Who Pays When a Dog Bites Another Dog?

Who pays for dog-on-dog attacks? Here’s what you need to know if your dog bites another dog, or your pet has been injured or killed by another dog.

One of the most common reasons for emergency veterinarian appointments is bite wounds to dogs.¹

Americans spend millions of dollars in medical and veterinary bills and suffer millions more in property losses from dog-on-dog attacks.

Vet bills add up fast. When someone else is to blame, you deserve to be compensated for your losses.

You need to know your rights and obligations, what you’ll need to prove the other dog owner is responsible, and how to pursue the at-fault dog owner for compensation.

Dog Owners’ Legal Duty of Care

Duty of care is a legal phrase that means an obligation to be careful not to cause harm to others.

Dog owners have a legal “duty of care” to keep their dog from hurting another person or damaging personal property.

If you or your child have been bitten or otherwise injured by a dog, seek immediate medical attention and contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss your eligibility for compensation.

As much as we like to consider our dogs something more than just property, under the law, they are just that.

Cats and other domesticated animals are also legally considered personal property.

It pays to know the dog bite and animal control laws in your neck of the woods, and a few more legal terms you’ll run into when it comes to dog injury property damage claims.

Negligence happens in dog attacks when a dog owner fails to act responsibly or does something no reasonable dog owner would do. For example, failing to leash a dog in a public park.

Liability simply means responsibility. A negligent dog owner is financially responsible for harm caused by their dog.

Damages for victims of dog-on-dog aggression will include reimbursement for veterinary bills, dog medications, and kennel or animal hospital fees while the dog is recovering.

In cases of fatal dog attacks, damages can extend to include the replacement cost of a deceased dog.

From a legal standpoint, dogs and cats are personal property. Unfortunately, liability does not extend to the mental anguish or emotional distress a dog owner suffers due to their dog’s injury or death.

Proving the Other Dog Owner is Liable

Dog-on-dog aggression is sometimes difficult to sort out, especially when a dog attack erupts suddenly, seemingly without provocation. This usually happens when two dogs pass one another closely. In a split second, they can be at each other’s throats.

Determining which dog started it often comes down to one dog owner’s word against the other.

Location, Location, Location

If your 12-pound Pomeranian was safely secured in your backyard surrounded by a three-foot fence before the neighbor’s pit bull jumped the fence and mauled her, it’s clear who started that dogfight.

But if you let that same 12-pound Pom loose to run in a dog park, and she goes after a leashed Rottweiler, one quick snap from the big dog and it’s all over. Who’s to blame?

You’ll have a much easier time making a claim for damages when the attack occurred on your property, and the other dog was not “invited” to be in your living space.

When the circumstances of the attack won’t be so clear to the insurance company, or a jury, you’ll need to find other ways to establish negligence and liability.

Look for These Indicators of Negligence

Dangerous dog laws: Check out your local state, municipal and neighborhood dog laws that ban or restrict the ownership of specific breeds of dog, or mixed breeds of dangerous dogs.

When the dog who attacked your pet is a dangerous breed, the owner may be automatically negligent and liable for your losses.

History: Ask around to see if other neighbors have had any problems with the same dog. Did he bite other neighbors or their children? How about other dogs?

Check with your local animal control center for records of citations or warnings issued to the owner of the other dog.

Running loose: Negligence and resulting liability of a dog owner who fails to leash or otherwise contain their dog to prevent harm to others is much easier to prove.

Failing to protect others from attacks by letting a dog run loose is, in and of itself, negligent.

Finding Evidence to Support Your Claim

Evidence collected from the scene of the attack and other evidence related to the dangerous dog and the at-fault owner will have a big impact on the success of your claim.

Photographs and video footage

Photographs and video footage of the dog attack and its aftermath are powerful evidence. Use your cell phone, tablet or camera to photograph and video your dog’s injuries, and the scene of the attack.

Take close-ups of gashes, cuts, and blood on the ground.

Get photos and video of the dangerous dog, if it can be done safely.

Be sure to turn on the camera’s date and time stamp function to eliminate any question about when the attack happened.

Witness statements

Witnesses to the actual event as well as witnesses to previous attacks by the aggressive dog are quite helpful. This is especially true in cases when the other dog owner is disputing your claim.

Don’t hesitate to ask witnesses for their names and contact information.

If there’s time, take out any paper you can find and ask the witnesses to write down what they saw, especially focusing on which dog initiated the attack.

Knock on your neighbors’ doors. See if you can find others who have suffered personal attacks or attacks on their dog or cat by the same aggressive dog. The more witnesses you have supporting your assertion the dog had violent tendencies, the stronger your claim becomes.

Expense Records

Organize all your dog-attack paperwork before submitting your demand for compensation.

You’ll need copies of your dog’s vet bills, vet treatment records, and out-of-pocket expenses for medically necessary supplies to care for your dog.

Ask the vet to give you a written list of recommended supplies for home care of the injured dog.

Typically, insurance companies will not agree to pay for wages lost while taking your dog to the veterinarian or while caring for your dog at home. If you have a statement of lost wages from your employer, submit it anyway.

Filing a Homeowners Insurance Claim

After a dog attack, contact the other dog’s owner as soon as possible. Confirm the dog owner’s name and contact information and ask for their homeowner’s insurance company name and policy number.

Injuries and property damage caused by dogs is normally covered under the dog owner’s homeowners insurance policy.

This is true even when the policyholder’s dog causes injuries or property damage away from the owner’s home.

Because of the ever-increasing number of personal injury claims and lawsuits, more insurance companies are beginning to exclude coverage for certain dangerous breeds.

If the insurance company denies your claim because the homeowner’s policy doesn’t cover the dog that attacked your pet, you will have to seek compensation directly from the other dog owner.

Understanding Comparative and Contributory Negligence

There are four states, and the District of Columbia, that follow the contributory negligence rule. In these states, if you contributed to your own injury or to your own property damage, you receive nothing.

Insurance companies and the courts follow this very strict rule. If a dog owner can prove you were partially to blame for your dog’s injuries, you’ll lose your claim.

The remaining states follow pure or comparative negligence rules. In these states, your share of blame for the attack is compared to the aggressive dog owner’s negligence.

Depending on how much blame you have for what happened, your compensation could be reduced, or denied entirely.

Example of Comparative Fault in a Dog Attack

Sam was hiking along a public trail with his four-year-old yellow Lab named Buddy.

Julie was also on the trail that morning with Snickers, her six-year-old Shepherd mix.

Neither dog was on a leash. As the two hikers passed one another, they exchanged greetings and kept moving. They had only gone a few more steps before Buddy snarled and snapped at the Snickers.

Snickers immediately lunged at Buddy, and the fight was on.

Fortunately, the dog owners where able separate the dogs without injury to themselves.

Buddy was badly injured, with bites to his face, ears, and neck. Sam carried his bleeding dog to the car and drove him to the vet. Sam ended up with $1,000 in vet bills for Buddy.

Julie was an apartment dweller in a town with no breed-specific laws. Sam sued Julie in small claims court to recover his vet expenses.

The judge ruled that although Julie’s dog did the most damage, both Sam and Julie were equally liable for not leashing their dogs.

Sam was awarded $500 out of his $1,000 damages, representing a 50 percent reduction for his comparative negligence.

Dog Attack Claims in Small Claims Court

In some cases, you just can’t get fair compensation from the dog owner or their insurance company.

If the insurance company denies your claim, or you just aren’t getting any cooperation in settling your claim, consider filing a lawsuit against the other dog owner in your local small claims court.

Small claims courts are an affordable way to go after your property damages without having to hire an attorney.

Filing a small claims lawsuit is a great way to get satisfaction. Unresponsive, aggressive dog owners and their insurance companies quickly snap to attention when the insured receives a summons to appear in court.

While not common, a judge, especially a dog lover, may decide to order the aggressive dog’s owner to pay your lost wages for the time you spent at home caring for your dog.

Judges have great latitude in deciding what’s fair and what’s not – and insurance companies know it.

You can quickly learn how to file a small claims lawsuit. You’ll be filing your lawsuit against the other dog owner, not the dog owner’s insurance company.

Filing fees for small claims court are usually much less than district courts.

When you file your lawsuit, be sure to include a request for all your small claims fees. The other dog owner will have to reimburse you when your win your case.

Insurance companies have an obligation to defend thier insured if they get sued.

It’s surprising to see how many insurance companies quickly pay denied claims when someone files a lawsuit.

Insurance companies don’t want to spend money on attorneys, especially when there’s a reasonable probability they may lose.

Dog-on-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 >>