Victims of dog bites or attacks sometimes hesitate to approach a lawyer because they’re anxious about the potential cost of legal representation. Let us set your mind at rest on that score, right off the bat.
It should never cost you a penny upfront to hire a dog bite lawyer to represent you in a case seeking damages for your injury. Virtually all reputable dog bite lawyers work on a contingent fee basis. That means their payment consists only of an agreed percentage of any money they secure for you through a settlement, judgment, or jury award. If they do not get you results, then you owe them nothing.
Other types of lawyers do sometimes require upfront payments, or bill their clients hundreds of dollars per hour as a case goes along. But not dog bite lawyers, whose central principle is that the party at fault for a client’s injuries should pay, not the injured client.
Dog bite lawyers also normally offer a free initial consultation to potential clients. They do this because they know it’s not reasonable to expect dog bite victims to pay a lawyer just to hear whether the lawyer thinks the victims have a case. An injured person should never have to spend money just so a lawyer can learn about what happened, how the victim got injured, and whether the lawyer can help.
An initial consultation is not binding. In fact, dog bite victims are free to—and absolutely should—discuss their injuries with multiple lawyers to find one that they are comfortable working with.
The important takeaway is this: If you are one of the roughly 4.5 million people bitten by dogs every year across the United States, and the bite caused significant pain and disruption in your life, talk to a lawyer right away about seeking compensation. It won’t cost you a dime to do so.
The Benefits of Working With a Lawyer
Knowing that you don’t have to shell out large sums of money to hire a lawyer to represent you in a dog bite case hopefully eliminates any financial worry you might have about seeking legal representation.
But, if you are like many dog bite victims, you still might not feel certain about why you need a lawyer to represent you in a dog bite case. You might think: why share any settlement money with a lawyer if I can just get the same amount by doing the work myself?
The response to that question, for the vast majority of people, is: Because you probably can’t get anything close to the same amount of money a lawyer could get you.
Lawyers have an age-old saying: A man who represents himself has a fool for a client. Why a fool? Because having a lawyer offers a wide range of benefits that enhance the value of a dog bite claim, and it makes little sense to choose to go without them.
Here’s a brief overview of some of the most important benefits of hiring a dog bite lawyer.
Knowledge of the Law
By way of illustration, consider Philadelphia’s detailed laws and regulations relevant to dog bites, which can potentially work in favor of victims, if you know about them. For example, dogs cannot roam freely in the City of Brotherly Love; owners must leash them outside of their own private property at all times. Leashes also cannot exceed six feet in length. Only people capable of controlling the dog should leash it and walk with it. Proving a violation of these ordinances can help establish a dog owner’s liability for a bite.
That matters, because Pennsylvania law contains a somewhat convoluted, partial strict liability rule for dog bite injuries. By statute, a dog’s owner or keeper must pay for a bite victim’s medical treatment in most cases. It does not matter whether the owner acted responsibly or not in controlling the dog. The owner (or often, the owner’s liability insurance) pays medical costs, period.
But, of course, dog bites can cause harm and injuries that extend far beyond mere medical costs. A severe dog bite or attack can cause victims to lose time from work, and thus cost them lost wages. Injury victims can also experience pain and suffering, especially if the bite caused severe injuries, impacted their ability to work or engage in favorite activities, or inflicted emotional trauma. Dog attacks can also damage a victim’s personal property, such as clothing, electronics, and so on.
Pennsylvania law does not automatically hold dog owners liable for these other damages. Instead, if you want to force a dog’s owner, keeper, or someone else to pay you for the multiple other ways a dog bite harmed you, then you must find a way to prove that party acted negligently, recklessly, or intentionally. That might entail demonstrating violation of a dog-related local ordinance, like Philly’s strict leash laws. Or, it might require locating and securing evidence to establish that the owner knew the dog had vicious tendencies and had attacked before.
Knowing how the law shapes these issues makes proving liability for dog bite damages possible. Without that knowledge, your case has little chance of a favorable financial outcome.
Dog bite cases frequently involve insurance coverage. Dog owners, for instance, commonly carry homeowners or renters insurance policies that include liability protection for animal attacks. Businesses that face legal liability for a dog bite also routinely carry insurance that could cover a victim’s damages.
Just because someone carries liability insurance, however, does not mean it’s a sure thing that a victim will receive payment from that insurance. Quite the opposite: liability insurance companies have vested interest in limiting the amount of money they pay in liability claims. That’s how their business works. Paying out claims to dog bite victims impacts their bottom line, so the less money they pay, the better for them.
But not, of course, for dog bite victims. This is why victims need a strong negotiator on their side who understands how liability insurance companies operate, what matters to them, and how to extract the maximum payment from them through skilled negotiating strategies and tactics.
Dog bite victims who go without the help of a skilled attorney often find themselves the targets of aggressive insurance tactics designed to undermine their claims. Some insurance companies, for example, will offer quick, low-ball settlements directly to victims, hoping the victims will not realize how much their claims are really worth. Others might convince victims to agree to a recorded interview, in which an insurance adjuster asks carefully worded questions designed to trip up the victim and undermine the claim.
Experienced dog bite lawyers know all about these tactics, and do not let their clients fall for them. They know the value of their clients’ claims. They protect their clients from aggressive tactics. They pick and choose the best moments to negotiate with insurers to exert maximum pressure for a favorable settlement.
In almost any dog bite case, an attorney skilled at negotiating with insurance companies can achieve a far better outcome than a victim would achieve on their own.
Credibility for Your Claim
Hiring a lawyer also benefits a dog bite victim by giving the victim’s claim legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of defense lawyers, insurance companies, judges, and juries. That’s important. If those parties do not take your claim seriously, then you have no hope of achieving a top-dollar outcome.
The reality of our legal system is that, except for the smallest of small claims matters, no one takes people who represent themselves particularly seriously. Their claims, however legitimate, do not get the same attention, or achieve the same values, as identical claims presented by lawyers. The entire system regards them as the proverbial person who has a “fool for a client.”
In other words, the reason dog bite cases result in far more favorable outcomes when lawyers represent injured parties is not just because lawyers can do a better job of pursuing the claim. It’s also because the lack of a lawyer inherently restricts a case’s value, because the people who make the decisions about how much money the injured person will get simply take lawyerless claims as less serious.
What to Do After a Dog Bite
Dog bite attacks can frighten or overwhelm victims. It’s a good idea to know what to do in case of one.
Before turning to specific steps to take, let's review after-bite care. Your primary goal in the aftermath of a bite is safety and health. All other considerations are secondary. Dogs injure thousands of people per year—and some bites can prove fatal. A small child, for example, can bleed to death from a severe dog bite. Adults can die from severe attacks. Infection is a huge risk in dog bites.
Dogs also sometimes carry rabies, which is almost 100 percent fatal if left untreated.
Your second goal is public safety. A dangerous dog, by law, has inflicted injury or death on a human or domestic pet before. Law enforcement can take steps to ensure that owners handle dangerous dogs more safely and that a dangerous dog does not injure the public. But to do that, law enforcement needs to know that attacks have occurred. If you don’t report an attack, police have no way of knowing that a dog is potentially dangerous. Call the police or local animal control if a dog bites you.
Specific steps to take after a dog bite are as follows.
- If you aren’t seriously injured, call the police. If you received serious injuries, call 911.
- If the owner is present, ask if the dog has appropriate vaccinations. Exchange contact information, such as e-mail.
- After you speak to the police and the owner, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Staunch any bleeding with clean clothes.
- If you have antibiotic ointment, apply it to the wounded area.
- See your personal physician or go to an emergency room as soon as possible. Don’t assume you don’t need to see a doctor! Physicians can see to your injuries much better than any layperson. If you need stitches, for example, your doctor can do that.
- They can also give you rabies and tetanus shots if needed. They can check on when you last had a tetanus shot.
- Follow any doctor’s recommendation and keep records
- Take pictures or videos of your injuries
Your doctor will likely tell you to watch the wounded area closely for signs of infection.
Signs of infection include:
- An increase in pain
What to Know About Dangerous Dogs
As we mentioned above, dogs that have injured or killed a person or a domestic pet without any provocation are known legally as dangerous dogs.
The law in Pennsylvania can levy criminal penalties for keeping a dangerous dog. That’s one of the reasons you need to inform law enforcement of an attack. The owner might, for example, need to keep the dog within a fence or other constraints on private property. Most dangerous dogs must receive a microchip and become registered.
Owners will also have to use a system to inform the public that a dog is dangerous, such as a sign.
Generally, the criminal penalties are fines.
At times, the courts may order the owner of a dangerous dog to compensate injured individuals.
However, you can bring a dog bite suit or be compensated for medical bills related to a dog bite injury regardless of whether a dog is deemed dangerous. Civil courts adjudicate dog bite suits such as dog bites. Criminal courts adjudicate criminal charges like dangerous dog misdemeanors. The two systems are completely separate. The only bearing the one has upon the other is the potential to use a criminal conviction as evidence in a civil trial.
For further information about your legal options after suffering a dog bite injury, consult an experienced dog bite attorney.