Even the most affectionate dogs are capable of biting someone. Between 4 and 5 million dog bites are reported in the United States every year, and according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), roughly 1 in 5 people bitten by a dog require medical attention. It’s important to remember that dogs of any breed can bite and that a dog who has bitten someone often does so out of fear, not aggression. If your dog bites someone, you may feel overwhelmed or scared. Read on for more information about what to do following the incident.
What To Do After Your Dog Bites Someone
If your dog bites someone, stay calm. Remove the dog from the situation immediately and bring it someplace safe, like another room. If you aren’t close to home, put it in your car or tie it to a nearby tree or stationary object. Stay close enough to warn others away from your dog so no more bites occur.
Check on the victim of the bite and determine how severe the injury is. If injuries include scrapes or broken skin, encourage the victim to clean the wound with soap and warm water. If the bite is deep or the victim was bit more than once, call 911 for medical assistance.
Exchange contact information with the victim, including your name, phone number, address, and your dog’s vaccination status (specifically when they had their most recent rabies vaccination).
If there were witnesses to the bite, get their full names, contact information, and written or recorded accounts of what they saw.
If your dog bites someone on your property, contact your insurance company. Many home and renter’s insurance policies cover medical costs from injuries or accidents.
Contact a lawyer as soon as possible to legally protect you and your dog. If the bite victim files a lawsuit against you, you’ll be ready to respond.
For more information, read Expertise.com’s articles "What Happens if You Get Bit By a Dog at Work?" and "What To Do if a Neighbor's Dog Bites You."
The Laws and Procedures Vary Between Jurisdictions
Dog bite law varies from state to state.
Strict Liability States
Owners who live in states with Strict Liability laws (like Alabama, Idaho, Maine, or Washington) are responsible for their dog’s actions (no matter what their dog’s history is or whether or not the bite resulted from their own negligence). The only exceptions to Strict Liability laws are if the person bitten was trespassing on your property, the person bitten provoked your dog, or if the person bitten understood the risk of interacting with your dog but did so anyway. Strict Liability rules differ across states, so check your local laws before proceeding.
Some states (including Mississippi, Nevada, Texas, and Virginia) follow the One-Bite rule. The One-Bite law would hold an owner responsible for a first-time offense only if that owner knew (or should have reasonably known) their animal was likely to bite someone. If your dog has bitten someone in the past and has shown aggressive behavior, or if the bite occurred because of negligence on your part, you can be held liable for your dog’s behavior. One-bite laws are part of the “common law,” or the rules a court refers to if a jurisdiction has no written law already addressing the conflict.
Recognize When Legal Representation is Necessary
If you are liable in your state for the dog bite, or if the dog bite is severe enough, the person bitten may press charges. If this happens, it is best to hire legal representation.
A lawyer will act as a liaison between you and the dog bite victim, animal control officers, the legal system, and insurance companies. A lawyer can also help protect you if your dog is wrongfully accused of biting someone, is accused of being aggressive or dangerous, or is accused of biting without provocation.
If you are found liable for injuries caused by your dog, a lawyer can also help you navigate the penalty. Common penalties include:
Quarantining for a preordained length (often 10-30 days) at home or a professional facility.
Keeping the dog leashed and muzzled in public.
Posting “Dangerous Dog” signs on your premises.
If your dog is deemed a legitimate danger to society, has attacked someone without provocation, or has previously bitten someone, the law may order your dog to be euthanized.
To protect yourself and your dog, find a lawyer in your state who is experienced in working with dog bite laws and related lawsuits, insurance claims, and settlements.
Types of Lawyers Specializing in Dog-Related Cases
When searching for representation in a dog bite case, contact a lawyer who specializes in the field (sometimes called “dog bite attorneys”). For example, attorney Kenneth M. Phillips is “the country's leading legal expert in dog bite cases.” Personal injury lawyers are also a common choice for defendants in dog bite cases.
You’ll need someone who understands your state’s dog bite laws and can evaluate your specific case. A good lawyer should be able to identify whether you are responsible for the victim’s injuries and what type of defense you can mount against the plaintiff (if any). They can also estimate any damages you may have to pay the plaintiff if you are found liable for their injuries, including medical expenses, lost wages, and “pain and suffering.”
Legal Procedure and Strategies in Personal Injury Cases
A dog bite victim must file a legal complaint within the statute of limitations (no more than 2 years in most states). If the complaint is filed after the statute of limitations has expired, you and your lawyer can present this information to the court and ask for a dismissal.
After a complaint is filed, an attorney will begin building your defense by collecting evidence, including your first-hand account of the incident, the statements of any witnesses to the bite, your dog’s veterinary records, the plaintiff’s medical records, animal control or police reports, and any photographs or other evidence the plaintiff intends to submit to the court.
Tell your lawyer if you believe the injured person provoked your dog, was trespassing, was never actually bitten, or understood the risk of a bite when engaging with your dog but did so anyway. Any four of these arguments can be used as a defense in court. An experienced lawyer will be able to organize all of the materials and information gathered to decide what type of defense to mount.
The majority of dog bite cases are settled outside of court. The plaintiff’s lawyer and your insurance company will likely request copies of the information you gather for the negotiation process. Keep your communication cordial and professional, and do not withhold information.
How To Choose the Best Dog Bite Lawyer for Your Case
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