Dogs come in all sizes, from the tiny Chihuahua to the gargantuan Mastiff. On the whole, dogs are lovable and peaceful creatures. They mean no harm and seldom cause it. Unfortunately, non-aggressive dogs sometimes unintentionally trip or knock people down, resulting in injuries.
Non-aggressive dog accidents are responsible for thousands of trips each year to emergency rooms around the country. The amount of medical bills, lost time from work, and related pain and suffering is staggering. If you or a family member is hurt by a dog, whether intentionally or not, you’re probably wondering what legal rights you have.
In this section, we’ll review:
- Common non-aggressive dog accidents
- Dog owner negligence and liability
- Proving your personal injury claim
- Dealing with the insurance company
- The role of attorneys
Common Dog Accidents
While bites and maulings are the most common form of injuries caused by dogs, there are additional accidents responsible for thousands of injuries each year. They include knock downs, tripping and falling over dogs, and even head butts. Large dogs can weigh more than a hundred pounds. In an excitable state, they can easily jump up on us and knock us down. Groups of dogs can quickly overwhelm us, causing scratches, cuts, and abrasions (scrapes).
The mere force of a large dog’s body can be enough to push us back and over. And smaller dogs can wind between our legs and trip us up, causing us to fall on hard surfaces. Small children and the elderly are generally more susceptible to these types of non-aggressive dog accidents.
Culpability and Negligence
The definition of culpability is “…deserving of blame or being wrong, improper, or injurious.” When it comes to personal injury claims, a culpable dog owner is one whose failure to control his dog results in injuries to others. Failing to control a dog is an act of negligence, even before the dog causes an injury. That is, the mere failure of the dog owner to control his dog makes him liable.
Examples of negligent dog owner behavior include:
- Failure to leash a dog
- Failure to control a dog while on its leash
- Failure to keep a dog fenced in
- Failure to contain a dog to the owner’s home or car
Negligence makes a dog owner responsible, or liable, for the injured victim’s damages. Damages include the victim’s medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses for medications, crutches, bandages, etc., lost wages, and the victim’s pain and suffering (emotional distress). Complicating the issues of negligence and liability are the so called one-bite and strict liability laws.
“One Bite” Laws
In states with a one-bite rule, if a dog never previously injured a person nor exhibited any signs of violent behavior, the dog’s owner won’t necessarily be liable for the victim’s injuries.
This means a person whose dog has no history of injuring others might escape liability the first time his dog injures someone, whether purposely or by accident. There’s a caveat. Even in a one-bite state, if the victim can show his injuries were caused by the dog owner’s negligence, the one-bite rule is set aside, and the victim is eligible to seek and recover compensation for his damages.
One-bite states include: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.
Applying the one-bite rule…
Susan lived in Wyoming, a one-bite state. It was early morning and she decided to take her collie, Lad, out for a walk in the neighborhood. She had the collie on a leash. Lad never before bit or caused an accidental injury to another person.
While Susan was walking Lad, her neighbor Louise came out to say hello. As Louise approached Susan, the dog jumped up and knocked her to the ground. As a result of the fall, Louise broke her ankle. She filed a claim with Susan’s homeowners insurance company, but they denied it.
The company based its denial on the one-bite rule. Susan’s collie had no history of violence, and because the collie was on its leash, there were no signs of negligence. Louise then filed a lawsuit, but the court agreed with the insurance company and dismissed her case.
In Louise’s case, if we were to change the facts just a bit, the outcome would be entirely different. Let’s say Susan took Lad for a walk but didn’t put him on a leash. In this case, the failure to leash the collie is probably sufficient evidence to prove Susan negligent. This would be an exception to Wyoming’s one-bite rule. The insurance company would then likely pay Louise’s injury claim.
Strict Liability Laws
Strict liability states do not follow the one-bite rule. In a strict liability state, a dog owner can be held liable for a victim’s damages even if the dog has no history of injuring anyone, nor showed any tendency toward violence. Even if the owner properly leashes or otherwise controls the dog, in a strict liability state the dog owner is still liable.
Applying strict liability…
John lived in New Jersey, a strict liability state. John kept his German Shepherd fenced in on his property. The German Shepherd was a peaceable dog and in the five years since its birth, it never injured anyone nor showed any tendency toward violence. John was having a barbecue and invited some neighbors. During a touch football game, John threw a pass to his neighbor Alex.
Alex didn’t realize it, but as he jumped up to catch the pass, John’s dog positioned itself right underneath him. When Alex came down, the dog tripped him up. Alex wrenched his knee and tore several ligaments. He filed a claim against John’s homeowners insurance for his injuries. In his claim, he alleged under New Jersey’s strict liability law he should receive compensation, regardless of whether John’s failure to leash his dog constituted negligence.
John’s insurance company grudgingly paid Alex’s claim, admitting under strict liability that John was liable, even if this was the first time his dog caused injury to anyone.
Several exceptions apply to dog accident claims. Under these exceptions, whether negligent or not, a dog owner may escape liability for injuries his dog causes. The exceptions are when:
- The victim was trespassing
- The victim was purposely provoking the dog
- The dog was a police, airport security, or military dog
- The victim was a professional who deals with dogs, such as a veterinarian, dog trainer, etc.
Gathering Evidence to Support Your Claim
Photographs and video
Photographic and video footage can provide graphic evidence of negligence. An insurance company is hard-pressed to deny the insured’s negligence when presented with clear and convincing photographic or video proof.
Unless you get lucky, it’s impossible to video an accident as it happens. In some cases though, you can photograph or video the accident’s aftereffects. Showing video of a loose dog, a hole in the dog owner’s fence, or other evidence can prove the dog owner behaved negligently.
When taking photographs or video, make sure you engage the date and time stamp function on your digital camera or cell phone. Look around. Depending upon where your injury took place, a local store, school, or other facility may have surveillance cameras pointed toward the area where the accident happened. If you’re lucky, video footage may have captured the whole thing.
Witness statements and incident reports
Witness statements are invaluable, especially when they’re from independent Good Samaritans with no personal or financial interest in your claim. There’s no need for notarized or sworn statements. That’s only necessary if someone were to later dispute the authenticity of a signature, which seldom happens.
Get your witnesses’ statements on any paper you can find. Ask them to write down in detail exactly what they saw, along with their names and contact information. The more witnesses you have verifying the dog owner’s negligence, the stronger your claim.
Medical records, bills, etc.
Treatment records, medical bills, receipts for out-of-pocket expenses, and verification of lost wages are essential components of your personal injury claim. The insurance company needs them as a basis for calculating any compensation they eventually pay.
Make sure you attach copies of doctors’ notes, especially those stating your injury diagnosis and the prognosis for recovery. It’s important the diagnosis include not only the type of injury, but a description of its cause. The prognosis helps the insurance company determine how many future work days you may miss, and the duration of your probable pain and suffering.
Dealing With the Insurance Company
Dealing with insurance companies doesn’t have to be a hostile or adversarial process. Although they don’t like to give away money, if your claim is well-presented they’ll cooperate. The insurance company may want to take your recorded statement and speak with your witnesses. That’s normal. When giving your statement, just stick to the facts. Don’t mention anything that would imply you contributed to your own injury.
In some states, even the smallest amount of contribution to your own injury is enough to legally deny your clam. In others, the courts compare your contribution to your injury with the dog owner’s negligence, and you’ll receive an award reduced by your percentage of fault.
Tell the truth but stick to the facts. Giving your opinion or complaining will only make you look unprofessional. The more professional you are, the higher the likelihood the insurance adjuster will take your claim seriously.
Make sure you provide to the insurance company your photographic and video evidence, witness statements, and all other proof of damages. Remember, your damages consist of the costs of your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and your pain and suffering.
The Role of Attorneys
If your injuries are the less serious soft tissue type, you can probably handle your own claim. Soft tissue injuries include sprains and strains, minor cuts, abrasions (scrapes), and the like. However, if your injuries are the more serious hard injuries, you need an attorney. Hard injuries include head trauma, broken bones, deep gashes, burns, and so forth. With hard injuries, there’s just too much at stake.
Your attorney can take the depositions (recorded, sworn statements) of store managers, employees, adverse witnesses, and others with knowledge of your claim. She can issue a subpoena duces tecum (Latin for “produce the evidence”) for company records, surveillance footage, and other evidence you otherwise couldn’t secure on your own.
What’s most important is that attorneys can file a lawsuit, if necessary. The mere possibility of a lawsuit is often enough provocation for an insurance company to settle.
Because personal injury attorneys don’t charge for initial office visits, you can see several before deciding which one you think will best represent your interests. And personal injury attorneys don’t charge any fees in advance. You only have to pay legal fees if your attorney successfully settles your claim or wins it at trial.
Postman Knocked Down
In this case a large Labrador jumped up on a postman, knocking him to the ground. The mail carrier suffered a broken tailbone which caused excruciating pain.
How Much is Your Injury Claim Worth?
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Visitor Questions on Dog Attacks
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Back last August 2016, a friend of mine was dog sitting my 11 month old English bulldog. During a routine morning walk, he saw a neighbor and excitedly jolted towards his direction, causing the man to as she says trip and fall over. The fall caused a black eye and pain in his wrists. She... Read More.
I was leaving work and saw a family outside waiting for their family member to get out of work. They had two dogs. I asked if I could pet them and the owner said I could pet the one that he was holding but suggested that I not pet the one that the son was... Read More.
I was biking on a country road (southern Idaho), when a dog I hadn’t even noticed tore across the road out of the driveway of a house and ran into the side of my front wheel. I was going about 15-20 mph, and of course, totally crashed. A man came out of the house and... Read More.
A few weeks ago, my dog was playing off leash with two other dogs at the local neighborhood park at dusk. One of the other dogs was a dog I was watching; the other was one that was off leash when we got there. I made verbal contact with the owner of the other dog... Read More.
My mom watches my Min Pin (Miniature Pinscher) when I work because he has diabetes and can’t see too well. He has to have insulin every 12 hours. When I was at work my mom was taking my dog for a walk in her yard where she lives. My dog was on his leash in... Read More.
I was walking my dog on a leash one night and we were near my neighbors window (we live in an apartment complex that has an outdoor courtyard that all the apartment windows face into). My dog saw a cat in the windowsill and ran towards it. He hit the window and broke it (he... Read More.
A group of neighbors were putting religious pamphlets on doors on our block. One lady entered my property and approached my boyfriend who was sitting in the garage with our Komondor. The dog was leashed and the leash was attached to a permanent hook in the garage door frame. My boyfriend saw the neighbor, and... Read More.
We live out of town on a “frontage” road, several miles outside of City limits, with no close neighbors. My husband and I were unloading our truck and a bunch of bicyclists came down the road. Our Mastiff was loose (we let her loose when we are outside with her). She ran out and startled... Read More.
I was walking a big dog (for work) and the dog pulled me down while chasing an animal. The fall was not on the homeowners property. I have had two rotator surgeries due to this fall, and perhaps more surgery is due. I am unable to work again in this field. I am on workers... Read More.
My dog recently got out of his collar and ran away. A lady was trying to chase him down and got hit by a car. She has been feeding him and has other dogs that he plays with, so he always goes to her. People are telling me that she plans on making a claim... Read More.
While taking my dog (11-yo boxer) on her daily morning walk, another neighbor was walking her dog. Both dogs were leashed. Once my dog spotted her dog, she lunged and the retractable leash sliced into my finger causing me to drop the leash. Both dogs started fighting. Neither dog was injured, but the neighbor fell... Read More.
My neighbor’s dog ran at me and into me while riding my bike, causing me to fall. I was diagnosed with a separated shoulder (AC Separation grade 1), along with multiple contusions and abrasions. The physician told me I should not go to work for 4 days due to the pain, so I missed 4... Read More.
A neighbor was walking his own dog one morning minding his own business, when our dog broke free from her leash and ran into him and his dog in the street in front of our house. This caused him to twist and turn and tweak his knee. This neighbor is now claiming that the incident... Read More.
I went to see friends at their house. When I went to go inside one of her dogs went to go out the door, so I bent down to stop it and her other dog (Great Dane) hit me and broke my nose. I have went to see an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor. He... Read More.
A tenant’s teenage girl came over to my house to return a spray bottle. While doing so, when I opened the door my dog, Snoopy, slipped though and ran past us. The girl grabbed Snoopy from behind and then the dog whipped back and they accidentally butted heads. She went home immediately afterwards. I went... Read More.
During a birthday party 3 years ago at my wife’s sister’s house in Washington, one of my wife’s parents’ elderly friends was injured when she was entering the home. The lady started to come in the front door, and as others were helping her up the steps (3 steps), my sister-in-law’s excited dogs (two large... Read More.
About a month ago my dog ran out of the gate and jumped on my neighbor who was walking on the street in front of my house. My neighbor fell back and was taken to the emergency room and released two hours later. She has been claiming to have back pains for the past month... Read More.
Close to a month ago, I was walking my dog in the neighborhood one night and she was on a leash. At the same time a neighbor was allowing their large dog to run free on a basketball court where signs are clearly posted prohibiting animals on the court at all. Soon after I turned... Read More.
My dog was with my son and his friends in a leash free zone. My dog bumped one of the friend’s knees from behind. He was also on unstable ground. They said he slipped forward off a little hillock then fell back on his butt. They didn’t think he was hurt at all at first... Read More.
My mother had cornea surgery a year ago. All was well and she was completely healed soon after the surgery. Then her dog got excited and accidentally butted his head into her eye and loosened the cornea. She found out four months later and there is a good chance she will be permanently blind. Will... Read More.
I live in Tolland, CT. In September of 2011 I was in the backyard with my sister’s dogs. I do live with my sister. One of the larger dogs came running at me full force, hit my leg with her butt and knocked me down. I went to the hospital to find out I had... Read More.
My dog jumped up on my father-in-law while he was playing with the dog. It caused him to fall and hit his side against our picnic table. The fall caused our father-in-law to fracture a few of his ribs. Can he sue us or will he sue the homeowner’s insurance company? Read More.
I was walking up the stairs with two bowls of oatmeal in my hands and my landlord’s dog ran between my feet and caused me to fall. I hit my head and was given a cat scan at the emergency room, I had a broken right wrist, sprained left wrist and bruising. I received approximately... Read More.