Each year, millions of Americans are bitten by dogs. In these situations, the person who has been bitten has the right to take legal action to recover damages from the animal's owner or the person liable for the animal at the time of the incident.
Many dog bite cases are settled out of court by negotiations between the dog bite victim's lawyer and the lawyer representing the dog's owner or the dog owner's insurance company. If a dog bite case cannot be settled outside of court, a dog bite victim has the option to take the case to small claims court -- if the amount the victim is suing the dog owner for is less than the state's maximum small claims court amount -- or to file a civil lawsuit. Resolving a case in small claims court does not take as long as it does to resolve a civil lawsuit, but small claims courts do not allow attorneys to present cases.
Over half of the U.S. states have strict dog-bite statutes that state that the dog's owner is responsible for injuries that the dog causes, regardless of whether the owner had a reason to think that the dog was dangerous. The statutes impose liability without fault, so the injured party victim does not need to prove to the court that the dog owner did anything wrong.
States that do not have strict dog bite liability statutes, follow the “one-bite rule,” which means the dog owner is only liable for an injury the dog causes if the owner has reason to believe that the dog is dangerous. This does not mean that the dog has to have bitten a person before the injury in question was obtained. If the dog has shown aggressive behavior or tried to bite someone else previously, the dog owner can be held responsible for the injuries the dog causes.
There are circumstances in which someone else may be liable for the dog bite as well, such as:
The dog's owner might not be held liable for injuries caused by the dog if the person who was injured:
Not all of these defense strategies can be used in all states, and in some cases, the defense used depends on exactly why the dog owner is being sued.
Dog bite victims have the right to sue the dog owner for damages. However, there are a few steps that the dog bite victim should take in order to protect his or her rights:
Dog bite victims should also avoid signing anything presented to them by the dog's owner, the owner's insurance company, the property owner, or the dog owner's landlord to avoid accidentally signing a document that waives their rights. Also, most states have a statute of limitations pertaining to dog-bite cases, making it important to contact an attorney as soon as possible.
Depending on the laws of the state and the circumstances surrounding the injury, dog bite victims may be eligible to receive compensation for the cost of:
If you have been bitten by a dog or your dog has bitten someone, it's imperative to seek legal guidance as soon as possible. A reputable animal bite attorney has the experience needed to help you face common challenges surrounding dog bite cases.