Lawsuit Guide for Dog Bite Attacks on Young Children

Dog bite attacks on young children can cause permanent scarring and emotional distress. Learn why a dog bite lawsuit can be the best way to get fair compensation for your child.

Dog bites cause more child emergency room visits than any other youth activity, surpassing bone fractures, burns, and domestic violence.

In fact, more than half of all children under the age of 12 have been bitten by a dog.¹

Half of all dog bites to children occur in the family home or in the child’s immediate neighborhood.

Most dog bites are to a child’s face, head and neck. Child victims of dog bites often require stitches, painful rabies shots, and in some cases, even plastic surgery.

Younger and smaller children tend to be most severely injured with infants and toddlers making up the largest proportion of children treated for dog bites at major trauma centers each year.²

Children are likely to suffer the physical and mental trauma from dog bites for many years, often into adulthood. Some young dog attack victims develop post-traumatic disorders, requiring years of ongoing psychological support.

First Steps When a Dog Bites Your Child

After rescuing your child from an attacking dog, make sure you’re both in a safe place away from the animal. Tend to your child’s wounds as best you can and call for help.

1. Call 911

Don’t wait for a very young child to stop crying before calling 911. You can comfort the child while help is on the way.

Tell the 911 dispatcher that your child has been attacked by a dog and ask for emergency medical services. Stay on the line to answer the dispatcher’s questions.

Even if your child’s injuries appear minor, it’s still very important for your child to receive an immediate medical evaluation. A small scratch can lead to serious infections, rabies, and various diseases.

2. Identify the Dog Owner

Locate the dog owner. If necessary, notify the owner of the dog attack.

Ask the dog owner for their name, address, and phone number.

Explain that because of the attack, your child sustained injuries serious enough to require emergency treatment.

Ask the dog owner for the name, policy number, and contact information for their homeowner’s insurance company.

3. Contact Animal Control

It’s important to file a complaint with your local municipality’s animal control department.

A timely report ensures the city takes appropriate measures to quarantine the animal or otherwise protect the public from further attacks.

The report will help verify the date, time, and circumstances of the dog bite. This is especially important when pursuing a personal injury claim against the dog owner.

The animal control report can be used as evidence of the dog owner’s negligence.

4. Gather Evidence of the Attack

Evidence from of the scene can have a huge impact on the success of your child’s dog bite injury claim.

Taking the time to collect and preserve evidence after a dog attack can make a difference in the amount of compensation your child may receive later.

Your child’s tattered and bloodied clothing is very strong evidence. Don’t wash the clothes or attempt to remove blood stains. Instead, place them in a bag for safe keeping. Label the bag with the time and date of the attack.

Pictures and video make for compelling evidence. Take pictures of holes in the dog owner’s fence, blood on the ground, and if possible, even a photograph or video of the dog.

Take pictures of your child’s injuries on the day of the attack and throughout the treatment and recovery period.

Witness statements can be crucial to your child’s claim. Good Samaritan witnesses have no personal or financial interest in the outcome of your child’s claim. Insurance companies and jurors take their statements seriously.

Get the name and contact information from each person who saw the dog attack your child. Ask if they will write down what they saw and heard. Use whatever paper is handy.

Make sure your witnesses describe the attack in detail. If true, it’s very important they make clear your child didn’t do anything to provoke the dog. Have the witnesses sign and date their statements at the bottom of each page.

Hire an Attorney to Protect Your Child’s Future

Don’t let anyone (especially anyone from an insurance company) tell you it’s easy to settle a child’s injury claim for a fair amount of money.

Insurance companies are notorious for consistently offering low-ball compensation to claimants who don’t have legal representation.

Child Injury Claims are Complicated

The truth is, settling a severe injury claim for an underage child is legally complicated, and typically requires court approval.

Never underestimate the long-term effects of a vicious dog attack on a child. The stitches may start coming out in a week or two, the surgeries may occur over a matter of months, but the physical and emotional scars can last a lifetime.

Hiring an experienced personal injury attorney is the best way to make sure your child gets the full amount of compensation they deserve for their injuries, pain and suffering, and that the child’s future interests are protected.

No Attorney Fees Up Front

Once you’ve hired an attorney and filed a lawsuit, the insurance company is on notice to bring real money to the bargaining table.

It doesn’t cost anything to talk with an experienced personal injury attorney.

Reputable attorneys don’t charge for the initial consultation. You can meet with more than one attorney before choosing who will represent your child.

You probably don’t have the money to pay for medical testimony, actuarial studies, and depositions. The attorney will cover all the expenses for the experts needed to win your child’s case.

The attorney will represent your child on a contingency fee basis. That means the attorney will only get paid by winning your child’s case.

Why You Can’t Afford Not to Hire an Attorney

What if the dog owner is a renter? Or the dog that mauled your toddler belonged to a business?

Attorneys have the tools and knowledge to discover financial sources you’d never be able to uncover on your own, from multiple lines of insurance to hidden dog-owner assets.

Your child’s attorney may also be able to recover compensation for the parents, to cover costs of medical care and supportive services, and to replace lost wages for time used to care for the injured child.

Calculating Child Dog Bite Claim Compensation

In matters of law, the word “damages” refers to the after effects an injury has on the victim.

Recovering from a dog attack takes time and money. An experienced attorney knows how to calculate future expenses for your child, and how to justify a dollar value for your child’s medical costs and pain and suffering.

Damages can include a victim’s medical bills, therapy expenses, out-of-pocket expenses for medications and medical supplies, the cost of travel to treatment, pain and suffering, and much more.

Damages for child victims are often different from those of adult victims. While an adult may be able to eventually heal from a dog attack, a child may be left with lingering physical and emotional problems.

Damages are More Than Medical Bills

When a child suffers serious injuries from a dog attack, only an experienced personal injury attorney will be able to accurately project short and long-term damages and discover all the available sources to pay those damages.

After the attack, a child may be further traumatized by having to undergo a series of painful shots or take medications with unpleasant side effects.

Because of a dog bite, a child can be left with scars to the face, neck, arm, or another visible body part. The scars may last a lifetime and subject the child to intolerant and abusive classmates, problems in social settings, and isolation from friends and family.

Dog bite scars may lower a child’s self-esteem or otherwise cause emotional distress that never goes away. Child victims of dog attacks may require long-term mental health counseling for post-traumatic stress and recurrent nightmares.

If your child suffered permanent injuries, the claim for compensation should take into account future wage losses, in addition to medical expenses and pain and suffering.

Teaching the Dog Owner a Lesson

In lawsuits over dog bites on vulnerable children, the court may decide to assess punitive damages against the dog owner.

Punitive is a legal term for punishment. Punitive damages are assessed to teach the defendant a lesson and to deter others from causing the same kind of harm.

Punitive damages awards can be huge amounts of money, in an amount substantially higher than the actual damages proved during the trial.

Depending on the circumstances of the attack and nature of the dog owner’s negligence, punitive damages can reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This is especially true when a company with substantial assets owns the dog, such as a business property’s guard dog.

It’s the court’s way of clearly telling dog owners that gross negligence in failing to protect children from attacks will mean substantial penalties.

Handling Homeowners Insurance Companies

The great majority of dog bites to children occur at home or in a neighborhood.

Because most homeowners carry insurance, payment for a child’s dog bite injury damages will be covered under one of two sections of the typical homeowner insurance policy.

Homeowner Insurance Coverages for Dog Attack Injuries

Medical Coverage (Med-Pay) covers injury medical bills up to a certain amount, typically $1,000.

Liability Coverage limits can range upward from $100,000 to $300,000. Negligence and liability must be proven before liability coverage will be paid.

Liability coverage and medical coverage under standard homeowner insurance policies are only intended to cover guests or visitors to your home.

Most homeowner insurance policies don’t cover injuries to family members living in the home.

If your child was bitten in your home by your dog, there might not be coverage available under your homeowner policy.

Still, if your child was seriously injured in your home, it’s worth your time to take a copy of your homeowner policy to a personal injury attorney. The attorney may be able to pursue your insurance company for compensation.

Parents probably won’t have any trouble getting some medical bills paid under the Med-Pay portion of coverage, but pain and suffering won’t be considered.

Before they’ll pay any bills, the insurance company may ask the parents to sign a release of any future claims against the dog owner.

Warning: If your child is seriously injured, don’t sign a release just to get a few bills paid.

Liability coverage is harder to get at. Liability means fault or responsibility. The insurance company will do whatever it takes to avoid paying a large liability settlement, usually by arguing that the dog owner is not responsible for the dog attack.

Either the insurance adjuster will try to woo the parents into accepting a low settlement amount to make the claim go away, or the company will go on the offensive, fighting tooth and nail to avoid paying anything.

There’s simply too much at stake to tackle the insurance company without an attorney.

When Your Child is Blamed for the Dog Attack

Another good reason to hire a personal injury attorney is to legally counter accusations of fault made against your injured child.

Sometimes dog owners or their insurance company will defend themselves by blaming the dog attack on “provocation.”

They will argue that your child did something to upset the dog. Otherwise, the dog would not have attacked.

Examples of provocation are teasing the dog, pulling on the dog’s tail, hitting the dog with an object, or other forms of aggressive behavior.

Sometimes blaming the victim works. Blaming the victim can protect the dog owner from liability for injuries that happened to adults and older children who intentionally tormented a dog.

In cases of younger children though, arguing provocation isn’t as helpful to a dog owner, or the dog owner’s insurance company, when they’re up against a skilled attorney.

Little kids just don’t know any better and can’t understand that the dog will hurt them.

Your attorney will use established case law showing how courts have traditionally said children, especially younger children, are less likely to form the intent to provoke a dog.

Your Child Deserves Fair Compensation

Most young children who unintentionally provoke a dog do it while playing around. This can be pulling the dog’s tail, running away from it, jumping on it, and being noisy.

Your child shouldn’t be punished for acting like a normal, healthy kid.

Don’t be put off by an aggressive dog owner, the dog owner’s insurance company, or the insurance company’s corporate lawyer.

Find out what it takes to get fair compensation for your child’s dog attack injuries, pain and suffering. Act now to contact a local personal injury attorney.

Child Dog Attack Questions & Answers

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 >>