If a dog bites you, regardless of its size, it is crucial that you treat the wound seriously. This is especially true if the canine breaks the skin. Dogs, even the little ones, carry more than 600 types of bacteria in their mouths, plus bacteria they pick up from the environment. Though much of this bacterium is harmless, some cause severe bacterial infections in humans — infections that can cause illness, disability or even death. While such infections are rare, it is in your best interest to treat even minor bites as if they are severe, and that you never make post-bite decisions based on the size of the offending animal.
That said, while you should never let a dog’s size inform your decisions for how to proceed after an incident, you may want to consider the size and severity of your wound. In addition to requiring more extensive and possibly ongoing medical care, deeper bites may warrant legal action. What about minor bites, though? Should you contact an attorney over a bite that barely breaks skin, or that punctures the skin but otherwise causes little to no additional trouble? The answer ultimately depends on several circumstances.
State Dog Bite Laws
One factor that will heavily influence your decision to file a dog bite lawsuit is the dog bite laws of the state in which you live. State dog bite laws fall into one of three categories: one-bite, strict liability, or a hybrid approach.
In states that adhere to a one-bite law, dog bite victims cannot hold the offending dogs’ owners accountable for damages unless the dogs have histories of biting or acting aggressively. To date, just 16 states adhere to a one-bite rule. Those 16 states are as follows:
- New York
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
If you sustain a dog bite in any one of these states, your ability to pursue compensation depends entirely on the dog’s history. Unfortunately, this is the case even if your wounds are more severe.
In states with strict liability laws, dog bite victims can hold dog owners accountable regardless of a dog’s history. For instance, if a small, typically gentle dog bites you, you may be able to sue the owner for medical expenses and other damages. This is the case even if the owner took reasonable precautions to prevent the attack from happening, such as keeping the dog leashed or kenneling it when guests are over.
In states with strict liability laws, you do not have to prove that the owner was careless or negligent, as you may have to do in states with hybrid approaches. Rather, you need only show that the dog bit you and caused damages. That said, even strict liability states make exceptions for dogs and their owners.
For example, if a dog bit you while you were trespassing on private property, the courts will unlikely rule in your favor. The same goes if the owner can prove that you provoked the dog in some way.
Many states take a strict liability approach. Among others, those include California, Arizona, Colorado, Washington, Utah, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan and Maine.
States that take a hybrid approach heavily embody the one-bite rule while identifying some instances that call for strict liability. In these states, courts and insurers consider owners’ negligence when determining whether a victim has the right to sue for damages. For instance, in some states, a violation of a leash law puts owners at risk for assuming liability for any harm their pets cause. In others, owners must be intentionally reckless in their care of a canine for the state to hold them accountable for dog bites and other injuries. If you live in one of these states, you must prove that the owner acted negligently and/or that the dog has a history of aggression.
Dog Bite Complications and Recoverable Losses
Aside from your legal ability to recover compensation, there are other factors you should consider when determining whether to pursue legal action for a minor bite. One such factor is the development or existence of complications.
A minor dog bite in and of itself is not worthy of legal action, as you will likely expend more resources fighting for compensation than what your claim is actually worth. In cases of minor injuries, it makes the most sense to seek remuneration for medical expenses and other small losses from the dog owner or his or her insurance company.
That said, what if a minor bite causes major issues? If complications arise, then yes, it may be worth your while to consult with a lawyer. Types of complications that can result from minor dog bites are as follows:
- Infections: Even surface bites can cause infections. This is particularly true in individuals with compromised immune systems. Types of infections commonly associated with dog bites include Pasteurella and MRSA, two potentially fatal conditions.
- Rabies: If the dog that bit you is unvaccinated, there is a strong possibility that rabies could be present in the wound. Rabies, if not treated right away, is fatal 99% of the time.
- Blood Loss: Bleeding from a dog bite wound should subside after 15 minutes of applying light pressure. If it does not, the bite may be more serious than you thought, and you should seek emergency care right away. Excessive blood loss can have dangerous side effects or, in rare cases, can prove fatal.
- Muscle and Tendon Damage: Though a small dog is unlikely to bite hard enough to cause muscle or tendon damage, it can and has happened. If your wound results in muscle or tendon damage, you may require surgery and an extended recovery time.
- Emotional Duress: Even small dogs can inflict emotional distress on people when they attack. If your attack has since caused you to become afraid or jumpy, you may be able to claim emotional damages on an insurance claim. However, to win a case for such losses, it would be in your best interest to have an experienced attorney help tell your story.
If your minor wound results in complications — and if said complications lead to recoverable losses, such as medical expenses, lost wages, therapy bills, etc. — it may be worth your while to consult with a dog bite lawyer.
A final consideration when determining whether to contact a dog bite attorney is whether you have insurance options. Can you recover compensation for your damages through the at-fault party’s insurance company, or possibly your own? If your wound is minor, and if the answer is yes, it may make the most sense to go this route. This is particularly true if you live in a strict liability state in which you do not have to prove negligence to recover damages.
Still Considering Contacting an Attorney?
If you are still unsure whether you should contact an attorney for your minor bite, make the call. When you contact Jason Stone Injury Lawyers, you can have confidence that a consultation will cost you nothing but that it will yield a wealth of information and advice. After all, with us, There’s No Obligation, Just Information ®. Schedule your visit today.