How to Prove Liability and Win Your Dog Bite Injury Claim

Get fair compensation for you or your child by building a strong dog bite injury claim. Here’s how to prove the dog owner should pay.

Hundreds of people are killed by dog attacks every year, and more than 800,000 people receive medical treatment for dog bite injuries.¹

You deserve fair compensation for serious dog bite injuries to you or your child. To win your claim, you must learn how to prove the dog owner is liable for your losses.

Here’s where we give you the information you need to build a convincing personal injury claim against the dog’s owner.

What to Do After a Dog Attack

Your safety is the first consideration after a dog bite incident.

Do whatever you have to do to get away from the dog. Once you’re in a safe place, or the dog has been contained, assess your injuries and call for help.

What you do and say after a dog attack can have a big impact on your injury claim. Never say things like, “I must have startled the dog” or “My child shouldn’t have been running.” The insurance company won’t hesitate to try blaming you or your child for provoking the attack.

Filing a dog bite liability claim against the owner’s insurance policy is the same as for injuries suffered in car accidents or slip and falls. Begin by taking action and gathering evidence to support your claim.

At the Scene of the Attack

Call 911: Tell the dispatcher that you (or your child) have been attacked by a dog. Ask for medical assistance. Let the dispatcher know if the dog is still running loose. Depending on the circumstances, the operator may dispatch the police, an ambulance, and local animal control personnel.

Don’t hesitate to call the police. Having a police report as evidence of the attack will help when negotiating your insurance claim.

Seek Medical Attention: If paramedics don’t transport the bite victim directly to the hospital, seek immediate medical attention from a primary care doctor, local emergency department, or urgent care center. For public safety, most states require medical providers to report dog bites.

Alert Animal Control: If the 911 dispatcher or your medical care provider hasn’t already alerted animal control, be sure to report the attack to your local animal control department.

The investigator will contact the dog’s owner for proof of current rabies vaccinations and other health issues. Animal control officers have the authority to:

  • Order the dog tested for rabies and other viruses
  • Issue the dog owner citations with substantial fines
  • Order the owner to confine, leash, or muzzle the dog
  • Remove the dog for evaluation

Get the Owner’s Information: Ask the dog owner directly (or the landlord or building owner) for their information. You’ll need the dog owner’s name, address, contact information, and the name of their insurance company.

The same information may be in the police report or animal control incident report, but you likely won’t have access to those reports for a few days.

Take Photographs: Take photographs and videos of the bite marks, the dog, and the area immediately around the dog.

Take pictures of the injuries as soon as possible after the attack. If you can, take photos before and after you receive treatment.

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.

Pictures of a vicious dog baring its teeth and growling are powerful evidence. 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.

However, never place yourself in jeopardy while trying to take pictures of the dog.

Get Witness Statements: Talk to people who witnessed the attack, and ask them to write down what they saw.

Gather Evidence During Recovery

Continue to gather evidence throughout your medical treatment and recovery period. Every bit of information you put together will help you or your attorney build a strong and successful dog bite liability claim.

More Witness Statements: Reach out to others who live near the dog owner’s residence. Neighbors often get fed up with a dog’s barking and aggressive behavior. They may agree to give you a statement detailing the negative experiences they’ve had with the dog.

Preserve Evidence: Keep the bloody and torn clothing and other damaged items from the attack. Do not wash or alter the items. Put them in a clean box or bag labeled with the date of the attack.

Take Good Notes: No one can write a more detailed description of the attack than you. Do it as soon as possible after the injury, while the details are fresh in your mind. Keep a journal of your treatment, including your pain and suffering during the attack and throughout recovery.

Gather Medical Bills and 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.

If you or your child are injured by someone else’s dog, seek immediate medical attention and contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss your case.

How to Prove Dog Bite Liability

Dog bite liability is not always easy to prove. States, counties, cities, and even public housing authorities have a wide variety of laws governing dog registration, dangerous breeds, and leash and muzzle requirements.

Understanding Dog Bite Liability and Negligence

  • Liability is a legal term for responsibility. Whether you live in a one-bite or strict liability state, the owner is responsible when their dog bites someone.
  • Negligence happens when a dog owner does something wrong or fails to act in a way that any reasonable dog owner would, like failing to keep their dog on a leash or in a fenced yard.

A reasonable, prudent dog owner is someone who knows, or should know the violent or aggressive tendencies of their dog. If the dog is known for chasing the mail carrier or snarling at noisy children, the owner should know the dog might hurt someone.

When a dog owner fails to take reasonable action to prevent their dog from injuring others, the owner is negligent and responsible for the resulting damages.

Most injury victims can use dog bite laws to increase their compensation. It all depends on where you live, and the circumstances of the attack.

Find your location on this table of State Dog Bite and Animal Control Laws.

One Bite Rule

Some states give the dog’s owner a free pass, called the “one bite rule,” when the owner had no reason to believe the dog was going to bite someone. You can get around the “one bite rule” if the owner was negligent, like letting the dog run loose.

Strict Liability

Other states have a “strict liability rule,” meaning the owner is always on the hook for damages unless you were trespassing or deliberately provoking the dog.

Military and police dog handlers are generally exempt from dog bite liability claims or lawsuits if the dog was on active duty.

Example: Proving Dog Bite Liability  

Karen lived in a one-bite rule state with Sheba, her four-year-old Doberman.

Sheba was a well-trained show dog, with an excellent bloodline. Sheba had never shown any signs of aggression, in or out of the show ring.

Karen worked with another show-dog owner to breed the two champion Dobermans, and soon Sheba had a litter of puppies.

One weekend, Karen invited some co-workers and their families over for a cookout. The adults were grilling burgers and setting up the table while the young children, including two five-year-old girls, played in the back yard.

The visiting girls wandered over toward Karen’s dog enclosure. Delighted to see the puppies, one of the little girls opened the gate. Without warning, Sheba attacked the child, savagely biting her face and arms before the adults could pull her off.

The young girl sustained serious injuries, requiring multiple corrective surgeries and was severely traumatized by the attack.

The injured child’s family filed a dog bite claim with Karen’s homeowner’s insurance company. When the insurance adjuster denied their claim, blaming the child for opening the gate, the family’s attorney filed a lawsuit.

Despite the state’s “one-bite” rule, the attorney was able to show that Karen should have known that a Doberman was territorial by nature and that a dog with puppies is very likely to attack.

The attorney also argued that the child was too young to be responsible for opening the gate and that Karen failed in her duty to protect the child from an “attractive nuisance.” She didn’t secure the gate and warn the child’s parents about the puppies.

The jury found on behalf of the injured child, awarding $200,000 in damages for her past and future medical expenses, and her emotional distress.

Sadly, children are often the most seriously injured victims of a dog attack. Parents need to know how to handle liability claims and lawsuits after dog bite attacks on young children.

Elements of Negligence for Dog Bite Liability

Every injury claim, including dog bite claims, involve proving four elements of negligence to convince an insurance adjuster or court jury that the dog owner should pay for your losses. The four critical elements are:

  1. Duty of Care: The dog owner had a duty of care to prevent the dog from causing harm to others.
  2. Breach of Duty: The dog owner breached their duty by doing something wrong or failing to take reasonable action to prevent their dog from attacking you.
  3. Cause: The dog owner’s negligence is the proximate cause of your injuries. For example, you wouldn’t have been savagely bitten if the owner had leashed or fenced the dog.
  4. Damages: You have verifiable injuries, supported by medical bills and records.

Shared Blame Can Tank Your Claim

Five jurisdictions follow the contributory negligence rule. In these states, if a dog owner can prove you were partially to blame for provoking the dog, your claim can be denied.

At the other extreme, in states like California and New York with pure comparative fault rules, you can be 99 percent to blame and still seek compensation for dog bite injuries.

Most states use modified comparative negligence rules, meaning your injury claim can be denied if you are equally to blame (50% rule) or more to blame (51% rule) than the dog’s owner for the circumstances leading to the dog bite attack.

If your claim isn’t denied, your compensation is reduced according to your share of fault.

Attorneys Can Boost Your Compensation

Dog bite cases can get complicated. For example, if a dangerous dog breed attacked you, the insurance company might deny your claim if the owner was breaking local law by having the dog in that neighborhood.

Even with solid evidence that the dog owner was negligent, insurance companies are notorious for offering lower settlements to claimants who are not represented by an attorney.

Are you out of luck if the dog owner doesn’t have homeowner’s insurance? Not necessarily. There may be other sources of compensation to pursue.

Don’t walk away empty-handed. If a dog bite attack injured you or your child, you deserve fair compensation. It costs nothing to find out what a good personal injury attorney can do for you.

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 >>