Essential Tips for Proving an Owner's Liability for Dog Bite Injuries
The National Center for Disease Control estimates at least 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year.(1) More than 885,000 of those victims receive bites serious enough to require medical treatment. Dog bites most often occur on residential property, but can happen anywhere people and dogs mix together.
Dog bite injuries are not only serious for victims, but also for dog owners and their insurance companies. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the insurance industry pays out more than $483 million in dog bite claim settlements and jury verdicts yearly. (2)
What to Do if You're Bitten by a Dog
The process of filing a dog injury claim is basically the same as for injuries suffered in car accidents or slip and falls. You must begin by taking action and gathering evidence to support your claim.
- Seek immediate medical attention.
Get medical treatment right away. Even the smallest bite can transmit serious viruses, bacteria, and even rabies.
- Dial 911 and report the attack.
Don't hesitate to call the police. Having a police report as evidence of the attack will be very helpful when negotiating your insurance claim. Being bitten by a dog is the same as being attacked by a dog. Refer to the incident as an attack, not a bite.
- Call your local animal control department.
For your sake, and for the sake of others who might be bitten by the same dog, contact the animal control department. They will investigate the attack, and depending on the circumstances, they have the authority to:
Write down the dog owner's name, address, and insurance information.
- Order the dog tested for rabies and other viruses
- Issue the dog owner citations with substantial fines
- Issue a Protective Order for the owner to confine, leash, or muzzle the dog
- In the most severe claims, remove the dog and euthanize it
Get the dog owner's information from the homeowner, landlord, or building owner. If you're severely injured, ask a friend or family member to help. The same information may be in the police report or animal control incident report, but you probably won't have access to those reports for a few days.
Ask for the breed of the dog.
Some dogs are known for being aggressive, and are classified as Dangerous Breeds. If you can show that the specific breed of dog that attacked you has a history of violence against people, it will strengthen your case. Do some searching online to find relevant research and statistics on dangerous breeds.
Make sure someone takes crystal clear photos of the bite marks, the dog, and the area immediately around the dog.
Make a video of the dog.
- With bite marks, the closer to the time of the attack the better. If possible, take photos before and after you receive treatment.
- Do not place yourself in jeopardy while trying to take pictures of the dog. Use a telephoto lens if necessary. Photographing a vicious dog baring his teeth and growling is powerful evidence.
- Photograph the area around the dog, including broken fence lines, holes dug under fences where the dog can escape, torn up and destroyed toys, and the home or business where the dog lives.
One of the most overlooked, but important pieces of evidence in a dog bite claim is a videotape of the dog. A video can vividly display its aggressive tendencies. There's nothing more convincing than a video showing the same dog snarling, jumping, and trying to bite other people.
Request hospital records.
Request copies of your emergency room admitting chart, physician's notes, test results, and any other hospital records. Continue to gather documentation of all your follow-up treatment.
Write a detailed statement of the events before, during, and after the attack.
The circumstances surrounding your attack may be immediately vivid to you, but if you don't write them down, you may quickly forget. No one can write a more detailed description of the attack than you. Do it as soon as possible after the injury.
Get witnesses' names and statements.
Contact people who witnessed the attack, and ask them to write down what they saw. Witness statements don't have to be typed or notarized. As long as they are truthful, and signed and dated, that's all that matters.
Speak with the dog owner's neighbors.
Neighbors often get fed up with a dog's barking and aggressive behavior. They may readily agree to give you a statement detailing the negative experiences they've had with the dog.
Keep the clothes you were wearing when attacked.
Dogs usually tear and bite through clothes. Keep the clothing item through which you were bitten, especially if the bite drew blood. Having hard evidence of the attack can be very helpful in your claim.
Proving a Dog Bite Claim
Dog bite liability is not always easy to prove. States, counties, and cities have a wide variety of laws governing dog registration, dangerous breeds, and leash and muzzle requirements. Be sure to do some research about your state and local animal laws, before beginning your insurance claim.
Some states still maintain the old One Bite Rule. This may apply if you were the first person bitten by the dog. The basis of the rule is that a dog owner can't be held liable for the attack, if he had no reason to believe his dog was going to bite someone.
Other states have the Strict Liability Rule. In these states, regardless of whether it's the dog's first bite, or his hundredth, you only have to prove that you weren't trespassing at the time of the attack.
A few states have a Hybrid Rule. Here, courts tend to lean toward the side of the dog owner if there was no history of aggressive behavior. But, they also readily take into account evidence showing the owner had, or should have had knowledge of his dog's vicious tendencies.
Factors needed to establish liability:
- The attack was unprovoked.
If you were taunting the dog, playing rough with him, ignoring the owner's warnings, or otherwise stirring the dog up, you may share some liability for the attack.
- You weren't trespassing.
If there was notice to stay off the property, such as signs saying, "Keep Out," "Beware of Dog," or "No Trespassing," and you ignored them, your claim will be weakened.
- The dog had a propensity for attacking people.
Contact your local animal control department and check if there were previous reports on the same dog. Those records are public, and should be accessible.
- The dog wasn't a police or military dog.
Unfortunately, if you were bitten by a police or military dog, you will almost certainly be unable to recover compensation, due to sovereign immunity.
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