Dog Bite Claim Guide: What to Do and How to Get Compensation

Getting attacked by a vicious dog can be traumatic and cause serious injuries. Learn how to file a dog bite claim and get fair compensation for your injuries.

More than 69 million U.S. households own dogs and about 4.5 million people are bitten annually. The average cost per dog bite liability claim was more than $49,000 in 2021.¹

When you or a loved one suffer injuries from a dog bite, you expect the negligent dog owner to pay for your medical costs and other losses.

Here we discuss what to do after a dog bite injury, who can be held liable for your economic losses and emotional distress, and how to calculate a fair personal injury settlement.

What to Do After a Dog Attack

Health and safety are your first priority after a dog attack, followed by speaking with a local dog bite lawyer. Here are other steps to help build a personal injury claim against the dog’s owner:

  1. Seek immediate medical treatment. Go to the hospital emergency room or urgent care. Call 911 if needed. Tell emergency responders and all medical care providers when and where the dog attack took place. Never refuse medical attention at the scene.
  2. Gather evidence. If possible, gather evidence from the scene. Take pictures and video of the dog, the location, blood on the ground, and the injuries. Get the names and phone numbers of witnesses. Keep any torn or bloodied clothing as evidence. Continue collecting evidence, like medical bills and medical records, until your claim is resolved.
  3. Notify proper authorities. Most cities, towns, and counties have an Animal Control division. If you aren’t sure where to report the attack, call the police. Don’t assume the emergency room reported the attack (although they probably did).
  4. Locate the dog’s owner. Contact the owner directly or by sending a notification letter to tell them of their dog’s attack, and to make it clear you hold them responsible. Find out of they have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.
  5. Research local dog bite laws. Your municipality may have more stringent laws than your county or state that can help prove the dog owner is liable.
  6. Watch what you say to the adjuster. When you file an injury claim with the insurance company, you may hear from an adjuster right away. If the dog bite victim is a child, the adjuster can’t question the child without a parent’s permission. Consider talking to a personal injury attorney before giving a statement or allowing the adjuster to speak to your child.
  7. Beware of quick settlement offers. The adjuster will start with a low offer. Know the true value of your claim, and negotiate accordingly.

What’s the difference between a dog bite claim and a lawsuit?

A dog bite claim is made to the at-fault party’s insurance company, similar to a car accident claim. Insurance claims are typically settled within a few months.

A dog bite injury lawsuit is filed in court against the at-fault party, not the insurer. The injured victim is the plaintiff. The person being sued is the defendant. The litigation process can take several months or more than a year before the case goes to trial.

If you need to file suit, or you’re just not sure what to do, contact a personal injury lawyer. Most dog bite lawyers offer free consultations.

Dog bite lawsuits are often settled by insurance companies before the case ever gets in front of a judge, for a much higher settlement amount than would have been offered without legal representation.

When should I file a dog bite claim?

Notify the insurance company of your intent to file a personal injury claim as soon as possible after the attack. You won’t be ready to discuss settlement until your injuries are healed and you know the full extent of your damages. That’s when you will send a settlement demand letter for your dog bite injuries.

When should I file a dog bite lawsuit?

A lawsuit may be your best option when the insurance company won’t come off a lowball settlement offer, your dog bite claim was denied, or the statute of limitations is looming. You may also directly sue the dog owner for damages if they have no applicable insurance.

Children are particularly vulnerable to vicious animal attacks. A lawsuit may be your best choice to ensure fair compensation for your child’s permanent disfigurement and emotional trauma. In this situation, immediately reach out to a dog bite attorney for a confidential case evaluation.

Can I sue for a minor dog bite or accident?

Yes. Keep in mind that you won’t find a law firm to handle your case unless the payout will be enough to cover reasonable lawyer’s fees. If you’re only trying to get reimbursed for minor expenses, you might decide to file your case in small claims court and proceed without an attorney.

Dogs can cause serious injuries without biting. You can be compensated for dog-related injuries from falls, bicycle and motorcycle accidents, car crashes, and more.

Liability for Dog Bite Injuries

Most often, the dog’s owner is responsible if their dog attacks another person. Sometimes the landlord may share liability, or a business owner that allows dogs to be brought on the premises and a dog subsequently bites someone.

Dog Bite Laws

Find out everything you can about the state and local dog bite statutes in your area. There is always a case to be made if a dog owner violates leash laws or knowingly owns a pit bull, Rottweiler, or some other banned or restricted dangerous dog breed.

State dog bite laws include:

  • Strict Liability: Some state laws maintain a dog owner has strict liability for injuries caused by their dog. This means the owner is responsible for any dog attack injuries, even if the owner followed all the rules.
  • One-Bite Rule: Other states have a “one-bite” rule that makes a dog-bite victim prove the owner did something wrong or failed to do what any reasonable dog owner would do. The owner may be off the hook if the dog had no prior history of aggression.
  • Contributory Negligence: States have different laws about contributory or comparative negligence. That means your injury claim might be denied or reduced if the insurance company says your child was trespassing or you did something to aggravate the dog or cause the attack.

Always seek legal advice for your personal injury case if the insurance company is trying to pin some of the blame on you or your child. In many states, young children are not legally capable of shared fault.

How to prove my dog bite case?

You’ll need evidence to prove the dog owner did something wrong or failed to do what any reasonable dog owner would do to protect others from harm. For example, witness testimony that they let their dog run loose, or pictures showing the owner failed to fix a big hole in the fence where the dog escaped.

Other dog bite evidence that can help your case includes prior animal control reports on the dog, local laws that were violated, and videos of the snarling, snapping dog.

How long does it take to settle a dog bite case?

Claims filed with the dog owner’s homeowner insurance company can usually be settled within a few months when liability is clear. Lawsuits can take longer, sometimes several years.

Dog Bite Damages and Compensation

Dog bite victims can suffer physical, emotional, and financial harm from an unprovoked attack. In legal and insurance terms, the harm you suffer is called “damages.” You are entitled to seek monetary compensation for your damages.

3 Types of Damages in Dog Bite Cases

The at-fault party in a dog bite case, usually the dog’s owner, may be forced to pay economic damages, non-economic damages, and even punitive damages in a severe dog attack case.

Economic and non-economic damages are types of compensatory damages that may be paid through an insurance settlement or a court verdict. Punitive damages are only awarded in court.

1. Economic damages are financial costs you can measure, such as:

  • Medical expenses (even if your health insurance already covered the initial costs)
  • Lost wages
  • Property damage (torn clothing, broken eyeglasses, etc.)

2. Non-economic damages are more subjective:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

3. Punitive damages are only awarded in court:

  • Also called exemplary damages, they are meant to punish the at-fault party
  • Juries award them to victims for willful or malicious behavior by the dog owner
  • May be awarded in excess of any available liability coverage

How to Calculate Dog Bite Compensation

The multiplier method is a simple way to calculate the value of a minor personal injury claim. This method starts with adding up all measurable costs, like medical expenses, lost wages, and out-of-pocket expenses. You then multiply the total by a factor of one or two to arrive at an amount for pain and suffering.

Claims for crippling injuries, permanent facial scarring, or even wrongful death from a dangerous dog attack must be evaluated by a personal injury attorney. An experienced attorney can demand compensation for future expenses and justify a significantly higher amount for pain and suffering.

How much compensation can I get for another dog attacking mine?

Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to seek compensation from the other dog’s owner for the vet bills arising from a dog-on-dog attack. Unfortunately, most homeowners insurance policies define domestic animals as personal property. The adjuster may not accept a personal injury claim for your emotional distress as a pet owner, even if their insured’s dog causes the death of your beloved pet.

Dog Bite Claim Questions