When Can You Sue For A Dog Bite Injury?
Last updated on: April 19, 2022
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When a dog bites and injures a person and the dog owner can be proven negligence, the injuries person can seek compensation by suing.
When can you sue?
You may be able to sue for a dog bite in cases where you have been bitten by a dog causing your physical injury, and you can prove that the dog owner’s negligence allowed the bite to happen.
The severity of your case will impact your ability to sue. For example, if you are not physically injured, you may not have a strong case. If the bite broke the skin, your case might be stronger. Even if the bite didn’t break the skin, the resulting soft tissue damage and bruising might be enough to file a lawsuit, however, may yield a lower amount of compensation.
However, a dog owner may be liable even when their dog causes a general injury to another person. This may include a dog damaging another person’s property (e.g., car, lawn fixtures, personal property, etc.) or engaging in conduct that otherwise results in a person sustaining injuries (e.g., running into you and knocking you down).
Because dog bite and dog accident laws vary from state to state, there are a variety of factors that must be assessed before deciding whether to sue after one of these incidents. Another factor that must be taken into consideration is whether the injuries and damages are worth the time, money, and effort that are involved in pursuing legal action. A dog bite lawyer will be able to help you understand your case better.
How To Sue for a Dog Bite
Below are several important steps that outline the process of filing a lawsuit after a dog bite accident.
1. File a report
One of the first things you should do after being injured in a dog bite incident is to file a report
with the appropriate local animal control agency. Filing a report will provide you with important documentation that may be very helpful from a legal perspective. Filing a report may also help prevent others from being attacked in the future. A dog owner is likely to take extra precautions with his animal if the animal has a history of causing trouble.
2. Contact an Attorney
Contacting a personal injury lawyer after being bitten or attacked by a dog is the next key step toward filing and resolving a dog bite claim. Dog bite claims may require you to engage in communications with the dog owner’s insurance company. The insurance company may attempt to entice you into accepting a settlement instead of pursuing legal action. It is important to discuss the facts of your case with an experienced attorney before making any decisions or accepting any claim settlements. A lawyer will also be able to listen to the facts of your case and provide you with your legal options.
The investigation phase of filing a dog bite lawsuit involves the attorney gathering facts and evidence which will establish that the dog’s owner is liable for your injuries. Part of this process involves accounting for each of your damages, such as medical bills, lost wages, and property damages. This step may also include interviewing witnesses who may have seen the dog bite when it occurred. The investigation phase also involves gathering important documentation such as a dog bite report, medical records, and photographs of your injuries. This phase aims to build the most persuasive case possible for you so that you can focus on your recovery.
4. Settlement and Lawsuit
Finally, your case is ready to be litigated. Before litigation, your attorney will negotiate with the insurance company based on the facts of your case. At this point, you may be given the option to settle before having to go to court. Most cases are settled before having to step foot into a courtroom. If by some chance yours is not or it is not in your best interests to accept the settlement offer, your case will go to court. Your attorney will be with you each step of the way.
What is a Dog Bite Lawsuit?
A dog bite lawsuit is a civil lawsuit that can be initiated by a person that was attacked, bitten, or otherwise harmed by another person’s dog. The purpose of filing a lawsuit based on a dog bite or dog attack is to seek compensation for your injuries.
Dog bites can occur at any time for several reasons. It is important to note that any dog can bite, including breeds that are commonly perceived as being cute, small, or friendly. In this respect, it is not the type of dog that determines whether it is capable of biting someone; instead, it is the dog’s history and behavior. Some of the most common causes of dog bites are:
Most dog bites or attacks occur as the dog’s response or reaction to something. A significant amount of dog bite incidents occur after a dog was provoked. Acts of provocation include physical attacks, taunting, chasing, and riding.
In these cases, the dog owner may be held liable for the accident if they failed to take the necessary steps to keep the injured person safe from a potential bite.
If a dog feels threatened, scared, stressed, or is trying to protect something (e.g., toy, food, territory, etc.), it may bite or attack as a response to this feeling. Dog bites can also occur when a person tries to play with the dog. It is important to realize that although small nibbles and bites during play time may be fun for both the dog and the person, even a small bite can lead to a puncture or wound in the skin.
In these cases, where a person is in the home of a dog and the dog owner fails to keep the dog away from guests or through their negligence allows the dog to be in a situation where a bite may occur, they may be held liable for the accident.
A typical example of this is when a dog has given birth, and a guest in their home approaches the mother and puppies, this could cause a reaction in the dog that could lead to a bite.
According to the Center for Disease Control and the American Veterinary Medical Association, roughly 4.5 million dog bites occur throughout the United States on an annual basis. Approximately one in five of these incidents leads to an infection or the need for some other form of medical attention. At least half of these victims are children.
Avoiding A Dog Bite Lawsuit
There are some steps that can be taken to minimize the likelihood of a dog bite or dog attack. One such measure is responsible pet ownership. This includes adopting or selecting a dog that is appropriate for your family and neighborhood. Responsible pet ownership usually involves:
- taking the time to properly train and care for the animal
- acclimating the dog to social situations.
- simply avoiding risky situations such as leaving the dog unattended with children, taking the dog on a walk without a leash, and horse-playing with the dog.
Dog Bite Laws
Because each state is responsible for governing dog bite accidents and the consequences that follow such accidents, the statutes, regulations, and case law pertaining to dog bites vary from state to state.
Some states may not have specific laws exclusively dedicated to dog bite accidents, while others might. For example, in some states adhere to the “one-bite rule” when it comes to dog bite accidents. The one-bite rule is a negligence standard. This means that to recover damages for a dog bite the injured person must establish that:
- the dog’s owner knew the dog had previously bitten someone before or had acted aggressively in the past
- the dog’s owner was negligent in controlling the dog or preventing the accident from occurring, and that negligence caused the person’s injuries.
Some states may also adhere to this one-bite rule or some slightly modified form of the rule. Other states may follow a “strict liability” standard, where a dog bite automatically gives rise to a lawsuit. A few states may combine these two approaches into a blended standard.
Speak with an attorney to understand how dog bites are treated in your state.
Dog Bite Insurance
When you file a dog bite lawsuit, it will generally be filed against the dog owner and to seek compensation, you will be dealing with their insurance provider.
Some homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies cover the policy owner in case the owner’s dog bites or attacks another person. These policies include coverage for injuries caused to another person by the owner’s dog, even if the incident occurred away from the owner’s home or residence. However, such coverage is not guaranteed in all homeowner’s or renter’s policies. Further, if the policy owner failed to disclose a dog on the insurance application, or if the breed of dog is not covered in the policy, it is likely that the insurance company will deny coverage.
If the dog owner has insurance
If the policy owner has insurance and is covered if a dog bite does occur, the policy owner should promptly notify the insurance company of the incident as soon as possible to report a claim. The claim filing process may require the policy owner to submit an affidavit detailing the facts and circumstances of the dog bite accident. After filing and processing the claim, the insurance company may initiate an investigation into the facts of the case. This may involve interviewing the victim, interviewing witnesses, and reviewing any pertinent documentation of the accident such as medical records and photographs. Your attorney will also conduct an investigation into the accident to build your case for you.
After the investigation, your attorney will negotiate with the insurance company to seek a fair settlement for your case.
How is Compensation Calculated?
Although the law varies from state to state, in general, a dog owner may be held liable if their dog hurt another person. This means that if a lawsuit is brought against the dog owner, the owner or their insurance company faces the possibility of having to compensate the victim for the harm suffered, otherwise known as “damages.” The damages that may be awarded to a victim of a dog bite can be separated into three general categories:
Economic damages are financial damages that can be quantified. The primary economic damages at issue in a dog bite lawsuit are medical bills and lost income.
Medical bills include costs incurred by the victim for hospital treatment, doctors’ appointments, rehabilitation services, medication, and physical therapy. This can also include the cost of future medical expenses which may increase the value of a claim
Lost income includes the time the victim had to take off from work due to the injury. If the injury impairs the victim’s ability to work in the future, lost income may also include the victim’s loss in earning capacity, and future lost income.
Non-economic damages are intangible losses that are subjectively evaluated by the jury in a dog bite lawsuit. Although typically harder to calculate than economic damages, non-economic damages are often more valuable than economic damages. Types of non-economic damages may include pain and suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, disability, and loss of consortium.
Punitive damages are a type of damages awarded to punish the wrongdoer, which, in the case of dog bite accidents, is the dog owner. Punitive damages might be awarded to the victim if the owner’s behavior or conduct was especially reckless, egregious, or intentional. Punitive damages are not allowed in every state, however. For instance, if the victim is suing the dog owner under a state’s “strict liability” dog bite statute, punitive damages will not be allowed because such laws make dog owners liable for bites regardless of the owner’s conduct.
Legal Time Limits
A “statute of limitations” acts as a time-limit on which a person can initiate a lawsuit. If you fail to bring a claim within the statute of limitations, you may be barred from bringing the claim forward.
A dog bite lawsuit is considered a type of personal injury and many states adopt a two-year time limit for personal injury claims. This means that a party that is injured as a result of a dog bite must file a lawsuit within two years of the date of the accident.
In cases of minor children, the statute of limitations is “tolled,” or extended, until the child reaches the age of 18 or until the child is legally emancipated. The child would have two years from then to file a lawsuit. However, a parent or legal guardian may be able to bring the claim forward on behalf of the child after the accident.
The above is meant as an example only, statutes of limitations vary from state to state. Therefore, it is important to speak with a local attorney to better understand your position.
TALK TO ZINDA LAW GROUP
Our dog bite lawyers have the resources and experience needed to build a strong case for you and to help you seek the compensation you deserve.
At Zinda Law Group, we believe that everybody should have access to the legal representation to help them seek compensation, regardless of how much it may cost. This is why we offer a No Win No Fee Guarantee to all of our clients. This means that if we do not win your case, you pay us nothing.
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