Dog Bite Laws: Do You Need a Lawyer After a Dog Bite?

You may think that dog bites are rare, but the truth is around 4.5 million dog bites happen each year in the United States. Of those, 800,000 are severe enough to require medical treatment. To put this into perspective, the U.S. population in 2019 was 328.2 million, which means 1 out of every 73 people receiving a dog bite.

If you or someone you know is the victim of an attack by a dog, there are dog bite laws to protect you. Read on for more information, and if you suffer a bite contact a reputable personal injury attorney who will access your case and advise you on the best course of action.

Dog Owners Liability

Dog owners are responsible for making sure their pets do not damage property or injure people. They may be held responsible for medical treatment, lost wages, and more.

Normally if a person suffers a bite from a dog the owner’s home or renter’s insurance policy will cover the damage. The standard homeowner’s policy covers the legal liability a homeowner incurs as a result of their negligence in protecting others from their dog. What this means to you is that the owner is “collectible” in the event of a lawsuit.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, the number of dog bite claims nationwide in 2019 was 17,802. The average cost paid per dog bite claim was $44,760. The state of California has the highest number of claims in the U.S., reporting 2,396 in 2019.

Keep in mind that dog bites are not the only injury sustainable from a dog. Injuries may occur if a dog knocks down children, the elderly, cyclists, etc.

Dog Bite Laws

Each state and locality has laws that make the dog owner liable for injuries their dog causes. Some areas have “breed specific” statutes that identify breeds such as pit bulls, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds as dangerous. Regardless of what state or municipality you may reside in, there are three types of law that may impose liability on a dog owner.

1. Dog Bite Statute

This is a law that automatically holds a dog owner liable for any injury or damage to property a dog causes without provocation. In many areas, this is a strict liability law. That means the owner is responsible, even if they were not careless or negligent.

In the State of California Civil Code §3342 holds any dog owner liable when their dog bites someone in a public place. They are also liable if the bite takes place in a private place, including the property of the dog owner.

2. One-Bite Rule

This is a law that holds the dog owner responsible for injuries by their dog if the owner was aware the dog was likely to inflict that type of injury. The victim usually needs to prove that the dog owner knew the dog had a dangerous tendency.

Under Colorado’s Revised Statute, C.R.S. §13-21-124 the one bite rule does not apply to all cases. If the bite results in serious bodily injury, the dog owner may be found liable regardless of the owner’s knowledge of the dog being dangerous. The statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit on dog bite injuries is two (2) years from the date of injury.

The State of Washington has a similar dog bite statute, RCW §16.08.020, which holds an owner liable for biting a person in a public place or when on a private location, including the property of the owner.

3. Negligence Laws

These are laws that cover a wide range of injuries. In this case, the law may find a dog owner liable for injuries. This is likely if a determination is made that the dog’s owner was unreasonably careless in their care or supervision of the dog.

An example of negligence would be if a dog owner letting their dog “run free,” and the result was a person suffering an injury from the dog.

In proving negligence your attorney will show that 1) the owner had a duty to maintain control of their animal, 2) that they did not fulfill that duty and that failure was 3) the direct and proximate cause of the victim suffering injuries, and 4) that as a result of those injuries the victim incurred damages.

Criminal Penalties

While it is possible that a dog owner may receive criminal charges for failing to control their animal, that likely will not cover the damages the victim suffers. The criminal prosecution is for the purpose of punishing the dog owner for their failure to act appropriately. The court ruling may require the owner to pay a fee to the victim for their injuries, but that may not be sufficient.

When suffering injuries from the attack of a dog, you need to contact a personal injury attorney who can assess the injuries you sustain for a determination on whether you are deserving of damages that may be awarded in a civil lawsuit.

What To Do Following an Attack

If you are bitten or otherwise suffer injuries because of a dog, there are several steps you need to take:

  • Get the name and phone number of the dog’s owner, even if you do not think your injury is severe
  • Jot down the location of the attack and/or the owner’s address if known
  • Get names and contact information of any witnesses
  • Take pictures of the dog, the area, your injuries, and anything in the area that supports your version of what happened, such as an open gate, hole in the fence, etc.
  • Seek medical attention and keep records of all medical treatment, doctor’s names, etc.
  • Report the incident to animal control, especially if it was not wearing a license
  • Check with animal control to see if there have been any other reports on the same dog
  • Speak with a personal injury attorney to find out what local laws may apply to your situation

When you schedule a consultation with a personal injury attorney they will review all evidence you have from the scene They will also review medical treatment that was necessary following the bite. Your attorney will be knowledgeable in animal bite laws and will provide their legal opinion on the best manner to proceed.

Seek a Professional Opinion

Dog bite laws vary from state-to-state and city-to-city. For example, if a dog owner violates a leash law or leaves a gate open they may be liable in one location, but not another. Your personal liability attorney will review your claim and provide a legal opinion on the best way to proceed with your case.

Sweet Lawyers offer a 100% free consultation and are available 24/7 to answer your questions and schedule appointments. You may call, text, or email us at 1-800-674-7854 or contact us using our online form.

We handle personal liability cases on a contingency fee, which means you pay nothing unless we win your case. You have nothing to lose – call now!

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