A dog bite wound can cause you considerable pain and interfere with your daily life, especially if it is more severe. At the very least, a dog bite will result in medical expenses. In more serious cases, it can result in missed workdays, reduced earning capacity, emotional distress and more. Regardless of the extent of your injuries, it may comfort you to know that most states hold dog owners accountable to some degree for the injuries their pets cause.
Though state laws vary regarding dog owners’ liability in dog bite cases, most maintain strict liability laws. If you live in a state that maintains strict liability statutes, you do not have to sue for medical expenses associated with a dog bite. If you do not live in a strict liability state, you may still be able to recover the cost of medical expenses without pursuing a legal claim if you can prove that certain factors are present. Regardless of your state’s stance, you may be able to sue the dog’s owner for damages beyond medical expenses if you can prove the owner was negligent.
Because of how varied dog bite rules are across state borders, it is best to consult with a legal professional if you have plans to pursue compensation for your injuries. Attorney Jason Stone has extensive experience handling dog bite cases and can inform you of your legal options following an attack.
One-Bite vs. Strict Liability Laws
Most dog bite laws fall into one of two categories: One-bite and strict liability. Prior to the 20th century, most states maintained one-bite laws. However, as the courts have progressed, most have shifted to a strict-liability system.
Not too long ago, courts would only hold dog owners accountable for the actions of their canines if they had reason to believe that their dogs may bite. Though what constitutes as “reason” has also shifted in recent years, the main indicator that a dog was a nuisance used to be that the dog had a history of biting. Hence the name of the rule: The one-bite rule. Per the one-bite rule, dogs had a “free bite,” so to speak, before their owners could face legal troubles.
Today, even in some of the 13 one-bite states, dog owners can face liability even if their canines do not have a history of biting. Rather, the victim must only prove that the owner knew or should have known that the dog would bite and, despite having this knowledge, failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent the dog from doing so. Examples of reasons dog owners may know or should know that their pets will bite are as follows:
- The breed is notoriously dangerous
- The animal is, by character, anxious or aggressive
- The animal is injured or in a state that causes him or her to snap easily
To recap, in states that abide by a one-bite rule, victims of dog bites may not recover any damages — including medical expenses associated with the bite — unless they can prove the following:
- The dog has a history of biting, or
- The owner knew or should have known the dog would bite and,
- Regardless of this knowledge, the owner failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent the dog from biting.
Because of the requirements set forth under one-bite statutes, such statutes are comparable to negligence statutes throughout the country.
Strict Liability Laws
To date, 34 states adhere to a strict-strict liability law or a strict liability law with exceptions. Strict liability as it pertains to dog bites means that, regardless of the nature of the dog, why it bit, whether the owner was negligent or whether the owner knew of the dog’s aggressive propensities, the victim may recover, at the very least, compensation for all medical costs associated with the bite. However, strict liability laws generally do not apply if the victim was trespassing or otherwise breaking the law at the time of the incident or if the victim somehow provoked the dog.
Like one-bite laws, strict liability laws vary from state to state. Though quite a few states maintain a strict-strict liability stance — meaning, strict liability laws apply to every person in every situation — many set conditions. Examples of some such conditions are as follows:
- In Indiana, strict liability laws only apply to individuals who are carrying out official federal or state government duties, such as postal workers or law enforcement agents.
- In Georgia, strict liability applies only if the victim can prove the owner had knowledge of the dog’s dangerous nature, violated a city ordinance (such as a leash law) or carelessly managed the dog despite knowledge of its dangerous propensities.
- In Montana, strict liability laws only apply in incorporated cities or towns.
- In Rhode Island, strict liability laws only apply if the dog was outside of an enclosure at the time of the incident.
These are just a few examples of exceptions. An attorney can inform you of what, if any, exceptions apply in your state and advise you on your options for recovery.
Some states maintain dog bite laws that are a mix between strict liability and one-bite rules. For example, though New York is technically a one-bite state, strict liability applies if the victim can prove the dog was “dangerous”. State law defines a dangerous dog as one that attacks and either kills or injures another animal or person without justification, or one that behaves in such a way that any reasonable person would believe it poses an unjustified and serious immediate threat of physical harm or death.
In Hawaii, the victim must prove the owner’s negligence resulted in the bite or attack. Otherwise, it must prove that the dog has a history or propensity for being wild, vicious or dangerous.
In Tennessee, dog owners have a duty to always keep their canines under control and to prevent them from running at large. If a person violates this responsibility, the law may hold him or her civilly liable for any damages the dog causes. This is the case even if the dog does not have a history of acting dangerously.
Pursuing Damages Beyond Medical Expenses
Strict liability, one-bite and hybrid laws dictate when a person can automatically recover compensation for damages — and what types of damages — without having to file a lawsuit. If the law entitles you to compensation under a dog bite statute, the dog owner and/or its homeowner’s insurance company must pay for your damages. What happens, though, if the law does not entitle you to compensation, or if you wish to recover beyond medical expenses?
The good news is that most states will allow you to sue for excess damages via a negligence claim. However, bear in mind that the success of your pursuit is contingent upon the following:
- Your ability to file a claim within the statute of limitations
- Your ability to build a convincing argument that demonstrates the owner’s negligence and/or hire an attorney to build it for you
- The dog owner’s ability to pay
It is particularly important to consider the last point as, even if the deciding parties rule in your favor, the defendant may not have the funds or assets to pay your claim.
Get the Help You Need
If a dog bit you, and if you paid a substantial sum in medical expenses and/or accrued significant damages as a result, your best bet would be to consult with an experienced dog bite lawyer regarding your options. For the guidance you need, schedule your free initial consultation with Jason Stone Injury Lawyers today.