Dog Bites: Legal FAQ

They are man’s best friend, but any friendship has its occasional spats. And while the vast majority of dogs live their entire lives happily and without ever biting their human companions or others, that isn’t always the case.

Some bites can be gentle nips, either while playing or as a reminder to keep fingers away from food or hands away from sensitive tails. Sadly, other dog bites can be severe, leaving victims with serious injuries. If you’ve been involved in the latter, you may have questions about your legal rights. So, here are some helpful answers to dog bite questions.

When Does a Dog Bite Constitute a Personal Injury Claim?

Most dog bites are accidents. But not all accidents are unavoidable. And if someone did something to cause an accident or failed to do something to prevent it, they can be held legally liable.

A dog bite can result in a personal injury claim when the victim can demonstrate that the dog bite resulted in quantifiable injuries to the victim and that the dog owner’s actions or negligence were the cause of the dog bite.

If you were the victim of a dog bite that resulted in injuries, you likely have a personal injury claim against the dog owner. The dog owner may be responsible for compensating you for various costs including your medical bills, time missed from work, and emotional distress.

In some jurisdictions, you will need to have actual physical damages in order to bring a dog bite lawsuit. Mere emotional injuries, or injuries resulting from being scared by a dog, may not be enough to file a claim.

How Can It Be Determined Whether a Dog Handler’s Actions Were Negligent?

Almost all personal injury claims are based on negligence, and injured plaintiffs claiming negligence must prove four essential elements to succeed in court:

  • That the dog owner/handler had a duty to restrain their dog or otherwise prevent the dog from biting anyone
  • That the owner/handler failed to live up to this duty, either through training, lack of a leash, or inadequate fencing around their property
  • That you would not have been injured but for the owner/handler’s breach, and that the dog bite (and not some other incident) caused your injuries
  • That you have quantifiable injuries for which a court can order the owner/handler to compensate you

Proving negligence by a dog owner will depend on the specific facts of your case. Negligence is generally defined by a reasonable person standard, or what a reasonable would have theoretically done in the same situation. Normally, negligence is based on someone’s unreasonable actions, but in some cases — like those involving dog bites — it can be based on an unreasonable omission or failure to act.

For instance, if a dog owner brought a dog they knew to be dangerous to a public park and let it roam off-leash, that would be an unreasonable act. Likewise, if a dog owner was aware their dog had a propensity to bite and failed to keep the dog in a fenced-in yard, that would be an unreasonable omission.

In most dog bite claims, you will need to prove that the dog owner knew or should’ve known the dog was dangerous, and failed to take the proper precautions to protect people from the dog.

What If the State Where the Dog Bite Occurred Is a “One-Bite State?”

When it comes to the dog owner’s knowledge, some states employ what is known as a “one bite rule.” The rule is based on the notion that if the dog had never bitten a person or another dog before, the owner would have had no reason to suspect the dog was dangerous. Therefore, they can’t be held liable for injuries stemming from the first time the dog bites.

Another way to think of it is that every dog gets “one free bite,” and that, after that, the owner is on notice and should take proper precautions from it happening again.

Even if a dog owner is not liable for the dog’s first bite in some states, they could still be on the hook under other legal theories. If they caused the bite through negligent, reckless, or intentional conduct, or if they committed “negligence per se”, in other words violating leash laws, ordinances banning dogs going “at large,” or prohibitions against dogs trespassing, courts can still hold dog owners accountable for the first bite.

What If the Dog Owner Was Not Present When the Dog Bite Occurred?

A dog owner’s absence from a biting incident may actually be evidence of their negligence. But they can still be responsible under other circumstances, like if a handler or pet-sitter is watching, walking, or otherwise caring for the dog. If the owner didn’t tell the caretaker the dog was dangerous, or the caretaker failed to control the dangerous dog, the law could still hold the owner liable.

In addition, some landlords have been held liable for not protecting other tenants or the public from dangerous dogs if the landlord had the legal authority to evict the tenant.

Should I Hire a Personal Injury Attorney With Dog Bite Case Experience?

Any personal injury lawsuit can be extremely complex. You may need to call eyewitnesses to talk about the incident, medical experts to verify the extent of your injuries, and even canine trainers to testify regarding the owner’s actions. Additionally, there’s a good chance the dog’s owner will have their own lawyer on their side.

Even if the owner or their insurance company wants to settle the case, you should never sign any settlement documents without first consulting an attorney — you could be waiving your right to sue later or even talk about the case. Hiring a personal injury lawyer with experience in dog bite incidents is the best way to protect your legal rights, and many attorneys in your area offer free consultations to discuss your personal injury claim.

Speak with an experienced Dog Bite Attorney Today

Injuries cost money, including time away from work, medical bills, and other complications. Before taking legal action or trying to negotiate a settlement on your own, you should talk to an attorney about your case. You can search LawInfo’s legal directory to find a local dog bite attorney to discuss the merits of your case. This one step can level the playing field, help you protect your rights, and put you in the best position for recovering the compensation that you deserve.

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