How to get fair compensation when you’ve been knocked down by a dog, been in a car or bike accident caused by a dog, or suffered other non-bite dog injuries.
Dogs come in all sizes, from the tiny Chihuahua to the gargantuan Mastiff. Most dogs are lovable and peaceful creatures. They mean no harm and seldom cause it.
We’re likely to encounter dogs in our homes, our friends’ homes, and just about any public place. With nearly 90 million dogs in the United States, accidents are bound to happen.
If you or a family member have been injured by a dog accident or attack, you may qualify for compensation, even if you weren’t bitten.
What Are Dog Injury “Damages”
Common non-bite dog injuries are from falls. Large to medium sized dogs can cause falls by leaning against a person.
All sizes of jumping dogs knock people over, and smaller dogs can easily trip a person by running between their legs or flopping down in the path of someone’s feet.
A study on animal-related falls by the Center for Disease Control found that more than 76,000 people each year receive emergency room treatment for falls caused by dogs.
People of all ages are seriously injured every day from tripping over or being knocked down by dogs. Remember that even when a friendly dog runs at you or knocks you down, it’s still an attack.
Small children and the elderly are generally at higher risk of injury from non-aggressive dog attacks.
If you’ve been in a bicycle or car accident caused by a dog, you’ll have property damages as well as personal injuries.
Calculate Your Losses
Your claim for injury compensation from a dog accident must start with calculating damages.
The total dollar amount of your losses will be the basis for your claim, and directly impact the total amount of compensation you may be able to get from the insurance company.
Even if you haven’t been bitten, when you’re injured by a dog accident, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Your medical records will play an important role in your insurance claim. It’s important for your medical records to include not only the type of injury but a description of its cause.
Relate your injuries directly to the dog attack. Tell your doctor that a dog knocked you down, made you crash your car, flip your bike, or caused your trip and fall. If you were frightened when that dog jumped at you, say so.
Don’t refuse or delay medical treatment.
Refusing or delaying medical treatment after a dog accident can hurt your claim. The dog owner’s insurance company will want proof the dog caused your injury and proof of your damages.
A bruised knee and torn pantyhose from tripping over a loose Yorkie at your cousin’s outdoor wedding won’t be much of a basis for a damage claim, especially if your injury treatment was limited to a couple glasses of wine and a bag of frozen peas.
On the other hand, if Grandma tripped over the cute little dog and broke a hip, her injuries are serious and her damages substantial.
Dog accident injury damages can include the cost of ambulance transportation, emergency room diagnosis and treatment, surgery, hospitalization, assistive devices, rehabilitative services, pain and suffering, and more.
Grandma may be left with permanent limitations or require ongoing care, factors that must be included in her demand for compensation.
Dog accident property damages can include damaged clothing and glasses, a broken bicycle or scooter, and damage to your car or truck.
Terms Used in Dog Injury Claims
When it comes to injury claims, it helps to understand a few terms that are used by insurance companies, lawyers, and the folks who write dog injury laws to describe who’s to blame and what they did wrong.
Culpable means deserving of blame, wrong, improper, or harmful. A dog owner whose failure to control their dog results in injuries to others is culpable.
Negligence means failure to take reasonable care to prevent harm to others. Failing to control a dog is an act of negligence, even before the dog causes an injury.
Liability means responsible for what happened. Failure of the dog owner to control their dog makes them liable for the injuries to the person who was knocked down.
Who Pays for Your Injuries
Negligence makes a dog owner responsible, or liable, for the injured victim’s damages. Damages include medical expenses, out-of-pocket costs, replacement services, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering.
Dog owner negligence can include failing to:
- Leash the dog
- Control the dog while on its leash
- Keep the dog in a fenced area
- Contain the dog in the owner’s home or vehicle
In some states, a dog owner is liable for the actions of their dog, even if the owner isn’t negligent.
When a dog owner is proved to be liable for your damages, the owner is legally obligated to compensate you.
In most cases, the dog owner will rely on their homeowner’s insurance liability coverage to pay for your damages. The insurance company will step in, and you’ll need to make an insurance claim for your damages from the dog attack.
Exceptions to Dog Owner Liability
Sometimes a dog owner won’t be legally liable for accidental injuries, even if the owner was negligent, as 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 veterinarian, trainer or another type of dog professional
Complicating the issues of negligence and liability are the various state and district dog laws, most importantly the “one-bite” and ‘strict liability” rules.
Where You Stand With Dog Accident Law
Understanding the laws where you live or, more specifically, where the dog accident happened will give you a leg-up against the insurance company when you file a personal injury claim.
The insurance company’s goal is to avoid paying you a large settlement, or better yet, to send you on your way empty-handed. They won’t hesitate to “interpret” state laws in their favor.
Find your state’s laws on this chart of Dog Injury Liability Statutes.
Knowing the dog attack and liability laws in your state helps you gather evidence and get ready to overcome what the insurance company will try to use against you.
The one-bite rule can complicate your claim
In states with a one-bite rule, if you’re injured by a dog with no prior record of causing injury, the dog’s owner isn’t automatically liable for your injuries. The term might be better understood as the “one free bite rule.”
Fortunately, dog bite court decisions and changes to town dog ordinances have taken the bite out of the one-bite rules over the years.
In most one-bite states, dog attack victims can still recover compensation for their damages if they can show the dog owner was negligent.
One-bite states include:
- North Dakota
- New Mexico
- South Dakota
Example of negligence overcoming the one-bite rule
John lived in a one-bite rule state with King, his five-year old German Shepherd. King was a well-trained dog, and in the five years since his birth had never shown any signs of aggression.
One summer day, John invited some friends and neighbors for a barbeque in his fenced-in back yard.
King was loose in the yard, meandering around among the guests as they helped themselves to the buffet-style meal.
One of the guests, Alex had just loaded plates of food for himself and his daughter. Alex didn’t realize that the 80 pound King had decided to flop down in the shade near the buffet table.
As Alex turned to return to his family, he tripped over King. The dog yelped, causing Alex to twist as he fell, trying to avoid the dog.
Alex suffered a broken collar bone and a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder. He was an electrician by trade and had to be off work for over four months because of his injuries.
Alex filed a claim with John’s homeowner’s insurance for his damages. The insurance company denied his claim, arguing that the one-bite rule relieved John of liability for King’s actions.
Alex hired a personal injury attorney who contacted the insurance company on his behalf. The attorney pointed out that John was legally negligent for allowing King to run loose among the guests during the barbecue.
Arguing that Alex would not have been seriously injured by King if not for John’s negligence, the attorney made it clear to the insurance company that failing to settle Alex’s injury claim would lead to a lawsuit.
John’s insurance company grudgingly paid Alex’s claim, admitting John was liable even if this was the first time his dog caused injury to anyone.
Strict liability rules are victim-friendly
Dog owners in states with strict liability rules are absolutely liable for damages caused by their dog even when the dog owner has not been negligent.
Common exceptions apply. You’re not likely to be awarded damages if your leg was fractured trying to escape from those two Dobermans you encountered after breaking and entering into their home.
Watch out for comparative fault laws
Winning compensation for your dog attack damages will be easier in states with strict liability rules, but don’t let your guard down with the insurance company. Be prepared for the adjuster to bring up comparative fault arguments.
Comparative fault, also called comparative negligence, are rules of injury law that take into account whether or not the injured person has any share of blame for getting hurt.
The insurance company will tell you if they think you share any liability for the dog accident that caused your injuries.
Depending on your state’s laws, you may lose a portion of your claim’s value, or your injury claim may be completely denied.
How to Use Evidence to Prove Your Claim
Building a successful personal injury claim for a dog bite or dog attack takes more than just telling your side of the story.
You’ll need solid evidence to show your injuries, support your claim of damages, and to prove the dog owner’s negligence.
Photographs and video are valuable evidence
Photographs and video footage can provide graphic evidence of dog owner negligence.
The homeowner’s insurance company is hard-pressed to deny the owner’s negligence when presented with pictures or videos showing a loose dog, a hole in the dog owner’s fence or other evidence showing the dog owner behaved negligently.
Maybe there wasn’t enough time to whip out your phone when that big dog ran toward you, but you might still be able to locate pictures of the dog accident that caused your injuries.
Find out if any witnesses happened to take any pictures or video. Depending on where your injury took place, check to see if a nearby store, school, or another facility may have had surveillance cameras pointed toward the area where the accident happened.
If you’re lucky, video footage may have captured the whole thing.
Do remember to take pictures of your injuries, right after the accident (torn clothes and all) and throughout your recovery.
Witness statements are extremely helpful to your claim
Written 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. Use any paper you can find. Ask witnesses to write down in detail exactly what they saw and heard, along with their names and contact information.
The more witnesses you have verifying the dog owner’s negligence, the stronger your claim.
Documenting your financial losses to justify your claim value
You need to know how much your dog accident injury claim is worth, and you’ll want to be compensated for the full value of your claim.
Your claim’s value depends largely on the cost of your economic losses, with a multiple of that amount added on for pain and suffering.
The total of your economic losses plus the amount for pain and suffering add up to your full claim value. This is the amount you’ll demand for compensation.
If you want to be paid the full value of your claim, you’ll need to provide the insurance company with evidence of your losses. Your evidence can include:
- Treatment records
- Medical and therapy bills
- Receipts for out-of-pocket expenses
- Verification of lost wages
- Repair costs for a vehicle or bicycle
Include copies of your bills and records with your demand for injury compensation to the insurance company. Always keep the originals for your files.
What to Expect from the Insurance Company
Dealing with the insurance company doesn’t have to be a hostile process, but keep in mind that the insurance adjuster isn’t your friend.
No matter how polite or sympathetic they behave, the insurance adjuster is trained to settle your claim for as little money as possible.
With that warning in mind, if you have a relatively minor claim that is well-presented, they’ll cooperate.
When communicating with the adjuster, tell the truth but stick to the facts. Don’t let the adjuster rattle you. Giving your opinion or complaining will undermine your position and hurt your negotiations.
If you agree to give the adjuster a recorded statement about the dog accident, be truthful but don’t volunteer information that might suggest you were partly to blame for what happened.
In some states, even the smallest amount of contribution to your own injury is enough to legally deny your claim. In others, the insurance company will compare your contribution to your injury with the dog owner’s negligence, and slash their settlement offer by your percentage of fault.
Do You Need Help With Your Claim?
If your injuries from the dog accident were limited to some soreness, muscle strain or bumps and bruises, you can usually settle your claim directly with the insurance company for a fair amount.
You won’t need an attorney to help you add up your medical bills, a few days lost wages, and a nominal amount for pain and suffering.
But even friendly dogs can cause severe, even permanent physical and emotional injuries by knocking over or tripping an unsuspecting person.
If the person injured by a dog is a child or anyone left with scars or whose injuries required stitches, surgery, hospitalization, or extensive medical or mental health services, you’ll need an experienced personal injury attorney to reach an appropriate settlement.
Don’t rely on the insurance company to do the right thing for you or your injured child. Even non-bite dog accident injuries can be eligible for compensation.
It doesn’t cost anything to find out what a good personal injury attorney can do for you or your child after an accidental dog attack.
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