A dog that bites once might bite again. Once a dog understands how effective biting is, it could try doing it more often. Dog bites can cause serious injuries; dogs bite over 4.5 million people yearly, and 800,000 seek medical attention for their injuries. Depending on the dog’s breed and health, the consequences of a bite can vary from minor to fatal.
If a dog injures you, its owner is usually responsible for providing compensation. Different states have different laws about dog bites and damage recovery. This post explores why dogs bite and what to expect if you need compensation after a dog hurts you.
Why Do Dogs Bite?
Dogs are intelligent animals with excellent instincts. They rarely bite without reason. If a dog feels safe and fed, it is unlikely to bite. Unfortunately, dog owners do not always keep their animals safe.
Key reasons dogs bite include:
- Fear: Some dogs feel nervous when people get too close to them. They may growl, bark, or snap at the air to keep a person away. When this does not help, the dog may decide to take action by biting.
- Sleep startle: Many animals, including dogs, have a sleep startle reflex (also called sleep startle aggression) that overtakes a dog when something wakes it up suddenly. The dog’s brain signals danger and tells the animal to protect itself.
- Protection: Depending on the breed, dogs can vigorously protect their owners, food, toys, and house. These animals will bite if they believe something or someone they guard is in danger.
- Pain: An injured dog can bite to protect itself. They may even attack their owner out of frustration, pain, and fear.
- Play: Dogs can bite when they play around. They do not understand that their bites may hurt a person. Sometimes, the dog’s playful behavior could lead to a bite that penetrates the skin and causes damage.
By paying close attention to the dog’s behavior, an owner can notice warning signs and prevent the dog from hurting someone. In any case, dog owners are usually entirely responsible for their pet’s actions.
Who Is Responsible for a Dog Bite?
If a dog bites you, its owner is usually responsible. Even if you were playing around with the dog and it bit you, the owner can still be liable.
The definition of dog owner varies from state to state. For example, if a dog owner goes on vacation and asks the neighbor to watch the dog, the neighbor becomes its keeper or temporary caretaker. Depending on the state, the neighbor may be responsible if a dog bites someone during this period.
Sometimes, state laws have strict definitions of dog ownership. In other cases, you might need to go to court to determine liability in questionable situations.
You can hold professional caretakers responsible for a dog bite, including:
- Shelter employees
If the dog owner is under 18, their parents or legal guardians are responsible for the animal. For example, if a dog bit you when a 12-year-old child was walking it in the park, you would file a claim against the child’s parents or their insurance.
Landlord and HOA Liability
Many landlords avoid renting out property to tenants with dogs because if a dog bites you and you prove that the landlord knew about the dog’s propensity to bite, you could hold them responsible for your injuries.
If a dog bites you on the streets of a residential community controlled by a homeowners association (HOA), you may be able to hold it liable. The HOA must keep community spaces safe and hazard-free.
In some cases, the dog owner may argue that you were trespassing or provoking the animal when the bite occurred. These are the two most common defenses that dog owners use.
However, even if you are partially responsible for the bite, you may still receive compensation. The possibility of recovering damages depends on your state’s comparative or contributory negligence laws. Most states follow either modified contributory negligence rules. These rules mean you can recover compensation according to the percentage of your fault. However, some states follow other rules that do not allow victims who contributed to an accident to recover.
Liability in dog bite cases is not always straightforward. You may need to hire a dog bite lawyer to get the compensation you deserve. A lawyer can identify at-fault parties and prove their negligence. If you have questions about whether you can recover compensation in your state, contact a lawyer for more information.
Strict Liability Dog Bite Statute
This makes the dog owner fully liable for their dog’s actions regardless of what the injured person did, excluding:
- Trespassing or otherwise breaking the law when the bite occurred
- Intentionally provoking the dog
In many cases, dog owners do not realize that their dog can bite other people until the first bite occurs. Dogs that may seem calm, friendly, and mellow at home could exhibit aggressive behavior in stressful situations.
A strict liability dog bite law implies that an owner should know to keep their dog secured. Even if they did not expect the dog to bite, the owner must take precautions to prevent it from causing injuries. In short, all dogs are predators with sharp teeth. All of them can bite. If the owner does not protect other people from the possibility of a bite, they are fully responsible for the consequences.
However, if the dog owner can prove that you were trespassing or provoking the animal at the time a dog bit you, you may not be able to demonstrate their negligence or recover compensation.
This makes the circumstances of the dog bite important. To prove the dog owner's liability, you may need to conduct an in-depth investigation, collect eyewitness testimonies, find camera recordings, and more.
In some states, the one-bite rule may apply when a dog bites someone. Under this rule, the owner is not responsible for the dog’s behavior unless there is a history of aggression.
The problem with the one-bite rule is proving that the owner knew about their dog's propensity to bite. When a dog tries to bite someone but does not go through with it, a person rarely files a claim or notifies the police. That is why there is often a lack of records of such behavior. However, records are usually easy to find if the dog bites someone and causes injuries.
In either case, having a lawyer to help you gather information for your claim will make the process quicker and more efficient.
Dangerous Dog Laws
Owners of dangerous dogs can face criminal charges if their dog injures someone. Dogs do not necessarily need to bite anyone to be considered dangerous.
A dangerous dog has, without provocation:
- Inflicted a severe injury on a person
- Killed or caused severe injuries to a domestic animal
- Attacked a person
- Participated in a crime (a person may have used the dog to commit a crime)
Each state has laws that regulate the ownership of dangerous dogs. For example, owners must register their dogs as dangerous if they meet the above criteria. They also need to purchase liability insurance coverage.
If the owner does not follow strict rules and keep the dangerous dog away from people, they could face prison time. The dangerous dog that bites someone could become a candidate for euthanasia.
Recovering Damages After a Dog Bite
You can claim compensation if you can prove that the dog owner is responsible for your injuries. The damages you can recover in a dog bite case include:
Dog bites can cause serious injuries, including broken bones, nerve and muscle damage, lacerations, internal organ damage, and much more. If you require medical treatment for your injuries, the dog owner’s liability insurance may cover them.
Medical expenses usually include:
- Medical bills
- Transportation bills (if you need transportation but cannot drive because of your injuries)
- Surgical expenses
- Reconstructive surgery expenses
You may also require follow-up care for days or months after surgery and treatment. Some people may need therapy that lasts for years. You can seek compensation for past, current, and future medical expenses related to the bite.
If a dog bite causes you to have to miss work, you can seek compensation for lost wages. If your injuries are so severe that you cannot return to the work you used to do, you can recover lost income damages.
Pain and Suffering
Besides incurring expenses or losing wages, you can also face emotional trauma, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and other non-economic damages after a dog bite. When you sue the dog owner or file a claim with their insurance company, you can request compensation for such damages.
Many people, especially children, who experience a dog bite develop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). You may need medication and therapy for this condition and regain your quality of life.
You can also seek compensation if the dog damages your property during the incident.
Examples could include:
- Torn clothes
- Smashed smartphone
- Bicycle damage
The dog owner is usually responsible for covering property damages as well.
Negligence in a Dog Bite Case
In some states, including Pennsylvania, the strict liability dog bite statute does not allow you to get compensation besides medical expenses. To recover other damages, you must demonstrate the dog owner’s negligence.
To do so, you would need to establish:
- The dog owner owed you a duty of care
- The dog owner breached their duty of care
- The breach caused your injuries
- Your injuries led to damages
Generally, dog owners have a legal duty of care to act reasonably to prevent their pets from harming a person. To prove negligence, you must show that the dog owner did not exercise reasonable care to avoid a bite.
Reasonable care includes:
- Keeping the dog secure with a leash
- Placing the animal behind a fence
- Putting a muzzle on a dog
It also involves knowing the dog’s bite history and acting accordingly. If a dog owner knows that their pet bites—even if it does so playfully—they must take precautions to avoid an accident.
How an Experienced Dog Bite Lawyer Can Help
Even with strict liability laws, winning a dog bite case is rarely easy. By securing the assistance of a dog bite lawyer, you gain an edge over the at-fault party.
A lawyer can:
- Conduct an investigation, collect evidence, and solicit eyewitness testimony
- Prove liability and negligence
- Support you throughout the case
- Handle negotiations with the insurance company
- Represent you in court
If a dog bites once, it might bite again. A dog bite lawyer knows the local laws and can fight for the money you deserve if a dangerous dog attacks. With a lawyer in your corner, you have an opportunity to recover fair compensation.