Individuals who have suffered dog bite injuries can seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of their injury through the personal injury claims process. This process usually involves filing a claim against the dog owner's homeowner's or renter's liability insurance policy. If the insurance provider fails to pay the claim, you can file a lawsuit.
One of the essential services that an experienced dog bite injury lawyer can provide to assist you with your claim is establishing a value to your dog bite claim. Your claim’s value is the amount of money you seek from the dog owner’s liability policy. There is no set amount you must seek in your claim. Instead, a claim is valued based on several factors listed below.
How Much Insurance the Dog Owner Has
As surprising as it often is to clients, the amount of insurance resources available for a claim is one of the most significant factors in the claim's value. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), a homeowner's or renter's policy can cover dog bites.
Most policies have a limit of $100,000 to $300,000. However, many insurance providers will not insure certain breeds, such as pit bulls or Rottweilers.
Some will provide insurance but require the insured to sign a liability waiver. Others will not ask questions about the homeowner’s dog’s breed. However, if the dog bites someone and the insurance company is required to pay out on a claim for the injuries, there will often be consequences such as higher premiums, exclusion of the dog from coverage, or even loss of coverage.
If the dog’s owner does not have an insurance policy that provides coverage for dog bite injuries, you can file your claim directly against the dog owner. Unfortunately, this often will have negative impacts on your claim. While you can go to court and get a decision in your favor, if the dog’s owner does not have the money to pay your claim out-of-pocket, you will have to take collection actions against them, such as wage garnishment.
The Severity of Your Injuries
The more severe your injuries are, the more you may recover.
This is because:
- More severe injuries generally require more medical treatment, including overnight hospitalization, surgery, and ongoing treatment such as physical therapy.
- Serious injuries usually result in more time missed from work, which causes a loss of wages, benefits, and other income.
- More severe injuries are more likely to create permanent disabilities that can impair the sufferer’s future earning capacity.
- Serious injuries are also more impactful to the sufferer’s quality of life, resulting in a higher level of emotional distress, physical pain and suffering, and loss of the abilitnjy to participate in activities that the sufferer enjoyed before they were injured.
Dog bite injuries are hard to value because even if the initial injury was not serious, the bacteria in the dog's mouth can enter the wound and infect you.
How Your Dog Bite Injury Has Affected Your Quality of Life
Non-economic damages are compensation for psychological impacts such as pain, suffering, and emotional distress. These impacts do not come with a bill or provide a receipt that you can show to prove expenses.
Instead, insurance companies usually value non-economic damages based on a formula.
You will add your economic damages and non-economic damages to determine the potential value of your claim.
The Impact of Your Injuries on Your Ability to Earn an Income
When an unvaccinated dog bites someone, animal control can quarantine the dog for ten days to look for signs of rabies. You may need the rabies protocol, which is a series of four shots administered over several days. These shots must be administered in an urgent care center, an emergency room, or other health care facility and will often require the recipient to miss work to receive the vaccines.
As previously explained, the more serious a dog bite injury is, the higher the likelihood it will result in lost wages. You can recover compensation for all income, benefits, and other income you missed from obtaining treatment or recovering from your injury.
If the injury results in permanent disabilities and you can no longer work, you can seek compensation for the future income that you would have earned if you had not become injured.
For example, a mail carrier who lost the use of their hand in a dog bite injury could likely find a different form of employment to earn an income. However, if their income is less than what they made as a mail carrier, they can seek the difference between their income and what they earned before the accident.
The Ability to Prove Your Claim
Most states follow one of two rules regarding dog bite liability or a combination of both rules. In states that follow the strict liability rule, such as Florida, the dog owner must pay all expenses for injuries the victim suffered—even if the dog owner had no reason to know their dog was aggressive. In states that follow the one-bite rule, the dog's owner only pays for damages if they knew or had reason to know their dog was aggressive.
Because most dog owners learn of their dog’s aggression when it bites someone, what this means in those states is that the owner is not liable for injuries incurred by the first person the dog bit but will be liable for subsequent bites.
Some states have a combination of strict liability and one-bite rules. For example, in Pennsylvania, the dog’s owner is strictly liable only for medical expenses. To obtain compensation for wage loss or pain and suffering, the victim must show that the dog owner was negligent in protecting others from a known aggressive dog.
All states have exclusions to dog bite liability in cases where the victim trespassed, deliberately provoked the dog, or the bite occurred during the normal scope of duties for a dog working for law enforcement.
The evidence needed to prove your claim depends on the state’s liability rules for claims. In strict liability states, you generally only have to prove that you were legally on the property or in a public place when the bite occurred. If you have to prove negligence, you must show that the dog owner knew or had reason to know their dog was capable of aggression and failed to restrain it properly.
In some states, you can seek punitive damages in a dog bite claim. Punitive damages refer to compensation paid to the claimant, not for the expenses and impacts of their injury but to financially punish someone for particularly egregious behavior, such as knowingly allowing a vicious dog to roam freely or commanding the dog to bite someone. The claimant sometimes requests punitive damages if the case goes to trial, and the court determines the amount of these damages.
Several circumstances can make an individual responsible for their injuries, even in strict liability states, such as being bit by a dog while trespassing, committing a crime, or after teasing or provoking the dog.
How Long It Has Been Since You Were Injured
Each state has a statute of limitations on personal injury claims. This refers to the deadline set by state lawmakers for filing the claim as a lawsuit in court. In most states, the statute of limitations is between one to four years after the dog bite date. Failing to file the claim before the statute of limitations expires will generally result in losing the ability to use the court system to seek compensation for your dog bite injuries.
While most dog bite claims are resolved through settlement before trial, letting the statute of limitations expire on your claim will likely negatively impact your ability to obtain a settlement. This action negatively impacts your case because the insurance company knows you have no legal recourse if they do not pay the claim. Another essential service your dog bite injury attorney can provide for you is the management of the timelines in your claim to protect your option to file a lawsuit.
The statute of limitations applies only to filing the claim in court. The case does not have to resolve within that timeframe. Learn more of your rights after a dog bite injury from an experienced lawyer.
Your Patience With the Process
The process may take longer if you have serious injuries that need more compensation.
To value your claim, your attorney will likely wait until you have reached maximum medical improvement, which is the point when continued treatment of your injury may no longer result in meaningful recovery. This is when there is a clear picture of your expenses and impacts, current and future.
Once your attorney has valued the claim and gathered the evidence and documentation to prove its value, the demand will go to the dog owner's insurance provider. A claims adjuster will be assigned to the claim to investigate the details of the bite. Your medical treatment and determine how much compensation you deserve.
The claims adjuster can either accept or deny the claim as submitted. They can also offer a settlement, an out-of-court agreement to resolve the claim for less than its established value. A settlement offer can come before or after you file a lawsuit, and even after the trial begins.
Your attorney can negotiate with the claims adjuster on your behalf to get them to increase their offer. They can also evaluate your claim and tell you what amounts to a fair settlement. However, one thing your attorney cannot do is make the critical decisions in your claim for you.
Individuals who cannot wait for a better offer often agree to accept a settlement even if it is lower than they wanted or needed. However, the risk involved in that decision is that there will not be enough money to fully compensate for the expenses of the injury, leaving the claimant to pay the rest of the expenses out of pocket.
Do you have more questions about the process of obtaining compensation for a dog bite injury? Contact a personal injury attorney for a free case evaluation.