According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs bite about 4.5 million people each year in the U.S. Around 800,000 of these bites result in severe injuries that carry risks of significant scarring, bacterial infection, and hospitalization or surgery.
The at-fault party’s homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy typically compensates dog bite victims. If the insurance provider fails to compensate the claim fairly, the victim can file it as a personal injury lawsuit for a court to determine liability and compensation. One of the most commonly asked questions about dog bite claims is how long it will take to get compensated. The answer to that question is: It depends.
5.Factors That Affect the Time It Takes to Receive Dog Bite Compensation
Several factors impact the time it takes to receive dog bite compensation. If the incident has clear liability and relatively minor injuries, the parties can settle in as little as a few weeks. However, some factors can cause the claimant to wait a year or more for compensation.
1. The Extent of the Injuries Suffered
Dog bite attorneys often wait until their client reaches maximum medical improvement before establishing a claim value and sending a demand letter to the at-fault party’s insurance provider. Maximum medical improvement refers to the point in a claimant’s treatment when their doctor believes that they have achieved the most meaningful recovery possible from their injuries, even if they continue receiving treatment.
The maximum medical improvement point is a good time to value the claim because it offers the clearest picture of the actual expenses required—will likely be required in the future—to medically treat the injury and its related complications.
Reaching maximum medical improvement can take several months in claims involving severe injuries. A delay in determining the claim’s value results in a delay in settlement negotiations and can add to the time it takes to receive a settlement or award for your claim.
2. How Your State Handles Dog Bite Claims
Each state has laws regarding dog bite liability.
Two basic rules govern dog bite claims in most states, though some states use a combination of the two.
- The one-bite rule means that the state's laws hold a dog owner responsible for injuries incurred due to a dog bite only if they knew or had reason to know that the animal was aggressive. The main way a person would know their dog was aggressive was if it had bitten someone before. Essentially, the one-bite rule allows the dog a "free bite" before facing liability.
- Strict liability means that the dog owner is liable if their dog bites someone, even if the dog’s owner had no reason to believe that their animal would bite someone or had taken measures to prevent a bite, such as keeping the dog in a fenced yard.
If you’re in a state that practices the one bite rule, determining the dog’s history and whether it had previously been aggressive can result in additional time for your claim, as the parties will need to gather evidence to prove these facts.
In a strict liability claim, the process is much clearer, as the claimant often only has to prove that the dog bit them while they were legally on private property or in a public space and that the bite injury resulted in specific financial and psychological impacts.
3. The Clarity of Liability
Even in strict liability states, there are exceptions to whether a dog owner is responsible for paying. For example, in Pennsylvania, a dog owner is strictly liable for compensating the victim for medical expenses from the injury. However, the victim may not recover other damages (such as wage loss or pain and suffering) unless they can prove that the owner knew the dog had unmistakably vicious tendencies and neglected to control it properly to prevent harm to others.
Most state’s dog bite laws exclude liability in certain circumstances, such as:
- Situations where the victim trespassed on the dog owner’s property when the bite occurred. For example, in Florida— a strict liability state—dog owners are not responsible for injuries incurred if they placed a warning sign on their fence stating something to the effect of “beware of dog” that is easy to read, and the individual who trespassed and was over the age of six and capable of reading the owner’s warning.
- The dog who bit someone was working for law enforcement, and the bite occurred within the scope of police-related activities.
- The victim was teasing the dog and provoking it to bite.
If liability is unclear, settlement negotiations will take longer. The at-fault party’s insurance provider will be reluctant to pay out on the claim, and the parties will need to gather evidence to show liability.
4. The Dog’s Owner Insurance Coverage
Many dog bite claimants are surprised to discover that one of the biggest factors in their claim’s value and the length of the compensation process is how much insurance the dog’s owner has. As noted, homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies are the most common sources of compensation in dog bite claims.
If the dog's owner does not have an associated insurance company, they can be held personally liable for compensating the claimant's injuries. However, if they do not have the money to pay for the victim's medical expenses out-of-pocket, you might not collect a court award without collection actions such as wage garnishment, significantly increasing the time it takes to receive payment.
Even if the dog’s owner is insured, many insurance companies exclude coverage of injuries caused by certain dog breeds categorized as dangerous, such as pit bulls or Rottweilers. These insurance companies make their insured sign liability waivers if they own this type of dog.
5. Whether an Attorney Is Involved
Many people choose to pursue compensation for dog bite expenses and effects on their own. Unfortunately, they often find themselves overwhelmed by the legal process and faced with a savvy insurance adjuster who either has no intentions of paying the claim or wants to offer a settlement far below the amount needed to cover the claimant’s expenses.
An insurance adjuster is an individual hired by the insurance company to investigate claims against policies and determine how much compensation to pay the claimant.
While this seems like a fair process in which the adjuster is legitimately interested in ensuring that the claimant gets fair treatment, the adjuster works for the insurance company. The insurance company doesn’t stay in business by paying out claims; they stay in business by collecting premiums and reducing or eliminating the claims paid out against the policies of their insured.
The insurance adjuster is looking for a reason to deny your claim. If the insured's liability to compensate for a dog bite's expenses and effects cannot be denied, the adjuster will attempt to settle for as little compensation as possible. If you don't understand dog bite law, the adjuster will likely take advantage of you by delaying their response, denying your claim, or convincing you to accept a lowball offer.
While accepting a lowball offer will quickly resolve your claim, the settlement will likely not be enough to cover your injury costs. An attorney can manage communication with the insurance provider to protect the claim's value and keep the conversation focused on negotiating a settlement agreement. If the insurance company fails to make a fair offer, an attorney can manage your claim and protect your right to use the court by filing a lawsuit within the statute of limitations.
Can’t Afford an Experienced Dog Bite Attorney?
Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingent fee basis where they do not get paid for their services until they garner a settlement or court award for their clients. At that point, a percentage of the total compensation received pays their fee.
Additionally, most personal injury attorneys offer free introductory case evaluations when explaining the personal injury claims process and answering questions. With these flexible and affordable services, anyone who needs legal help to seek compensation for dog bite injuries has access to that help, regardless of their financial status.
If You File a Lawsuit, Will Your Dog Bite Case Go to Trial? How Long Does That Take?
Television and movies depict lawsuits as drawn-out battles in the courtroom. On the contrary, most personal injury claims—including dog bite claims—settle before they go to trial. Some even settle after the trial has begun. In other words, it’s far more likely that your claim will settle outside of court. That said, there are no guarantees on how any dog bite claim will go, and various insurance companies have different approaches to settlement and court processes.
Having the guidance and assistance of an experienced dog bite injury attorney who is comfortable and confident in pursuing your injury’s financial and psychological costs, whether it involves a settlement or litigation, is hugely helpful for receiving maximum compensation.
Generally, the process of obtaining a negotiated settlement is faster than litigation. Most insurance companies prefer to settle because they avoid the expense, time, and uncertain outcome of litigation.
However, certain things can delay the settlement process in your claim, such as:
- Disagreements over the agreement terms. Settlements aren’t always just about compensation. Many settlement agreements include provisions about whether the at-fault party admits guilt for their actions or whether either party is permitted to make the amount of the settlement public. Even if you agree to a settlement amount, disagreements over other issues can delay the settlement, further delaying your compensation.
- How quickly the parties sign the release of liability. Once the parties agree to a settlement, they must sign documents to make it official. One of these documents is a waiver of any future legal claims made by the claimant against the at-fault party and their insurer for the dog bite injuries. Payment will not be processed unless the parties sign this release and return it to the insurance provider.
Even after you sign the release, it can take around four to six weeks to complete the payment process. The insurance company will send the funds to your attorney, who will deduct payment for their services, prepare documentation to finalize your case, and release the remainder of your compensation.
If you suffer dog bite injuries and need compensation to cover the expenses and effects, let us explore your legal options with you. Contact a local dog bite lawyer for your free case evaluation.