Learn what to do when a neighbor’s dog bites your child. See what parents can expect when filing an injury claim against the dog’s owner.
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
Parents should know what to do when a neighbor’s dog bites their child, and how to ensure the child is fully compensated for their injuries, suffering, and emotional trauma.
First 4 Steps When a Neighbor’s 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 Immediately
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 important for your child to receive immediate medical attention. A small scratch can lead to serious infections, rabies, and various diseases. Tell the medical provider where and when the dog bit your child.
2. Notify the Dog Owner
Locate the dog owner, if you aren’t already familiar with your neighbor. 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 neighbor for the name, policy number, and contact information for their homeowners’ insurance company.
3. Contact Animal Control
It’s important to file a complaint with your local 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 the scene can have a huge impact on the success of your child’s dog bite claim.
Take the time to collect and preserve evidence after a dog attack. It can make a difference in the amount of compensation your child may receive later.
Dog bite evidence from the scene can include:
- Your child’s tattered and bloodied clothing: 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: 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: Impartial reports can be crucial to your child’s claim. Good Samaritan witnesses have no personal or financial interest in the outcome. Insurance companies and jurors take their statements seriously. Get the name and contact information of anyone who saw the dog attack your child.
Dealing With Homeowners’ Insurance Companies
If your child was bitten in your home by your dog, there might not be coverage available under your homeowner policy. Most homeowner’s insurance policies don’t cover injuries to family members living in the home.
If a neighbor’s dog bit your child, their medical expenses will be covered by the neighbor’s homeowner’s policy, whether the dog ran into your yard or the attack occurred on the neighbor’s property.
Provided your neighbor has homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, payment for your child’s dog bite injuries should be covered under the Medical Coverage or Liability Coverage section of their policy.
Medical Payments Coverage (Med-Pay)
Med-Pay covers injury-related medical bills up to a certain amount, typically $1,000.
Parents should not have trouble getting some medical bills paid under the Med-Pay portion of coverage, but pain and suffering won’t be included. If your child was given a clean bill of health by a medical provider, and you just want the doctor’s bill paid, a medical coverage payment may be all you need.
Before paying any bills, the insurance company may ask the parents to sign a release of any future claims against the dog owner.
If your child is seriously injured, don’t sign a release just to get a few bills paid. In many states, parents don’t have the legal authority to release a child’s claims without court approval. However, the parent can sign away their own right to compensation related to their child’s serious injuries.
Liability Coverage Requires Proving Fault
Dog bite liability coverage is harder to get at. The claimant bears the burden of proving that the homeowner’s negligence led to the dog attack. The benefit of filing a claim under liability coverage is the payouts can be much larger. Liability limits often range upward from $100,000 to $300,000.
Proving the dog owner’s negligence and liability (legal responsibility) in dog bite cases takes time and effort. You will likely need an attorney to handle serious injury claims.
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 under state dog bite laws, or blaming the attack on your child.
When Your Child is Blamed for the Dog Attack
Sometimes dog owners or their insurance companies will defend themselves by blaming the 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 harassing behavior.
Sometimes blaming the victim works. It can protect the dog owner from liability for injuries that happened to adults and older children who intentionally torment a dog.
In cases of younger children though, arguing provocation isn’t as helpful, especially 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.
Most states have rules and case laws that say very young children aren’t legally capable of negligence and can’t be blamed. Additionally, the neighbor may be liable for creating an attractive nuisance, meaning something on the property that could irresistibly draw a child into danger.
Most young children who unintentionally provoke a dog do it while playing around or being noisy. Seek legal advice if the attack is being blamed on the victim. Your child should not be punished for acting like a normal, healthy kid.
Child Injury Claims Are Complicated
Settling a serious injury claim for an underage child is complicated, and typically requires court approval. Hiring an experienced personal injury attorney is the best way to make sure your child gets the compensation they deserve for their injuries, and that the child’s future interests are protected.
A dog bite 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.
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.
It costs nothing to talk with an experienced personal injury attorney. Most injury lawyers offer a free consultation to dog bite victims. 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. Established attorneys often advance 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 only gets paid if they win your child’s case.
The attorney may also be able to recover compensation for parents, to cover costs of medical care and supportive services, and to replace lost wages for the time used to care for the injured child.
Once you’ve hired an attorney and filed a lawsuit, the insurance company is on notice to bring real money to the bargaining table.
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