Determining Liability After a Dog Bite

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Dogs are well known for being man’s best friend, and it is not hard to see why. Who could resist such a cute and cuddly companion? It is important to remember, however, that dog ownership comes with important responsibilities. One of the most important duties of dog ownership includes preventing your pet from injuring others or damaging property.

Because your dog is under your care, you will be held liable if your dog ever hurts someone. This means that you will need to reimburse the victim for anything from medical expenses to pain and suffering. Other possible damages include, but are not limited to, lost wages, time lost from work, and loss of consortium. 

Certain homeowners’ and/or renters’ policies include dog owner liability insurance. This insurance may cover the cost of any damages incurred in an accident involving your dog, regardless of whether or not the accident happened on your property. Check your policy to ensure whether or not this is true for you.

Civil Liability in Dog Bite Accidents

If at least one of the following conditions applies to you, you may be liable in a civil lawsuit for a bite or other injury caused by your dog:

  • The victim has reasonable proof that the injury occurred as a result of your negligence as a dog owner. Legally speaking, “negligence” refers to any unreasonable carelessness you may have committed. For example, negligent dog owners often violate local leash laws. They may also leave gates open that allow the dog to escape and run after any passersby.
  • There is an applicable dog bite statute. In many states, there are strict-liability dog bite laws. These make the dog owner liable for any medical expenses and other damages that the victim may have incurred in the accident.
  • The victim has reasonable proof that the dog owner knew the dog had aggressive tendencies and did not act in a reasonable manner to prevent the accident. Although not all states have dog bite laws, some have “one-bite rules.” Such rules make dog owners responsible for any injuries they knew their dog may inflict on future victims.

However, dog owners are not automatically held liable for every single dog bite. There are various legal defenses for dog bites and other dog-related injuries, even in strict-liability states. For example, such strict-liability statutes may not apply if the dog was provoked by the victim or if the victim was trespassing during the time of injury. A dog bite victim can also be determined to be partially at fault.

Criminal Liability in Dog Bite Accidents

Determining Liability After a Dog BiteMost states have “dangerous dog laws,” and similar ordinances exist in many cities and counties as well. In such jurisdictions, dog owners may be required to take special precautions with their pets once they have injured or even threatened someone. It is even possible that the judge will order the dog to be euthanized if it poses a serious enough risk. Failing to cooperate with any of these restrictions can lead to criminal penalties for the dog owner.

Dog bite-related deaths are rare and tragic. When they occur, they generally transpire as a result of the dog owner’s reckless or even deliberate actions. In such cases, the owner may be charged with manslaughter or a similar crime. Some states, like Florida, have specific criminal laws applying to serious dog attacks. If a Floridian dog owner knew that their pet was dangerous and recklessly ignored the risk it posed anyway, they may be faced with criminal charges.

What to Do If a Dog Has Hurt You

Dog bite injuries can easily become serious and should be addressed immediately. If you have been bitten, attacked, or otherwise injured by a dog, do not hesitate. Act immediately by carrying out as much of the following as possible:

  • Collect the dog owner’s name and contact information. Do this regardless of whether or not you feel like you will want to press charges. You never know how serious your injury may get, and you never know if you will change your mind later. Get the dog owner’s liability insurance information, too, if applicable.
  • Collect the names and contact information of any witnesses. Witnesses are a key component of any personal injury case. You want to make sure you have as much evidence on your side as possible. Witnesses can boost your credibility, especially if the dog owner disagrees with your account of the accident. They may even be able to help if you do not know who the dog belongs to. It is possible that animal control authorities will be able to find the dog from the witnesses’ descriptions.
  • Take as many photos as possible. Get a visual record of every component of the accident. This means you should take photos of the dog, of all your immediate and visible injuries, and of anything else in the area that you find relevant and helpful to your case.
  • Seek out medical attention immediately. Many times, victims find out too late that their condition was worse than their symptoms would imply. You want to ensure that a medical professional okays your condition. Keep copies of any medical expenses and records.
  • Consider reporting the incident to animal control—especially if you do not know who the dog belongs to or if the dog is not wearing a license tag. In some cities and states, dogs are required to be quarantined after biting someone. This is to ensure that the dogs are not rabid. Animal control authorities may also be able to tell you if the dog has been involved in previous accidents before. This may help you negotiate with the dog owner or insurance adjuster or even win a case in court.

Generally speaking, dog owners are also liable in cases where their dogs cause damage or even kill other animals. If this has happened to you, consider seeking out the assistance of a qualified dog bite attorney to help you best navigate your case.

Seeking Legal Help

Whether you are the victim or the dog owner, dog bite accidents are always traumatic and hard to deal with. We at Injury Victim Law can help. Though we are a Colorado-based firm, our team of experts and investigators is ready and available to assist victims all across the country. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation with one of our experienced nationwide dog bite lawyers.

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