Dogs are the most common pets around the world. They are a source of joy and great companions for many people. However, dogs can also attack, and that joy can turn into terror. Since dog attacks can happen when you least expect it and even when the dog is known to be gentle, it can lead to personal injury.
Annually, 12,480 individuals get injured from a dog bite. In addition, about 1,000 people need emergency care for serious dog bite injuries. As such, all states require dog owners to be responsible for their pets. However, in some states, dog owners are not legally accountable until they know the dog tends to bite other people.
If you are a dog attack victim, you can seek damages from the owner. The claim can help you pay for hospitalization or seek medical care, cover lost wages, and other damages, such as disfigurement. If you’re unsure how to proceed, this article will help you better understand when and how to file for a dog bite lawsuit and prove your claim for damages.
Understanding a Dog Bite Lawsuit
In most states, owners are financially responsible regardless of their dog’s history or carelessness. If you own a dog, you can be liable in a civil lawsuit for dog bites and other injuries caused by your pet. An example is if your dog chases a bicycle rider and causes a fall. Another example is when the owner knows that the dog has issues with people and still takes it to a place with others and removes its leash.
After the attack, you should consult a personal injury lawyer. You should also document the incident, including writing notes, taking photos of the dog bite, or keeping videos of the attack, if possible. Noting the attack’s time, location, and other details is also vital. If there are any witnesses, get their contact information in case you need them later.
What to Prove in the Lawsuit
If you seek damages for a dog bite, you must prove that the injuries you sustained are indeed from the dog and that the owner is responsible. Depending on where you live, there are different rules for proving a claim. Some states require the victim to prove that the dog owner had reason to know the dog was aggressive. These are the rules in one-bite states. Some states have strict liability rules.
These states have a common law rule where the owner is held responsible in a dog bite lawsuit only if they know their dog is dangerous to others. The term “one bite” does not mean that the owner can be held responsible only if the dog bit someone once before. Any dog behaviors that could show that the pet can potentially injure others will make the owner liable. These behaviors include a previous bite history, chasing people or bicycles, barking or growling at people, or fighting with other dogs.
Strict Liability Rule
In such states, owners are responsible any time their dogs injure someone. It doesn’t matter if there was no reason to suspect the dog was dangerous or if the owner was negligent. All you have to prove is that the dog has bitten you without provocation, and you suffered damages because of it.
Who Can Be Held Accountable in a Dog Bite Lawsuit?
The potential parties in a dog bite lawsuit can vary depending on specific circumstances. But in most cases, the dog owner is the primary party since they are responsible for their pet and its behavior towards others. The owner has a duty of care towards the dog and the public.
In other instances, other people can be held liable instead of or in addition to the dog’s owner. For example, the property owner or landlord can be responsible if they know of the dog’s tendency to be dangerous but fail to take precautions, such as posting a warning sign or ensuring the dog is secured and can’t harm others. Property owners who fail to manage pets or violate local leash laws properly can also be liable.
Other parties besides the dog or property owner can also be liable. A dog sitter and dog walker can be a party to a lawsuit if the dog attack happens while the pet is under the care of a professional. In rare cases, a government entity can also be held liable for dog attacks that occurred due to their negligence.
What Kind of Damages Can You Seek?
Dog bites and dog attacks can be fatal. Some may require extensive medical treatment and even reconstructive surgery. When that happens, you can demand compensation for all the losses you incurred due to the attack. Some damages you can seek are as follows:
You can file a claim seeking monetary or economic damages calculated by adding up all the bills incurred because of the attack. Your lawsuit can include compensations for childcare costs (if you are unable to care for your child because of the injury), lost wages (if you are unable to work because of the dog bite), medical bills (including all the costs of treatment and medications), transportation costs incurred related to the attack, and property damage.
Aside from economic losses, you can also seek compensation for non-monetary damages for emotional distress, pain, and suffering resulting from dog bite injuries. You can also ask for compensation for depression, anxiety, loss of intimacy, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
A dog bite victim can also seek punitive damages, providing you can prove that the owner is guilty of gross negligence. For example, if the owner encouraged the dog to attack or has not done anything even after the dog has attacked many others. In such cases, the court can assign additional penalties and award more compensation to the victim.
Every case is unique, even a dog bite lawsuit. The success of your claims depends on factors such as the laws in the state where you live, the severity of the injuries, and the strength of the evidence you have. In any case, the most crucial step after the attack is seeking medical attention. Then, report the attack and gather as much evidence as you can. Most importantly, understand your rights and know how to seek compensation successfully.