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Dog Bite and Attack Injuries: What is the Owner’s Liability?

Dogs hold a special place in the hearts and homes of many, often referred to as man’s best friend for their loyalty and companionship. However, there are occasions when this harmonious relationship is put to the test, such as when a dog bite occurs. In the aftermath of a dog bite, the injured party may find themselves navigating a complex mix of emotions, physical pain, and the daunting prospect of legal action. Understanding the legal ramifications and options available is crucial for anyone who finds themselves in this unfortunate situation.

In the United States, the legal landscape surrounding dog bites is governed by a combination of state statutes, local laws, and court decisions. Generally, dog owners are considered liable if their dog bites someone, especially if the owner knew the dog had a tendency to bite or if negligence can be proven. However, the specifics can vary significantly from one jurisdiction to another, affecting the course of action available to bite victims.

Strict Liability vs. Negligence

Many states operate under a “strict liability” doctrine when it comes to dog bites. This means that the dog owner is liable for any damage caused by their dog biting another person, regardless of the owner’s knowledge of the dog’s aggressiveness or prior behavior. In these jurisdictions, the victim does not need to prove that the owner was negligent or that the dog had a history of aggression. The mere fact that the bite occurred places liability on the owner.

Conversely, some states require the victim to prove that the dog owner was negligent in order to establish liability. This could involve demonstrating that the owner failed to secure the dog properly or ignored local leash laws, directly leading to the incident. In these “negligence” states, if an owner had no reason to believe their dog was dangerous, they might not be held liable for the dog’s first bite.

The “One-Bite” Rule

A handful of states still adhere to the “one-bite” rule, a more traditional approach to dog bite liability. Under this rule, a dog owner is only held responsible for a dog bite if they had reason to know the dog might bite. Essentially, the dog gets “one free bite” before the owner can be considered aware of and responsible for the dog’s aggressive behavior. If a dog has previously bitten someone or exhibited aggressive tendencies, the owner can be held liable for subsequent bites because they were aware of the risk.

Defenses to Dog Bite Claims

Dog owners have several defenses they can employ to fight a dog bite claim. One common defense is provocation; if the dog was provoked into biting, the owner may not be held liable. Trespassing also plays a significant role in these cases. If the victim was unlawfully on the property where the bite occurred, the owner’s liability might be reduced or eliminated. Comparative negligence is another defense, where the victim’s actions contributed to their injury, potentially reducing the compensation they can receive.

Steps to Take After a Dog Bite

If you’ve been bitten by a dog, the steps you take immediately afterward can significantly impact your ability to seek legal recourse:

  1. Seek Medical Attention: Prioritize your health. Some dog bites can lead to serious infections or require tetanus shots, stitches, or other medical interventions.
  2. Report the Incident: File a report with your local animal control or police department. This creates an official record of the incident, which can be crucial in a legal case.
  3. Document Everything: Take photos of your injuries, the location where the bite occurred, and, if possible, the dog that bit you. Gather contact information from witnesses and the dog’s owner. Keep records of medical treatments and any communications related to the incident.
  4. Consult an Attorney: Dog bite laws are complex and vary widely. An experienced personal injury attorney can provide valuable guidance on your legal options and the best course of action based on the specific circumstances of your case.

Compensation for Dog Bite Victims

Victims of dog bites may be entitled to various forms of compensation, including medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. In severe cases, where the bite leads to disfigurement, long-term disability, or other significant impacts on the victim’s quality of life, additional damages may be awarded.

Preventing Dog Bites

Prevention is always preferable to dealing with the aftermath of a dog bite. Dog owners should train and socialize their pets, adhere to local leash laws, and take precautions to prevent their dogs from becoming a danger to others. Educating the public, especially children, on how to safely interact with dogs can also reduce the incidence of dog bites.

While dogs are cherished companions for many, the potential for bites poses legal and health challenges that cannot be ignored. Understanding the legal framework surrounding dog bite liability is crucial for both dog owners and bite victims. For victims, knowing your rights and the steps to take following a bite can help ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve for your injuries. For dog owners, understanding your responsibilities and taking steps to prevent bites can protect you from legal action and help maintain the bond between humans and dogs as one of friendship and mutual respect.

When is it the Owner’s Responsibility?

The liability of the dog owner may depend on which state you live in. In some states, it’s only the dog owner’s responsibility to know the dog was aggressive and did nothing to stop their behavior or protect the other party. However, in other states, the owner may be liable for any injury their dog caused, whether they knew about it or not. Always consult the laws in your state before moving forward with a legal suit.

What Should I Do if I am Attacked?

First and foremost, you should seek medical attention for your injuries. Seeing a doctor or other medical professional can also rule out any diseases transmitted by a dog bite. Next, make sure to report the bite to the local authorities. Making a complaint is the first step toward getting compensation and making sure your claim is formal and official. Make sure you record any evidence you can, including speaking with any witnesses to the bite, taking photos of the injury, and making sure that you keep all receipts and records associated with costs you had to pay as a result of your injury.

When to Seek Legal Representation

If you’ve suffered a severe dog attack that left you with high medical bills or other financial losses, you should retain the help of a personal injury attorney with experience in dog attack claims. An experienced attorney will work with you and help you recover the costs you deserve.

Contact Herrman & Herrman P.L.L.C. at 361.882.4357

Our firm is equipped with over 100 years of combined experience handling personal injury cases across Texas. Our outstanding record of favorable settlements and verdicts includes over 20,000 successfully resolved cases. Once we take on a case, we are relentless, and you can rely on us to pursue full compensation for you.

  • You can trust our attorneys to be compassionate and professional.
  • We will fight hard to obtain a fair settlement for you.
  • Our firm represents the injured and families who have lost a loved one due to others’ negligent acts.
  • We serve as counsel in a range of injury cases – including car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle, pedestrian accidents, premises liability cases, product liability cases, and medical malpractice claims.
  • We have the ability to dispatch the Herrman & Herrman Accident Investigative Team to the crash scene to start an investigation and preserve critical evidence.