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Establishing Dog Bite Liability


Suffering an animal attack can be a traumatizing ordeal that leaves permanent physical and emotional scars. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States. Of these victims, nearly one million will seek medical care for their injuries, and almost 400,000 will require emergency treatment.

A dog underneath a fence
In many states, liability for an animal attack lies squarely with the pet owner.

An experienced personal injury attorney can help you prove dog bite liability and recover compensation for your injuries. Statutes concerning liability in animal attacks can vary widely depending on the city, county, or state in which the attack occurred.

Many dog bite victims do not pursue compensation for their injuries because they do not want to bring legal action against a friend or family member. However, when you file a claim for an animal attack, you are filing a claim against an insurance company, not against the individual who owns the dog.

Dog Bite Statutes

Each state has its own statutes concerning liability in animal attacks, and cities and counties within these states may have additional ordinances. A dog bite statute is any directive that provides specific legal rules for a case involving a domestic animal attack, regardless of whether it was a bite or other type of assault.

Dog bite statutes can generally be divided into one of two groups among states: statutory strict liability and one bite states.

Dog bite statutes can generally be divided into one of two groups among states: statutory strict liability and one bite states. However, there are a few states that have additional provisions to their statutes, and local ordinances may provide further stipulations.

One Bite States

One bite rules governing animal attacks are focused on whether the pet owner knew or should have known that the animal posed a threat of biting anyone. Occasionally, this means that an animal has to have previously attacked someone to make the owner liable, but it can also apply to certain breeds that are known to be inherently dangerous. Pet owners who do not adequately warn a house guest that their dog may be acting aggressively because of a recent injury or another event may also be held liable in the event of an attack.

In one bite states, the plaintiff must prove that the pet owner was aware or had reasonable cause to be aware that the animal may attack someone, and that the owner did not take the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of others. One bite laws apply in many states, including:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Wyoming

Statutory Strict Liability

In states that have enacted strict liability statutes, the pet owner is responsible for any injuries caused by the animal, provided that the victim was not trespassing or provoking the animal at the time of the attack. Victims in these states are not required to prove that the pet owner was aware of the danger posed by their animal. Statutory strict liability states include:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia (Washington D.C.)
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Mixed Law States

A few states have rules concerning dog bite liability that provide further clarification for specific instances:

  • Georgia - The owner of a vicious or dangerous animal may be held liable for injuries caused by the dog if negligence can be established.
  • Hawaii - A pet owner can be held liable for injuries caused by their animal if it is known to be dangerous or if the plaintiff can prove that the owner was negligent.
  • North Carolina - The owner of a dangerous dog can be held strictly liable for any injuries or property damage caused by the animal.
  • Tennessee - Pet owners have a duty to keep their animal under reasonable control (on a leash) at all times, and may be held liable for damages suffered by an individual in a public place or lawfully on private property.

Additional Regulations

In addition to statewide laws, many counties and cities have additional rules concerning liability in animal attacks. States also have differing statutes regarding what types of damages can be pursued following an animal attack. Victims in some states are only permitted to pursue damages for economic losses or medical costs, while others may be entitled to compensation for pain and suffering. An experienced dog bite attorney in your area can help you understand the laws pertaining to your specific case and the compensation to which you may be entitled.

Negligence

Victims of animal attacks can also pursue additional compensation for their injuries if the pet’s owner is found to be negligent in their care for the dog. Knowingly keeping a vicious animal can show a reckless disregard for the safety of others and may be sufficient to establish negligence. In other cases, negligence may be established if the owner failed to warn others of the inherent danger posed by their animal.

Possible Exceptions to Liability Laws

Exceptions to dog bite liability laws can also vary widely among cities, counties, and states. However, there are several general exceptions to these laws, including:

  • The victim was trespassing on private property at the time of the attack.
  • The victim was committing or attempting to commit a criminal act against the pet’s owner.
  • The victim had been appropriately warned of the danger of an attack and assumed the risk anyway (implied consent).
  • The victim was a veterinarian, trainer, or another type of animal professional who was working with the dog at the time of the attack.
  • The victim was provoking the animal (this does not apply to children under five years old).
  • The animal was assisting the military or police.

Additionally, service animals can also be an exception to liability laws because attempting to gather information about the dog can be considered a discriminatory act against the owner. A skilled animal attack attorney can help you determine liability and whether or not an exception may apply to your case.

Securing Damages in a Dog Bite Case

Domestic animal attacks are generally covered by homeowner’s or renter’s property insurance policies. This is an important aspect to remember if you were attacked by an acquaintance's pet, because rather than filing a claim against your friend, your claim will be filed against their insurance company.

Many victims are not aware of the true value of their claim and simply accept the first settlement amount that they are offered.

Many victims are not aware of the true value of their claim and simply accept the first settlement amount that they are offered. An experienced attorney can help you determine the appropriate amount of damages to pursue and negotiate settlements with the insurance company.

Following an Animal Attack

If you have been bitten or attacked by a dog or another domestic pet, it is imperative to contact an attorney to preserve your legal rights and ensure that you are eligible to receive adequate compensation for your injuries. Immediately following an attack, you should obtain as much information about the animal and the owner as possible, and seek medical attention. Many injuries caused by dog bites can be exacerbated over time, so it is important to be evaluated by a doctor immediately.

A dog bite attorney may hire an investigator to gather information about the owner and the animal’s history. The investigator will speak to witnesses and neighbors to determine if the animal is properly cared for or if the owner may be negligent. This information may prove crucial to demonstrating the facts of your case.

Contact an Experienced Dog Bite Attorney

If you or a family member has been injured in an animal attack, please contact an experienced dog bite attorney in your area to learn about your legal options. 

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