From Paws to Pain: Navigating the Legal Web of Dog Bite Accidents
Dogs are a man's best friend, but they can also be dangerous. According to Forbes, around 4.5 million Americans sustain dog bites annually. Many cases of dog bites go unreported or undiscovered by authorities and insurance companies alike.
However, it's a good idea to understand how liability works if your pet bites someone else or someone's dog bites you.
Understanding Liability in Dog Bite Accidents
If you're in a situation where a dog injures you, it's important to understand what liability the owner has. Dogs are generally personal property and, therefore, are not legally responsible for their actions.
However, the law does recognize that there may be cases in which owners should be liable for their dog's behavior. This is especially true if they were negligent or reckless about their training and supervision. And since dogs are personal property, these cases are under personal injury law.
The Insurance Information Institute highlights the different state and local laws regarding dog bites. In 29 states, dog owners are liable for the injuries their dogs cause. Some exceptions, like provocation, look into the reason behind the attack.
In 17 states along with Columbia, attacks are differentiated into misdemeanors or felonies with fines. On the other hand, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, and North Dakota do not have dog bite laws. Whether your dog has bitten someone or someone else's dog has bitten you, you will need help from a personal injury lawyer.
Reporting and Documenting the Incident
Once you are safe and the dog is safely contained, it's time to document what happened.
Document the incident. Take photos of any injuries of yourself or others in the incident if possible. You can also ask someone else present at the scene who has a camera to take pictures of you and your injuries.
Identify the dog and owner: If possible, identify the dog and its owner. Get the owner's name, contact information, and any relevant details about the dog (breed, color, size, distinctive markings).
File a police report: If the dog bite is severe or you believe there is a threat to public safety, file a police report. Provide as much detail as possible about the incident, including any witnesses.
Document the scene: Take photos of the location where the incident occurred. Include any visible signs, such as warning signs, lack of leash, or other relevant details.
Medical documentation: Record all medical treatments due to the dog bite. This includes emergency room visits, doctor appointments, medications, and follow-up care.
Documenting is essential for dog bite claims. Everything that you document can be evidence for the court. Dog bite claims are most seen in "strict liability" states. According to Russell and Hill, PLLC, strict liability means the dog owner can be liable for injuries from the bite. This will stay true even if the dog has not shown any violent behavior previously.
Therefore, the number of cases in such states where dog owners can be held responsible is increasing. According to PropertyCasualty360, California was the top state with the most dog bite claims in 2021. It reported 22,026 claims, with the average cost per claim being $59,561. Arizona reported 489 dog bite claims and sits at #10.
Understanding the Legal Process
If a dog injures you, you may get compensation. There are several steps to filing and processing a claim for dog bite injuries:
File a police report with your local law enforcement agency within 48 hours of the bite. This is crucial because it will help establish proof of ownership and liability if the owner denies responsibility for their dog's behavior.
Contact an attorney specializing in personal injury cases involving animals. If possible, hire an attorney with experience with these claims and other personal injury cases. They'll know exactly what documents they need from you before moving forward with your case.
Collect evidence to support your case. This may include medical records, photographs of your injuries, witness statements, and any documentation of the dog's history of aggression.
If the dog owner has homeowner's insurance, report the incident to their insurance company. Insurance often covers medical expenses and other damages resulting from the dog bite. Forbes states that the average cost per insurance claim for dog bites in the US was $64,555 in 2022. This is a 32% increase from 2021. Insurance companies paid $1.13 billion for dog bite incidents.
Your attorney may negotiate with the dog owner's insurance company to settle. If you cannot reach a settlement, your attorney may advise filing a lawsuit against the dog owner. According to FindLaw, a dog bite victim will normally get their settlement amount in 15-30 days from the date of the settlement agreement.
If the case goes to court, there will be legal proceedings, including discovery, depositions, and possibly a trial. The outcome will depend on the evidence and the applicable laws in your jurisdiction.
Healing and Moving Forward
After an incident, it's important to understand your legal rights and know what you can do about the injury. The following are some tips for moving forward:
Follow medical recommendations. If you receive medical treatment, follow the recommendations of healthcare professionals. This may include taking antibiotics to prevent infection or getting a tetanus shot.
Monitor for signs of infection. Keep an eye on the wound for any signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, increasing pain, or pus. If you notice any of these symptoms, seek medical attention promptly.
Emotional healing. A dog bite is often a traumatic experience, and it's essential to address the emotional aspect of the incident. Consider seeking support from friends, family, or a mental health professional to help process any fear or anxiety.
To conclude, a lot of complexity is involved in determining who is responsible for dog bites. And this isn't just an issue for people with a dog bite. It also affects those who own or care for dogs. If someone else's pet ever injures you, contact a lawyer who understands this area of law.