An attack by a dog can prove both painful and frightening, damaging your body as well as your psyche. If you find yourself on the receiving end of a dog bite incident, you may be wondering how to pursue compensation for your financial losses or make sure a negligent owner receives a fair punishment. Here are three points you need to consider as you discuss this aspect of personal injury law with your attorney.
1. You Need All the Proof You Can Get
No matter how sympathetic you may appear to a judge, you can't simply present your claim that a dog bit you and receive compensation on that basis. Unfortunately, in the shock and chaos of a dog attack, many victims forget to gather whatever evidence they can to support their claim. Witnesses can play a key role in supporting your story, especially if one of them happened to capture the attack on video via smartphone. Try to get these people's contact information for later follow-up. If you have a camera on you, take pictures of the dog, the location, and your injury. A doctor's visit that confirms the nature of the injury can provide you with additional evidence that you were, in fact, bitten.
2. The Owner Might Not Be Held Responsible
The owner of the dog may not actually be the person you would sue for your dog bite injury. In some cases, an apartment property owner may hold liability for any dog bites that take place on the property. If someone other than the owner is supposed to be minding the dog, this person may also hold responsibility. Your personal injury lawyer can help you figure out which party might owe you compensation. The determination of liability varies from state to state, including interpretations such as:
- Strict liability: The owner or keeper of the pet is fully liable for all damages, no matter what the circumstances.
- The "one-bite" rule: This common-law rule can be employed in states with or without existing dog bite laws. If the bite incident is not the first such incident for an animal, that animal may be considered dangerous, at which point the owner or keeper may have to pay damages.
- Exceptions: There are exceptions in which the owner or keeper of the dog may not be held liable for a dog bite incident. Depending on your state, these exceptional circumstances may include trespassing, other criminal acts, or provocation of the dog by the plaintiff. Other factors may include the age of the dog, whether the dog was on the property or at large, and the time of day or night that the incident occurred.
3. The Owner's Insurance May or May Not Compensate You
Many dog owners have dog bite coverage included in their homeowner's insurance policy, with the upper limits typically falling between $100,000 and $300,000. Auto insurance policies often include some provision for dog bite liability protection. Some owners may even maintain separate animal insurance policies. Others, however, may have no such liability protections in place (at least not for their particular breed of dog), while others may find that their policy only pays for the first incident. In these cases, you may have no choice but to sue for damages.
Just as different states have different approaches to dog bite liability, the kinds of damages you can claim may vary according to your state's laws. The most common kinds of damages involve medical expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of income due to recuperation or disability. But if your personal injury attorney can show that the owner neglected to keep the dog contained or warn passersby of potential danger, you may also be able to ask for punitive damages.
You don't have to suffer in silence in the aftermath of a dog bite. Talk to your personal injury attorney to learn more about your compensation options.