A dog attack can be as emotionally traumatizing as it is physically damaging, and the dog owner is liable in nearly all cases. As a result, victims are often left with substantial medical debt and understandable anger and frustration. Fortunately, there is a legal outlet for dog bite victims to seek compensation from negligent dog owners. If you nurture an injury from the damage of a dog bite incident, a personal injury lawyer can guide you through the legal process of recovering damages.
Strict Liability in a Dog Attack Incident
Most states abide by strict liability statutes for dog attack incidents. The concept of strict liability is that dog owners are responsible for the actions of their pets without exception. For example, Massachusetts is a strict liability state. Therefore, dog owners are liable for any damages in an attack case, even if they took all the proper steps to keep the dog secure. This means the dog owner could have the dog behind a fence, leashed, and tied to a tree, but if the dog can still break free and attack someone, the owner would be liable.
Criminal Liability in a Dog Attack Incident
Criminal liability usually accompanies cases where the dog owner was somehow involved in the attack on another person. For example, if an argument ensued between the dog owner and another person and the dog owner encouraged the dog to attack, the owner would be criminally liable and could face charges of assault without even touching the other person. Because this is a criminal case, the local prosecutor’s office would file the charges against the dog owner, who much be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If found guilty, they could face imprisonment, fines, and other forms of punishment depending on other factors, such as criminal history and the extent of the damages.
Additionally, criminal activity does not eliminate the possibility of a civil case. For example, if you suffered an injury in a dog bite attack where the dog owner behaved criminally, you can still file a civil lawsuit. The burden of proof is lower, and their responsibility to you comes in the form of damages, including your medical expenses and lost wages.
What To Do if a Dog Attacks You
Dog attacks are scary and shocking in nature. It may be challenging to gather your thoughts, especially if the attack was severe. However, there are some steps you can take to ensure your right to compensation and your physical well-being is safe. These steps include:
- Emergency medical care. If you are severely injured, avoid moving and call 911 or have someone call for you. When the first responders arrive, the police will be with them to question all parties involved.
- Collect the dog owner’s information. If you can, get the animal owner’s name and phone number. This is important even if you think you will not ask for compensation. This is because you may decide to seek compensation later.
- Gather proof from the scene. You can start by collecting the names and contact information of any eyewitnesses. You may need them to corroborate your story later. Next, take photographs of the scene, including your injuries. You can also take a video to document your surroundings and injuries as you explain what happened, while the memories are most reliable. Avoid going near the dog, but take photos if it is still in your field of vision.
- Report the incident to the proper authorities. If you do not need emergency medical services, you can still call the police and animal control to report the accident and your injuries. This is especially important if the dog was not wearing a collar and the owner was not nearby. Someone else could get hurt.
You will likely have questions about the next steps. Again, a personal injury attorney is the best source of information available and most offer a free case evaluation to discuss the accident and provide advice.
Legal Actions You Can Take
There are only two direct ways to hold a dog owner legally responsible for a dog attack: file a claim for damages with the owner’s insurance policy or take the owner to court by filing a civil lawsuit against them. Suppose the dog owner has an insurance policy that covers liability litigation, such as renter’s or homeowner’s insurance. In that case, you can request the policy information from the dog owner and directly file a claim with the insurer. This will start the negotiation process for which you may want to hire a personal injury attorney to help you avoid potential bad faith tactics from the insurer.
If the insurance company fails to offer you a settlement, denies your claim, or attempts to delay payment, you likely need to file a lawsuit against the dog owner. This will be your only option if the dog owner does not have insurance. If you can not secure a fair settlement, your attorney may advise you to carry the case into the trial phase.
Possible Defenses for a Dog Attack Claim
Because of strict liability laws, there are very few defenses for a dog attack claim that could hold up in court. However, some common defenses presented by the defendant include:
- The plaintiff behaved carelessly or recklessly, contributing to the incident and causing the attack.
- The plaintiff was unlawfully on the dog owner’s property at the time of the attack. This is known as trespassing.
- The plaintiff provoked the animal to attack.
The trespassing and provoking defenses typically will not work in a state with strict liability laws.
How a Personal Injury Attorney Can Help With Your Dog Attack Case
Personal injury cases involving dog attacks, specifically dog bites, are often relatively straightforward. The dog owner is nearly always responsible. However, it can be challenging to navigate the legal process, deal with an insurance company, and simultaneously face the physical and financial consequences of the attack. With the help of a personal injury attorney, you can focus on the critical task of following doctor’s orders and getting back to your everyday life again. Some elements of your case handled by your legal representation include:
- Communicating with the dog owner’s insurance company about reaching a fair settlement to cover your losses
- Investigating the accident to solidify the negligence claim
- Collecting documentation and expert testimony to prove the physical, psychological, and financial damages you suffered
- Protecting your rights throughout the processing and ensuring no one attempts to take advantage of you
- Offering compassion and understanding during a difficult and frustrating time
If you or someone you love suffered a significant injury from a dog attack, you have the right to see all your expenses covered and more by the responsible party. At Jason Stone Injury Lawyers, we know the financial toll these injuries can take on the victims, which is why we require no upfront fees to listen to the details of your accident and get started on building your case. The first element of the Stone Cold Guarantee ensures we get paid only after you get paid. Our job is to help you recover financially so you can get your life back, and we represent our clients with an aggressive professional approach and kind, friendly support. Contact Jason Stone Injury Lawyers today for your free case evaluation. There’s No Obligation, Just Information.