Can You Sue for a Dog Bite?
Dogs are often considered a man’s best friend. As much as we hate to think our best friends can hurt someone, dog bites often happen and sometimes create unfortunate situations. If you have been injured by a dog, you are perhaps dealing with pain, loss of income, mounting expenses, you may consider legal action.
The good news is that you have options for resolving your case. You are indeed able, in some cases, to sue the owner of the dog that has injured you and recoup any damages caused by their pet. However, this process can be complicated, and it is important to be aware of the law and your rights.
A Common Occurrence
There are around 90 million pet dogs in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those dogs cause approximately 4.5 million bite injuries per year. The actual number of injuries is likely much higher, as there is no centralized data collection regarding dog bites and many instances go unreported, but an estimated 20 percent of those injuries are serious enough to require medical attention. More than half of dog bites involve dogs that are familiar to the victim. Children, especially those ages five to nine, are most often the ones injured.
Dog Bite Laws Can Vary
Laws concerning dog bites vary from state to state. There are two basic types of dog bite laws: negligence or strict liability. Under negligence laws, the owner is only held responsible for injuries caused by their dog if they had reason to believe that the dog would bite or if they were negligent. This can also be called the “one bite rule” because, in the past, dog owners were given one “free” bite before they could know their dog was prone to biting. Today a dog’s personality, breed or history could potentially qualify it as prone to biting. The dog’s owner can be found negligent based on his or her behavior. For example, if he or she allowed their dog to roam without a leash. In almost all states, children are not subject to a claim of negligence, as they are often too young to recognize dangerous dog situations.
Strict liability laws are more straightforward. Owners are responsible for injuries caused by their dogs in almost all cases. Illinois, for example, is a strict liability state. An owner may not be liable for their dog’s actions in two cases: if he or she can prove that the injured person was trespassing or if the dog was provoked. Typically, a situation that causes a dog fear or pain can be justified as a provocation, for example, if it was being taunted or it was acting to protect its family.
There is also state statute of limitation laws that govern personal injury cases like dog bite injury cases. If you wait too long to seek damages, you could lose your right to do so forever. In Illinois, you have two years from the date of the attack to file a lawsuit with the courts.
Some dog breeds are recognized by insurance companies and cities as aggressive and targeted by breed-specific legislation and bans designed to enhance public safety. Breeds most commonly affected by these laws are pit bulls and other bull terrier-type dogs, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Dobermans, Chow-Chows and others. These regulations are controversial but are in use in many cities and may influence your case.
The homeowner’s insurance policy of the dog owner typically will cover the damages incurred by the offending animal, even when the attack happened away from their home. In 2017, over $686 million was spent by insurance companies to cover dog-related injury claims, about one-third of claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm Insurance. That figure has been growing steadily every year in terms of both the number of claims and dollar amount of payouts.
An insurance company’s involvement may take some stress away from the situation because you can recover damages from a company and not the owner directly, who may be a friend or other loved one. This also guarantees that any compensation won will actually be paid. However, insurance companies are notoriously difficult to deal with. It helps to navigate this process with an attorney who has dealt with insurance companies before and can be sure they are treating you fairly.
Suing for Damages
Sometimes these cases are handled privately and settled by the owner or the insurance company without going to court. There are other instances in which a lawsuit is necessary.
The advantage of settling out of court is that you will receive your money much quicker and can resolve the case sooner. The disadvantage is that you may end up with less money this way, but not always. Again, speaking with an experienced attorney will help you decide which course of action is best for your case.
What to Do If You Are Bitten
There are steps to take immediately after a dog attack that can increase your chances of being compensated for your suffering. It is crucial to have well-documented evidence of the attack and your injuries, even if you are unsure of how you will proceed.
• Receive the appropriate medical attention and follow all prescribed treatments.
• Photograph your injuries. Proper documentation is crucial.
• Notify the owner of the dog if he or she is not aware of the incident already.
• Get names and contact information of anyone who may have witnessed the attack.
• Report the incident to the local police and/or animal control, especially if you feel the dog continues to be a danger to other people.
• Contact a personal injury attorney.
Briskman Briskman & Greenberg Can Help You
If a dog has injured you or a loved one, contact an attorney without delay. You will want to go over the facts of your case and review your rights with an expert. At Briskman Briskman & Greenberg, we are proud to help people recover after the trauma of a dog bite injury. Call us today at 1.877.595.HURT (4878) to speak directly to one of our attorneys and get your free consultation.