Aggressive dogs are dangerous. When another dog decides to attack you or your dog, there’s often little you can do about it. Dog-on-dog aggression is a common occurrence. Each year in the United States, dog owners spend millions of dollars in medical and veterinary bills and suffer millions more in property losses, all because of aggressive dogs with violent tendencies.
Dog Owners’ Legal Duty of Care
Dog owners have a legal “duty of care” (obligation) to ensure their dogs won’t injure another person or damage personal property. As much as we like to consider our dogs something more than just property, under the law they are just that. Cats and other domesticated animals are also personal property. Cat and dog fights fall under the same negligence rules.
While some states have a one-bite exception to dog attacks, all states have a common law prohibition against dog owner negligence. When, as a result of dog owner negligence, a dog causes personal injuries to another person or his dog (property damage), the negligent dog owner has breached his duty of care. That breach makes him liable for the victim’s and his dog’s injuries and resulting damages.
Damages can include the victim’s own medical bills, lost wages, and her out-of-pocket expenses for medications, torn clothing, and other personal property damaged during a dog attack. In cases of dog-on-dog aggression, damages can also include reimbursement for veterinary bills, dog medications, and even kennel fees while the dog is recovering.
In cases of fatal dog attacks, damages can extend to include the replacement cost of a deceased dog. Unfortunately, liability does not extend to the mental anguish or emotional distress a dog owner suffers due to their dog’s injury or death.
Liability: Who’s at fault?
One of the challenges to succeeding in a claim for injuries to yourself, your dog, or even your cat is proving another dog initiated the attack. Dog-on-dog aggression is sometimes difficult to sort out, especially when a dog attack erupts suddenly, seemingly without provocation. This often occurs when two dogs pass one another closely. In a split second, they can be at each other’s throats.
Determining which dog first lunged at the other often comes down to one dog owner’s word against the other. But if you take a closer look at the underlying issues, even in cases of leashed dogs, you may find the seeds of a legal action to recover your damages.
Example: Biten when trying to separate two dogs
You’re walking your dog when your neighbor passes by with her dog. Both animals are on leashes. They’ve passed each other a hundred times before without incident. For some reason known only to the dogs, this day is different. In an instant, both dogs are violently attacking each other. You’re shocked. Worse, when you reach down to try to separate the dogs, your neighbor’s dog bites you.
When you finally separate the dogs, you realize your dog took the worst of it. She’s bleeding profusely and yelping in pain. Your clothes are torn, and your hands have several bites from the neighbor’s dog.
This scenario presents a difficult challenge. It’s unlikely your neighbor is going to agree to pay your medical bills, costs of replacing your tattered clothing, or your dog’s veterinary bills. If you’re going to have any chance of succeeding in an insurance claim or lawsuit against your neighbor, you must understand some of the legal issues related to dog-on-dog aggression and injury compensation.
What to Look For…
Let’s say your dog is a Miniature Poodle or other small dog. Your neighbor’s dog is a German Shepherd. You might use as a partial basis of your claim a comparison of the size, weight, and possible designation of your neighbor’s dog as one of a dangerous breed.
Also, you might want to ask around to see if your other neighbors have had any problems with the same dog. Did he bite other neighbors or their children? How about other dogs? Has your city’s animal control center issued citations or warnings to your neighbor concerning the violent tendencies of her dog?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you may have the basis of a legitimate claim for personal injury and property damage.
Negligence and resulting liability of a dog owner who fails to leash or otherwise contain his dog to prevent harm to others is much easier to prove. Failing to protect others from attacks by one’s uncontained dog is, in and of itself, negligent.
Fortunately, injuries and property damage caused by dogs is normally covered under the dog owner’s homeowners insurance policy. This is true even when the policyholder’s dog causes injuries or property damage away from the owner’s home.
Because of the ever-increasing number of personal injury claims and lawsuits, more insurance companies are beginning to exclude coverage for certain so-called dangerous breeds. When the homeowner’s policy excludes a dog, the dog owner himself may become personally liable for any damage the dog causes.
Evidence: Proving Your Claim
Photographs and video footage
When considering a personal injury or property damage claim (for injuries to your dog), photographs and video footage of the attack and its aftermath are powerful evidence. If you have a digital camera, take it out to photograph and video your dog’s injuries.
Take close-ups of gashes, blood, cuts, and more. If possible, capture the other dog’s image as well. Take photographs of your injuries and any tattered or bloodied clothing. Be sure to turn on the date and time stamp function to eliminate any question about when the attack happened.
Witnesses to the actual event as well as witnesses to previous attacks by the aggressive dog are quite helpful. This is especially true in cases when it’s your word against the other dog owner’s. Don’t hesitate to ask witnesses for their names and contact information. If there’s time, take out any paper you can find and ask the witnesses to write down what they saw, especially focusing on which dog initiated the attack.
Knock on your neighbors’ doors. See if you can find others who have suffered personal attacks or attacks on their dog or cat by the same aggressive dog. The more witnesses you have supporting your assertion the dog had violent tendencies, the stronger your claim becomes.
Costs and records
You need copies of medical and veterinary bills and records, receipts for medications, and replacement costs for torn clothes or other personal property like jewelry, computers or cell phones damaged during the attack. If you were hurt and had to miss work, ask your employer for a written letter verifying the dates and times you were absent and the amount of wages you lost as a result.
Unfortunately, insurance companies will not pay wages lost while taking your dog to the veterinarian or while caring for your dog at home. They also dislike paying the replacement cost of a dog or cat killed by their insured’s dog. Sometimes, they’ll only pay the replacement cost of a dog killed by their insured’s dog if the insured had a special endorsement in the policy, or the insured purchased comprehensive coverage.
Small Claims Court
In some cases, you just can’t get fair compensation from the dog owner or his insurance company. When this occurs, you can avail yourself of your local small claims court. Small claims courts vary from state to state. Filing a small claims lawsuit is great way to get satisfaction. Unresponsive, aggressive dog owners and their insurance companies quickly snap to attention when the insured receives a summons to appear in court.
While not common, a judge, especially a dog lover, may decide to order the aggressive dog’s owner to pay your lost wages for the time you had to stay home caring for your dog. Judges have great latitude in deciding what’s fair and what’s not – and insurance companies know it.
To file a small claims lawsuit is relatively simple. There’s usually a single page form to fill out. On it, you can hand write the facts of your case against the dog owner and the amount you’re suing for. There’s usually a small filing fee of less than $100. If you succeed in your case, the defendant will be ordered to reimburse you.
Before filing your suit, make sure you have all your evidence in order. Place your witnesses on notice you may call them to testify.
Insurance companies must provide legal representation to their insured in legitimate conflicts arising out of coverage disputes. It’s surprising to see how many insurance companies quickly pay denied claims when someone files a lawsuit. Insurance companies don’t want to spend money on attorneys, especially when there’s a reasonable probability they may lose.
Comparative and Contributory Negligence
There are four states, and the District of Columbia, that follow the contributory negligence rule. In these states, if you contributed to your own injury or to your own property damage, you receive nothing. Insurance companies and the courts follow this very strict rule. If a dog owner can prove you were partially to blame for your dog’s injuries, you’ll lose your claim.
The remaining states follow one of two forms of the comparative negligence rule. In these states, the courts compare the amount you contributed to your own injury or property damage to the aggressive dog owner’s negligence. The court diminishes your settlement award proportionate to the amount they believe you caused your own injuries or property damage.
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Visitor Questions on Dog Attacks
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My shih tzu was attacked by a husky/pit bull mix. The dog is known to be aggressive and has bitten before. My dog has $720 in bills, and we won’t know if she is blind in one eye for another few days. Both dogs were leashed. The owner will not pay my vet bills and... Read More.
I was walking my dog on a sidewalk near my home in Brooklyn. Out of nowhere charged an off leash pit bull, no collar, no leash. This dog lives across the street. He was not on the street when I came down the road. My dog alerted me to him coming, he charged like bullet... Read More.
Recently I was at a large field with with my medium sized dog and several other dogs of various sizes. All dogs were off leash, running around the field and playing. Another dog arrived and was chasing a tennis ball. The other dogs including mine ran over to play and engage with this dog. My... Read More.
Two big dogs came onto our property and attacked and killed my chihuahua. We do not have a fence, that is how the dogs were able to come onto our property. My chihuahua and chihuahua mix were both outside at the time and they were securely tied up. My chihuahua was barking at the dogs,... Read More.
My son was watching TV and had the garage door open. My daughter’s dog was lying on a dog bed in the living room when he must have seen the neighbor and his small white dog cut across the driveway heading toward the alley. The dog ran out through the garage and attacked the neighbor’s... Read More.
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I have an American Bulldog and a Pitbull that are very loving. They were raised from babies living with my 2 girls (now 4 and 6). They have never attacked anyone or another animal. On Feb 8th I was out front of my home and my 2 dogs were in the fenced backyard (that they... Read More.
I live in a rental house with a rent-to-own agreement. It has a very large yard with a very old fence. In the time I have lived there I got myself 3 Alaskan Malamute mix puppies that are now at the one year mark. My neighbors behind me have a pair of miniature dobermans, 1... Read More.
Last weekend I was out of town but my family was home. The neighbor from across the street and his girlfriend were giving their dogs baths. One of the kids had a hold of the girlfriend’s dog. The dog broke loose and came chasing my poodle into our back yard. They came chasing after their... Read More.
A neighbor used to take care of my dog regularly and sometimes took him to her place for that. She also takes care of her landlord’s dog living in the same building, and those two dogs had a jealousy fight early on, after which my dog was always defensive around her landlord’s dog. On one... Read More.
My neighbor accused my roommate’s dog or my dog of attacking and killing his dog today. I have one dog (a lab mix under a year old, she is full grown and is a medium dog) and my roommate has two dogs (the parents of mine). I have never seen my dog or my roommate’s... Read More.
Our neighbor has a very aggressive little Jack Russell. He has bitten me and friends’ children, all in our yard. You cannot get near their house without it coming after you. He is very bad about sneaking up behind our older lab and biting her on the back of the legs. She is scared and... Read More.
My dogs (pit bulls) attacked my neighbor’s dog. He was on our property and our dogs attacked and chased him all the way back to the neighbor’s property. The neighbors are now threatening to shoot our dogs if they come onto their property and call the police. Their dog is always out of his yard.... Read More.
Someone left my gate open and my 3 dogs escaped and attacked my neighbor’s dog in their yard. My female pitbull wouldn’t let go of the other dog, causing some minor cuts and one deep wound. We where given a ticket by animal control for “negligent owners” and have to go to a court hearing.... Read More.
Our neighbor’s dog escaped from their back yard and came onto our property. This prompted our dog to jump a fence (which he had never done) and give chase to the dog. Our gardener happened to be there at the same time, so both dogs ran through an open gate from our front yard to... Read More.
We have an older border collie. We know that in her old age she doesn’t like other dogs in her space. So while attending a town function downtown, she had her harness on and the leash looped around her neck to keep her close and other dogs out of her space. She can only move... Read More.
I was walking my one-year-old, 5 lb yorkshire terrier on a leash in a shopping mall when an unleashed 60 lb pit bull running free attacked my dog. Vet bills to re-build my dog’s broken jaw and 25 stitches across its back, and a 5-day hospital stay came to over $4,000. I was also bitten... Read More.
I went to my friend’s house to dog and house sit for the weekend. They have a lab mix and a pit bull mix. I have a yorkie and they have known each other for 5+ years. On the second day I was taking care of them, I fed my friend’s dogs and after they... Read More.
My neighbor claims that his dog (Yorkshire terrier) dug a hole under our bordering fence, and one of my dogs (St Bernard, Golden Lab, and English Bulldog) pulled him under the fence and killed him. I found this out when my wife saw him taking pictures of the hole. There was no blood anywhere, no... Read More.
Dog A went to Dog B’s house for a puppy play date. Dog A was not with his owner (Mother of the owner) and Dog B was with his owner. Dog B’s owner rents the apartment that was attached to the yard where the dogs were playing. These two dogs had played together once before... Read More.
Last night I let my dog go outside to “use the restroom” and he never came back. With the fact that I had to go to work the next day I decided one night away from home will be okay, especially since he’s an outside dog anyways. The next morning there was a man honking... Read More.
Some dog walker was walking his two dogs. One got of his leash, jumped my neighbor’s wall, attacked our kitten (about 8 months old) and killed it. We have five children and they are very upset as they have lost a very close friend. The police have told me to take the owner to a... Read More.
My dog got loose of his harness while I was at work and (according to the owner of the other dog) he attacked another dog on the street. My dog has never shown any signs of aggression. She (the other dog’s owner) never keeps any of her dogs on a leash. They run loose all... Read More.
My 15 year old daughter walked our Boston Terrier to the dog park. Our dog, Lucky, was in the park off his leash when a man walked in with his growling aggressive dog. When the man unleashed his dog it went straight for Lucky grabbing him by the neck, shacking our dog like he was... Read More.