Dog attacks fall under the umbrella of personal injury law, which means you can sue the owner of the dog that attacked you and potentially recover damages from the accident. However, that is not the only avenue to compensation for your losses. With more information about the details of your case, a personal injury attorney with experience in dog attack cases can help you decide on the right course of action, starting with identifying the liable party and the damages you suffered.
Who Is Liable for a Dog Attack?
Liability in a dog attack case can be relatively simple. The dog owner is nearly always liable for the attack and the damages you suffer. However, each state implements the laws that govern these accidents. Most follow the concept of strict liability, while only a handful applies the one-bite rule.
The One-Bite Rule for Dogs
A common misconception about the one-bite rule for dog attacks is that it means the owner is not liable for the first time a dog bites someone. What it actually means is more complex. According to the one-bite rule, dog owners are responsible if they should have known their dog poses a danger to others. Examples of actions that may foretell of potential threat include:
- Dog breed. This is rare. Certain breeds, such as Pitbulls, are only defined as dangerous in some municipalities and states.
- Poor interaction with other dogs. This typically only applies in cases where someone trained the dog to fight other dogs.
- Threatening actions. Growling and snapping at people indicates a potential threat.
- Chasing or jumping. Dogs who chase vehicles or jump on people, even if it is friendly, could cause an injury, especially if the dog is large.
This rule considers the dog’s history and the owner’s actions, which differs from the concept of strict liability.
Most states mandate laws for dog attack cases that comply with strict liability. For example, the Massachusetts Dog Bite Statute says that a dog owner is liable when the dog causes personal injury or property damage as long as the injured person did not provoke the dog, commit another tort, or trespass at the time of the attack. The basis for this is a strict liability because it does not matter if the dog owner acted reasonably and tried to prevent or stop the attack. Additionally, the dog’s history is not relevant. Therefore, the court does not accept a defense that the owner did not know the dog was dangerous.
Could You Be at Fault?
There are only three accepted defenses under strict liability in a dog attack case:
- Committing a civil tort. If the person attacked was attacking someone else at the time of the incident, they cannot recover damages. For example, if the dog bite victim struck the dog owner, causing the dog to react in defense, the dog bite victim would be at fault.
- Trespassing. If the person attacked was unlawfully present on private property at the time of the attack, strict liability does not apply. For example, if the dog bite victim climbs someone’s fence and walks across their private yard without permission, that constitutes trespassing. Should the homeowner’s dog attack while the person is trespassing, they would not have legal access to compensation.
- Provoking. If the dog attack victim tormented, teased, or abused the dog, provoking it to react with violence, that person would be liable for the attack and ineligible for damages.
Most states allow these three defenses in dog attack cases. However, most cases do not involve trespassing, provoking, or assault. A dog bite injury lawyer can help you understand how liability affects your case and what damages are available based on the unique circumstances.
What Damages Can You Recover After a Dog Bite Incident?
Every dog attack has solitary circumstances. The damages available to you depend on the severity of your injuries and whether or not the dog owner has insurance. However, there are some common types of damages in dog attack cases, and the court refers to them as compensatory damages.
Compensatory damages include your economic and non-economic losses. Economic losses do not need a valuation. Instead, they represent a definitive monetary loss caused by the accident. Some recoverable financial losses include:
- Cost of medical care. If you suffered severe injuries and needed medical treatment, you can recover the cost of that care, including emergency medical services, surgeries, hospital stays, outpatient care, medical devices, medications, and rehabilitative services. You may also request payment for future losses if you need ongoing care.
- Total of lost wages. Severe injuries typically result in missed work during recovery. You can request the income lost during that time, including any future lost wages. If your injuries result in permanent disability, making it impossible for you to do the job you did previously, you can recover income lost as a result of lost earning capacity.
- Damaged property. If any of your property was destroyed during the dog attack, you could request the cost of repairing or replacing it.
- Out-of-pocket expenses. Anything necessary for your recovery that you paid for out of pocket is potentially recoverable. For example, if you need in-home help or transportation to medical visits, you can seek compensation for those things.
The non-economic compensatory damages have no inherent monetary value. These include psychological losses, such as physical and emotional pain and suffering, the loss of enjoyment for life, anxiety or depression, and mental anguish. Your attorney will collect the evidence you need to support these claims and assign a monetary value representing your losses’ worth.
Dog bite cases rarely result in punitive damages, which are meant to punish the defendant for malicious intent or gross negligence. However, dog attack cases that result in criminal liability sometimes warrant punitive damages. For example, suppose the dog owner assaulted you and intentionally provoked the dog to attack. In that case, the court may decide to punish the defendant further in civil court what a punitive damages order.
Should You Contact a Dog Bite Injury Lawyer?
If you suffered an injury in a dog bite accident, the strict liability of most states often makes it a relatively straightforward process when filing a claim with the dog owner’s insurance policy. However, not everyone has insurance. Additionally, insurance companies can sometimes be combative to avoid paying a valid claim, especially if you suffered severe injuries that resulted in substantial damages. If you find yourself battling the insurer or receiving any pushback from the dog owner or adjuster, you will immediately benefit from speaking to a dog bite injury lawyer.
With a legal representative, you will not need to deal with anyone directly about the case. Your lawyer will handle all conversations with the insurer or the dog owner and file all the required paperwork should you have to file a lawsuit. In addition, they will investigate your case and find evidence to dispute any false claims of liability against you.
At Jason Stone Injury Lawyers, we understand the burdens that victims of dog attacks face. The results are often physically, emotionally, and financially overwhelming. To avoid adding to your financial consequences, we charge no upfront fees to work on your case. The first element of the Stone Cold Guarantee states that we only get paid when you get paid. Contact Jason Stone Injury Lawyers today to speak to an attorney experienced in helping dog attack victims.