If you’ve suffered severe injuries from a dog bite, you may be entitled to compensation from the owner, whether or not the owner had any reason to believe the dog was dangerous. A personal injury claim allows you to receive damages either by out-of-court settlement or court judgement, including, but not limited to, medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and punitive damages. Each state has its own laws regarding dog bites. Keep in mind though, if you win your case the dog will be put down. Dog bite personal injury claims should be taken very seriously.
“One Bite” Law
Many states follow a "one bite" law. These laws give certain dogs “one free bite” before legal action is allowed. If the owner should have known the possibility of a dog bite because of the dog’s breed, the way it was raised, or its demeanor, then the dog doesn’t get a free bite, and the victim may sue the first time it happens. If there is nothing that would have caused suspicion the owner suspicion then the dog and owner are safe from being sued.
These claims can be very complicated to win, because it’s hard to prove what the owner really knew and if the owner took the necessary precautions to make sure his dog wasn’t given the chance to bite someone. The victim must provide enough evidence to prove the owner’s liability.
Strict Liability Law
In states with strict liability, it doesn’t matter if the owner has reason to believe that the dog wasn’t dangerous. There are no “free bites” to any dog. Owners are subject to legal action the first time his/her dog bites someone else.
Most states enforce strict liability laws, and these are much more favorable to the victim than “one bite” laws. The victim only needs to show they didn’t provoke the dog and they were legally allowed to be where they were when the bite occurred.
Many states with either law have also have their own variations. For example, in Rhode Island, the strict liability laws only apply if the dog is out of its enclosure, but on the second offense the dog may be killed and the owner must pay double damages. In Utah, the strict liability law doesn’t apply to police dogs.
When You Should File a Personal Injury Claim
Before filing a claim in court, you need to consider if you really can prove the owner is at fault, or in “one bite” states, if the owner should have known the dog was dangerous. If you are doubtful of the outcome of your case, chances are a judge may be as well.
You also need to figure out how much in damages you would be able to get if you won. For less severe dog bites that involve no complications other than puncture wounds, you would be entitled to very low economic damages and have little leverage for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.
If a dog bite has caused significant injuries or disfigurement, you will have a better chance of a higher settlement.
How to File a Personal Injury Claim
You first need to send a demand letter to the owner and/or insurance company (usually his/her homeowner’s policy) detailing the bite, your injuries, and your treatment and recovery. Make sure to include evidence, such as copies of medical bills. If your claim is ignored or denied, or the negotiation isn’t satisfactory, you’ll need to file a claim in your state’s civil court. If you don’t already have one, you’ll want to hire a lawyer to represent you in front of a judge.