and ends up getting bitten, they assume risk and therefore can’t blame the owners.
Some animal-related professions automatically assume risk, too. Veterinarians, for example, already know the risk of getting bitten by a dog in their daily work. So, they can’t file a case or claim against dog owners if a dog bites them at their clinic.
Intruders cannot prove strict liability on the part of the dog owner. If the injured person is someone who trespassed into the owner’s property and was bitten by the dog, the owner will not be held responsible.
Military or Police Dogs
The military and police force are not liable for law enforcement dogs that bite people while on duty. So, if a K-9 police dog bites someone in the middle of the apprehension of a suspect or to defend their handler from an aggressive attacker, the police force will not be held liable for it.
Know Your Rights After Being Involved in a Dog Bite Accident
Although dogs are some of the most lovable creatures on the planet, they can sometimes show aggressive behavior. If they’re feeling more territorial than usual or are simply not trained or cared for properly, they may end up harming others by attacking them.
Remember your rights as a dog bite victim so that you know when the accident calls for legal counsel. Seeking help from a personal injury lawyer after a dog bite accident increases your chances of getting monetary compensation to pay off things like medical bills, emotional suffering, and lost wages.
You can never be too safe out in the streets nowadays. Avoid getting involved in dog bite accidents by keeping yourself away from situations like accidentally threatening or startling a dog—especially one that doesn’t know you.
And if you’re a dog owner, don’t forget to train your dog properly and put up signs to warn strangers of your dog’s whereabouts. That way, you can protect yourself from dog bite claims while keeping your neighborhood safe.