Dogs, despite being trusted human partners, may also exhibit predatory instincts, resulting in injuries. As per the Centers for Disease Control, more than 4.7 million people are injured by dogs each year in the United States. However, only 800,000 people seek medical care.
In 2019, 48 dog bite-related fatalities were reported in the US, and pit bulls contributed to 69% of these deaths.
A dog bite injury, like any other personal injury, is compensable. But in most cases, the victim would have a personal connection with the dog owner that may take the litigation to a personal level. Reports suggest that approximately 23% of dog bite victims would not pursue a claim if they know the owner.
What if a Dog Bites You?
A dog bite injury can range from minor scratches to permanent disfigurement. Whatever be the case, you should seek medical attention immediately after a dog bite. The risk of infection from a dog bite is far too high to overlook.
Collect the contact information, vaccination details of the dog, and insurance details from the dog owner which would help you in pursuing a claim.
Report the incident to the nearest animal control agency or police department.
Consult an expert Attorney specialized in dog bite lawsuits. He would help you file a dog bite insurance claim. Your medical records would act as evidence for the dog bite injury.
Dog Bite Liability in the US
There are three types of laws in the United States that impose liability of dog bite on owners. In some states, common law is applicable whereas other states enact their statutory law for dog bite injury claims.
1. One-Bite Rule:
One- Bite Rule is a common theory of liability followed in some states of the US like Texas. The law is significant the first time a dog injures a human being. One- Bite Rule says that the owner or the caretaker of the dog would be liable for the injury when it is evident that
- The dog had a history of unusual and harmful propensity
- The owner or the caretaker of the dog was aware of the animal behavior
- The harmful propensity of the dog caused the injury in an individual
Confinement or muzzling of the dog, fighting with other animals, warning sign on the owner’s premises, etc. are the indications that the owner was aware of the vicious propensities of the dog.
2. Dog-Bite Statute:
Approximately 36 states in the US follow the statutory strict liability law in which the owner or the caretaker of the dog is liable for a dog bite injury. Under this dog bite law, it does not impose any burden on the victim to prove that the owner of the dog was aware of the dangerous propensity of the animal or he was negligent on that.
3. Negligence law:
In cases where one- bite rule or dog-bite statute is not applicable, the victim can pursue the claim that negligence from the owner or caretaker of the dog resulted in the injury.
Categories of Benefits for a Dog Bite Lawsuit
Annually, the insurance industry pays roughly $550 million in dog-bite-related lawsuits. A dog bite claim can cover the following three categories of damages.
1. Economic Damages:
A dog bite lawsuit cover the following economic damages of the victim.
- Medical expenses
- Future medical cost if any surgical procedure required
- Loss of income
- Expenses for Psychological counseling or treatment
- Cost for putting defensive measures to avoid a future attack
- Any extra costs resulting from the dog bite.
2. Non-Economic Damages:
Non-economic damages include
- Physical pain
- Emotional trauma
- Humiliation resulting from the injury scars
- Anxiety and fear
- Loss of quality of life
3. Punitive Damages:
Apart from the economic and non-economic damages, some states allow the victims to claim the punitive damages associated with the dog bite. This is applicable especially when the owner of the dog is found negligible even when he was aware that the dog was harmful.
In case of wrongful death, claims for funeral cost and compensation for the emotional pain could also be claimed in a dog bite injury lawsuit.
Now, who will pay for the dog bite?
Dog bite liability legal costs are usually covered by the liable party’s insurance policy. But when the claim limit is exceeded, then the dog owner will have to pay that amount on his own.
However, insurance companies will generally only cover the first incident of injury. Some insurance companies may refuse to insure homeowners who own dangerous dog breeds, such as pit bulls. Full compensation would be paid to the victim only after complete recovery with a medical report issued by the treating physician.
Even if the owner of the dog does not hold insurance, the victim is entitled to pursue a claim and recover the damages.
If the defendant is ready to pay the victim a dog bite compensation, then it would end up in a settlement. Another method is pursuing the dog bite claim through criminal restitution by convicting the defendant of a crime related to the dog bite. A victim can also receive a full or partial dog bite compensation through pursuing a lawsuit in small claims court or “regular” court.
A personal injury Attorney specialized in dog bite injury can guide the victim about the potential extent of the liability, defenses, the related legal and financial implications of the dog bite case, and so on.
Let us now move on to some frequently asked questions about dog bite claims and compensation.
Before getting into them, you have to keep in mind that the legal framework for dog bite lawsuits varies by state in the United States.
What if a trespasser is attacked by a dog?
In some states like California, trespassers are eligible to file a lawsuit for dog bites. But they cannot utilize the protections granted by the dog bite statute. Instead, they have to establish that the owner was negligent in the incident. In other states like Florida, the owner or the caretaker of the dog could only be sued if the victim is attacked in a public or legally private place. But this is not applicable when the victims are children.
Is the dog bite claim only valid when the dog bites?
It differs from one state to the other. Strict-liability laws apply only to injuries resulting from a dog bite. However, they cover some types of accidents, such as when a dog chases a vehicle resulting in an injury.
Claims can also be pursued for incidents like ‘dog fright’, where the dog’s behavior prompted the person to take defensive action, resulting in an injury.
What if the dog was provoked, which resulted in the bite?
In the case of a dog bite, provocation refers to teasing, poking, showing gestures to the dog or even stepping on a dog unintentionally. The dog bite law differs from state to state in this aspect.
In many states like California, victims are assumed to be responsible for their injuries when the factor of provocation is evident. This may affect the compensation or at times affect the lawsuit. However, the law may differ for deliberate and unintentional provocation, as well as depending on the victim’s age.
Can I avoid liability for dog bite injuries if I display a ‘Beware of Dog’ sign?
It is determined by the state you are from. States like Illinois and Alaska offer no protection to the dog owners through ‘Beware of Dog’ signage. However, this may even help the plaintiff’s lawyer to sue you. In states like Pennsylvania ‘Beware of Dog’ signage may be taken as evidence that the dog owner knew there was a safety risk because of the animal.
In some states, the owner need not be liable if the victim is a trespasser entering the property ignoring a prominent “Beware of Dog” sign and gets injured by the dog.
Is the dog owner always responsible for a dog bite injury?
In certain cases, someone other than the dog’s owner may be held responsible for damages resulting from a dog bite attack.
Someone caring for a dog while the owner is away or walking a dog at the time of the attack may be held responsible. There are also instances where the owner of a residential or commercial property would be liable for the damages.
Can I file a claim for a stray dog bite?
Since no one would be legally responsible for controlling the actions of stray dogs, it would be tough to claim compensation for stray dog attacks. However, you can pursue a claim if the dog was under the control of a government agency before it escaped and injured you. Financial damages could also be recovered if the owner of the dog is identified.
Dog bites not only leave serious injuries and disabilities but also impose expensive medical bills and financial liabilities to the victims. If attacked by a dog, it’s always recommendable to consult a personal injury lawyer with expertise in dog bite injury litigation. This would aid in gathering more evidence to prove the claim. A successful lawsuit would help the victim gain damages for medical expenses, loss of income, pain and suffering, and punitive damages. However, this would depend upon the state and jurisdiction.