There are over 80 million dogs kept by over 50 million households in the US. But despite being man’s best friend, the love that we show dogs isn’t always reciprocated. In fact, a relatively recent study has shown that there are almost one million dog bite victims per year. Moreover, almost one out of every five bites is serious enough to require medical attention, a little more than one thousand victims per day are sent to the emergency room, and over 25 thousand people per year undergo reconstructive surgery to remedy the bite.
With that said, it’s easy to see why it’s so important to learn about your legal right to recover damages from dog bite injuries. So, let’s get right down to it. Here’s what you need to do in case of a dog bite:
- Get medical attention. This should go without saying, but the very first thing that you need to do after you get bitten by a dog is to get medical attention. The size and severity of the bite doesn’t even matter. You should always get medical attention just to be safe. If you are not treated promptly, a dog bite – or any animal bite for that matter – can and will cause a serious infection. What’s even worse is that the same infection can potentially cause death, especially if the dog was diseased at the time of the incident.
- Note the details. Although this may be a difficult time, always try to keep your cool. Jot down the details of the attack or at least keep a mental note of them. The more details you can remember, the easier it will be for you to make a legal claim. To support your claim, you should also get a certificate from your doctor which clearly states that you’ve been medically evaluated, as well as the extent of the injuries you’ve suffered. A statement from a witness of the attack can also be instrumental in helping you prevail in the case. This statement should obviously include the name of the witness, his contact information, and his detailed testimony on the incident. Lastly, make absolutely sure that you get the dog owner’s name and contact information. If you don’t get to meet the owner or you don’t find his contact information on the dog’s collar, try asking the witnesses, neighbors or other people in the immediate area.
- Call your attorney. Once you’ve got your notes in order, it’s time to consult your lawyer. After you’re done with the pleasantries, chances are that he’ll ask about the details of the attack and the documents you have to support your claim. Here’s where your notes, medical certificate, and witness testimony will come in handy. He might even offer to call the dog owner for you to negotiate a settlement.
Determining the Person Liable
The person liable for the dog bite may differ from state to state. But more often than not, that person will turn out to be the dog owner.
Some states impose a principle referred to as “strict liability.” Based on this principle, the dog owner will always be liable for the attack, regardless of whether or not he was negligent. Conversely, other states may require the victim to prove the presence of negligence on the part of the owner or other liable person. In relation to this, these states may have a “one bite rule,” which basically means that the owner will only be held strictly liable for the resulting injuries if the he knew of the dog’s “dangerous propensities.” These dangerous propensities are often considered to have manifested if the owner knew that the dog had previously attacked another person. Finally, a number of states also combine the one bite rule with strict liability. In New York, for example, the owner is strictly liable for the victim’s medical expenses after the first attack. If you want to be compensated fully for your lost wages, pain, suffering, and property damage, you will need to prove that the owner knew about the dog’s dangerous propensities.
Other persons who are potentially liable can include the following:
- Animal keeper. If an individual, other than the owner, has custody of the dog, then he can potentially be held liable for any injuries that the dog might cause whole in his care. Examples of animal keepers may include dog sitters and kennels.
- Parents or guardians. If the owner of the animal is a minor, then he obviously cannot be held liable for the injuries. Instead, the victim may sue his parents, whether or not they were involved in the attack.
- Property owners. A property owner who allows the dog to stay in his property is much like an animal keeper who has custody over the dog. If the dog attacks someone while it’s on his property, he can be held liable for the injuries that it caused.
- Landlords. Landlords are property owners in a sense. So, if they allow a dangerous animal on their property, then they can be held liable in case it attacks.
Determining the Amount of Damages
The type and amount of damages you can recover will depend on the injuries you sustained. In general however, victims are often compensated for their medical expenses, pain, suffering, property damage, and lost wages. Additionally, victims may also be entitled to punitive damages if the court allows. Punitive damages are awarded to punish the person liable for his dangerous acts or omissions, which in this case may either be intentional conduct or reckless negligence. For example, if the dog owner recklessly allowed his a large dog with dangerous propensities to run free near a school zone and the animal eventually attacks a child of tender years, then the court may determine that punitive damages are in order.