Can You Sue the Owner of a Dog Who Bites You?

Can You Sue the Owner of a Dog Who Bites You?

Millions of people every year in the U.S. are bitten by dogs. A fifth of those will have to seek medical attention for their injuries. If you’re the victim of a dog bite, you may be dealing with pain, trauma, scars, medical bills and other out-of-pocket expenses. It can seem grossly unfair to have to deal with a dog bite injury because of an owner’s carelessness. You’re probably wondering what the local law is in your state, and if you can sue the dog’s owner. The answer is, it depends.


What are the significant factors that are considered in a dog bite case?

The state in which the dog bite injury took place will be a huge deciding factor in what, if any, compensation you’ll get for your injury. Also, whether or not the dog owner had prior knowledge of a dog’s propensity to bite will be a huge factor in the case.


What criteria do states use to determine liability?

Dog bite laws can fall under different types of common law and also personal injury statutes when it comes to determining an owner’s liability. Many states, such as Texas, have what are called ‘one-bite-laws’ on their books. What this means is that basically, every dog gets one free bite before an owner is held liable. If you live in a ‘one-bite-law’ state, you’ll have to prove one of two things to hold the dog owner accountable for your injury:

  • The dog had bitten someone before or was otherwise aggressive with people.
    The dog’s owner knew the dog had violent tendencies.
  • If the dog who injured you hadn’t bitten anyone before you, it could be hard to prove that an owner knew the dog had vicious propensities.

For other states, their dog bite laws are governed under personal injury statutes. These states will take into consideration how other similar cases were determined.


What is strict liability and what does it mean for dog bite victims?

Some states use what are called ‘strict liability’ laws to determine if an owner should be held accountable for someone’s injuries. In strict liability states, it doesn’t matter if the owner knew if the dog was violent or not. With any dog who bites, the owner is always held accountable under strict liability laws.

Also, some states will deem certain dog breeds as ‘dangerous.’ If a ‘dangerous’ dog bites someone, the owner is liable. In these strict liability states, it also doesn’t matter if the victim trespassed and was bitten. They can still sue the dog’s owner.


What if the dog was provoked?

Provocation, under dog bite law, means that the victim either antagonised or encouraged the animal to bite. A judge will use the act of provocation to determine how much compensation the victim is entitled to.


What else will a judge look at when determining compensation for a dog bite?

  • Did the owner take reasonable precautions to secure the animal?
  • Was the owner in violation of any mandatory local ordinances regarding their dog?
  • Did the victim provoke the animal?
  • Did the owner have reason to believe that the dog was dangerous?
  • What is the animal’s history?
  • Is the dog’s breed considered ‘dangerous’ in the state where the injury occurred?


What should you do if a dog bites you?

You should seek medical attention ASAP, even if you don’t think you’re seriously injured. Even a small scratch can become infected or scar. Don’t admit any fault for the injury, but you should exchange information with the dog’s owner. It’s also important for you to know the dog’s vaccination history. If possible, get witness’s contact information. Next, file a report with the local animal control office.

Dog bite laws vary state to state and are nuanced and complex. If you’ve been injured because of someone else’s dog, it’s crucial that you contact an experienced personal injury, dog bite lawyer to handle your case.

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