Using Dog Bite Laws to Increase Your Injury Compensation

Use state and local dog bite laws to maximize compensation for your injuries and suffering after a dog attack. A fair settlement pays your medical bills, lost wages and more.

If you or your child have been attacked by a dog, you’ll want to be fairly compensated for your medical costs, lost wages, out-of-pocket expenses, pain and suffering.

We’ll show you how to find the dog bite laws in your town and state, and how to work with (or around!) those laws to build a successful dog bite injury insurance claim.

Dog Bite Injury Claim Basics

Dogs bite more than 4.5 million people each year, with one out of five dog bite victims needing medical treatment.  We teach our kids how to prevent dog bites, yet children are more likely to be bitten than adults. Sadly, dog bite injuries to children tend to be more severe.

Damages: No matter where you live, to recover compensation for a dog bite claim you’ll first have to prove the dog attack caused harm. Your total damages will directly impact the amount of your final settlement.

Damages for dog attacks can include the cost of ambulance transport, medical treatment, nursing care, physical therapy, lost wages, mental health services, and out-of-pocket expenses for your care and treatment.

You can also include travel expenses and parking costs to get to treatment, the replacement cost of clothing and personal items ruined in the attack, and an amount for your mental anguish, pain and suffering.

Exceptions: A dog bite victim will probably not be eligible for compensation if:

  • The victim was bitten by a police or military dog on duty
  • The victim was trespassing or committing a crime at the home or business of the dog’s owner
  • The victim is a veterinarian or veterinary worker bitten on the job

How Dog Bite Laws Apply to Your Case

To protect the public from dog attacks, every American state and district has enacted dog bite laws in one form or another.

Find your state’s laws on this chart of Dog Bite Liability Statutes.

While there are lots of variations on dog bite laws from state-to-state, most state dog bite statutes fall into one of two categories:

  • One-bite: States with “one-bite” laws shield the dog owner from responsibility when their dog bites someone for the first time.
  • Strict Liability:  Strict liability states hold the dog owner responsible for their dog’s actions, even if it’s the first time the dog hurt someone.

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to insurance claims.

Understanding your state’s dog bite laws means you’ll know what kind of evidence to gather for a winning injury claim.

Definitions of Dog-bite Liability and Negligence

Liability is a legal term for responsibility. Whether you live in a one-bite or strict liability state, you’re responsible for the outcome if your dog bites someone.

Negligence is another legal term that’s used a lot. Simply stated, dog bite negligence happens when a dog owner does something that no reasonable dog owner would do or fails to act in a way that any prudent dog owner would.

A reasonable, prudent dog owner is someone who knows or should know, the violent or aggressive tendencies of their dog.

A dog owner is negligent for failing to keep their dog on a leash or in a fenced yard, especially knowing the dog tends to jump on children, chase the mail carrier, or show other aggressive behavior.

When a dog owner fails to take preventative action to stop their dog from injuring others, the dog owner is negligent and responsible for damages – even in a one-bite state.

Getting Paid Despite One-bite Dog Laws

It used to be that dog owners living in states with a one-bite rule would not have to pay for your damages if  the attack on you was the first time their dog bit someone.

The one-bite rule assumed that dogs with no history of violence would continue to be nice dogs, and their owner had no reason to believe their dog might bite anyone.

One-bite states include:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • North Dakota

  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Wyoming

Over the years, thanks to court cases and changing city and town ordinances, you might say that the one-bite rule has lost its teeth.

Today, the one-bite rule is a misleading term, because the rule doesn’t automatically give the dog owner, or the dog owner’s insurance company, a free pass for the first reported dog bite.

If you’ve suffered a dog bite in a one-bite state, the dog owner can lose the one-bite protection from liability for your damages if you can prove the owner was negligent.

In other words, you can build a strong dog attack injury claim, despite the one-bite law, by gathering evidence proving the owner failed to take enough steps to protect you from the dog.

One way to prove the owner was negligent will be if your town has a leash law and you prove the dog that bit you was running loose.

Another kind of proof can be showing that the dog owner knew – or should have known – of the dog’s tendency toward violence.

This kind of proof is usually backed up by evidence of complaints made by neighbors, or statements from someone else who was bitten or frightened by the dog.

Example: Working Around One-Bite Laws

Karen and her six-year-old Doberman Pinscher named Rusty lived in a “One-bite” state.

For the first five-plus years Karen owned Rusty, he was a sweet and obedient dog. But, during the past six months or so, his behavior changed.

Rusty began to nip and snap at anyone who tried to pet him. Karen was puzzled by Rusty’s behavior, but she still allowed Rusty to run free next to her when she jogged each morning.

One day as Karen was jogging along a public path, Rusty swerved away from Karen and jumped on Larry, who was also jogging that morning.

Rusty viciously mauled Larry, leaving him with serious injuries.

Later, when Larry had recovered from the attack, he filed an injury claim with Karen’s homeowner’s insurance company.

The insurance company denied the claim, arguing that since Rusty had no history of biting, under the One-bite law, Karen was not liable for Larry’s damages.

Larry hired a personal injury attorney. Through his attorney, Larry filed a lawsuit against Karen demanding full compensation for his injury expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Larry’s attorney argued that the one-bite rule should be waived because Karen was negligent for letting Rusty run loose on a public jogging path, when she knew he might bite someone.

The attorney proved Karen was negligent by producing evidence that well before the attack she had told some friends and neighbors she was worried about the way Rusty was snapping at people.

Although she showed concern, Karen failed to take any preventative measures to restrain Rusty.

The judge ruled that despite the state’s one-bite rule, Karen’s knowledge of Rusty’s recent behavior and her failure to take appropriate action to prevent her dog from biting another person, was evidence of negligence.

Larry won his lawsuit against Karen, and her insurance company was forced to fully compensate Larry for his dog bite damages.

Strict Liability Laws Help Your Claim

When it comes to dog bites, “strict liability” means dog owners are absolutely responsible for any harm caused by their dog, even if the owner was not careless or negligent, and even if the dog had no prior history of aggressive behavior.

Building a successful insurance claim for a dog bite in a strict-liability state will be easier than in states with a one-bite rule, but you’ll still need good evidence to stand up against the insurance company.

In strict liability states, it doesn’t matter whether the dog has a history of violence toward people or if the owner did everything possible to prevent his dog from hurting someone. With strict liability, if the dog injures a person, the dog owner is strictly liable.

There are three major exceptions to dog owner strict liability:

  • The victim was trespassing
  • The victim is a veterinarian
  • The victim was hurting or provoking the dog

Example: Damage Claims in Strict Liability States

Louise lived in a strict liability dog bite state with her four-year-old Rottweiler named Jazz.

Louise liked to take Jazz to a local dog park. In the four years since her birth, Jazz never showed any violent or aggressive behavior. She was a favorite of local neighborhood children and ran freely among other dogs at the dog park.

One day while at the dog park, for no apparent reason and without any known provocation, Jazz mauled a six-year-old girl named Debbie.

Debbie suffered extensive injuries to her face and neck that left her with permanent scarring and an overwhelming fear of animals, especially dogs.

Under the state’s strict liability laws, there was no question that Louise was legally responsible for her dog’s attack on a small child.

Louise’s insurance company was quick to offer a settlement to Debbie’s parents, to make the claim go away for as little money as possible. The claim didn’t settle.

Debbie’s parents hired an experienced personal injury attorney to represent Debbie.

After months of treatment, including two surgeries and ongoing trauma counseling, Debbie’s attorney filed a lawsuit on the child’s behalf.

The insurance company hired one of their list of lawyers to defend Louise against the lawsuit, but the last thing the insurance company wanted was the expense of a jury trial.

The insurance company settled the claim with Debbie’s attorney for full policy limits, an amount five times what the company had originally offered Debbie’s parents.

The court approved part of the money to be paid to Debbie’s parents, to cover their cost of Debbie’s medical care.

Because Debbie was a child, the rest of her compensation went into a court-approved structured settlement to earn interest until Debbie becomes an adult.

Making the Most of Local Dog Bite Laws

Be sure to check into local dog bite laws while you’re building your dog attack injury claim, especially if you’re in a state that follows the one-bite rule.

Besides the state laws, government entities like cities, towns, villages, and other municipalities often enact their own dog bite and leash laws.

Remember, in one-bite rule states, you’ll need to show proof the dog owner was negligent. If the dog owner broke the local rules, like leash laws, you could use that information as evidence of negligence.

So long as the laws don’t contradict the state dog-bite statutes, local governments can enact just about any laws they like that relate to public safety.

These laws include everything from requiring dogs to be leashed and keeping dogs fenced at all times, to prohibiting dogs from remaining in cars alone when the outside temperature is too high.

Some cities and towns ban or restrict ownership of specific dog breeds considered to be particularly dangerous. In cities with bans, even mixed versions of a banned breed may be restricted.

It pays to know the local animal control laws if you’ve been the victim of a dog bite.

Beware of Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence is a legal term for sharing blame.

All but a small handful of states in the U.S. follow “comparative negligence” laws for resolving injury claims, whether the injury was from a dog bite, car accident, product malfunction, or any other kind of non-workplace injury.

Comparative negligence in a dog bite claim kicks in when the victim can be blamed, even a little, for causing the dog attack. In other words, the insurance company or the dog owner may argue that you brought it on yourself.

Comparative negligence lessens or wholly dismisses a dog owner’s liability when a bite victim’s actions contribute to their own injuries. That’s a fancy way of saying that you might take a cut in your compensation, or get nothing at all if you are partly to blame for causing the dog bite.

Three Types of Comparative Negligence

In Pure Comparative Negligence states, you’re eligible for compensation for your dog bite injuries even if you were the person most at fault for the attack, so long as you’re not 100% to blame.

In 50% Bar Modified Comparative Negligence states, you’re eligible for compensation for your dog bite injuries so long as the dog owner was more at fault than you. If you were 50% or more to blame for the dog attack, you get nothing.

In 51% Bar Modified Comparative Negligence states, you’re eligible for compensation for your dog bite injuries even if you are equally to blame for the dog attack. If you were 51% or more to blame for the dog attack, you get nothing.

The most common type of comparative negligence in dog bite cases is provocation. When a person teases a dog, hits it with a stick, or otherwise excites the dog more than it already is, the person who provoked the dog is at least partly to blame when the dog bites them.

Comparative Negligence Could Reduce Your Final Payout

In states practicing comparative negligence, the victim’s contribution to their own injury will often cause a reduction in the amount of their injury compensation.

That means you can still seek compensation for your dog attack injuries, but you won’t be paid the full value of your claim.  How much money will be deducted from your final payout will depend on how much blame for the attack falls on you.

If you or your child have been injured by a dog attack, don’t just take the insurance company’s word for it if they say you don’t have a valid claim. If you accept their opinion, your compensation will be drastically reduced.

Especially when it comes to children, there are different legal standards for fault. Many states recognize that some kids are just too young to know better.

If you don’t agree with the insurance company’s opinion of your share of blame, you have the right to consult an attorney before accepting a final settlement.

Example: Comparative Negligence in Dog Bite Claims

Albert and his collie named Satchel live a comparative negligence state.

One day, while Albert walked Satchel on her leash, a passerby named Bob came up to them.

Bob stopped to admire the pretty collie. Albert warned Bob not to pet Satchel since she had a tendency to nip at strangers.

Ignoring Albert’s warning, Bob immediately reached his hand out toward Satchel to pet her. As he did, Satchel bit him, causing a deep gash which left a scar.

Bob sued Albert for $50,000, claiming negligence.

Albert disputed Bob’s claim, arguing that Bob’s failure to listen to Albert’s warning was comparative negligence.

The judge agreed.

Comparing Bob’s actions with Satchel’s actions, the court decided Bob’s actions were 70% to blame for his injuries.

Based on the state’s comparative negligence laws, Bob was only awarded $15,000, representing a 70% deduction to his $50,000 claim.

Contributory Negligence Can Leave You With Nothing

In pure contributory negligence states, if the victim had any part in causing the dog bite, the dog owner is not responsible for their injuries. The victim is not eligible for any compensation from the dog owner, or the dog owner’s insurance company.

It’s extreme, but in contributory negligence states, if you had any part in causing the dog to bite, your claim goes out the window.

Fortunately, only Alabama, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and the District of Columbia are pure contributory negligence jurisdictions. Other states follow some version of comparative negligence law.

If you have any questions about comparative or contributory negligence, ask a personal injury attorney to evaluate your claim.

You deserve to be fairly compensated for the fear, pain, and long-term results of dog bite injuries.

Armed with an understanding of your state and local dog bite laws, you’ll be positioned to pursue the maximum compensation available for your dog bite injury claim.

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>