Dog bites occur frequently. In the United States, there is 4.5 million dog bite victims each year, though only a few have filed and litigated their claims for injuries. In New York City alone, there are over 500,000 dogs. Although the vast majority of these dogs are not dangerous, dog bites are still quite common. If you have been bitten by a dog, consult with a dog bite lawyer to know your remedies. Dog bite lawyers will accept your case on a contingency basis, especially when your injury is severe and the dog owner has a homeowner’s insurance policy.
Dog bite laws
If a dog bites you, the dog owner is strictly liable to pay for your medical bills associated with the dog bite, if the dog is a vicious dog. This strict liability means that the dog owner has to pay your medical bills, whether or not he was negligent. The gravamen of the offense is the knowledge of the dog owner that the dog was possessed of vicious or mischievous propensities. Nardi v. Gonzales, 165 Misc.2d 336 (1995).
What is considered a vicious dog?
A vicious dog is a dog that has a vicious propensity, i.e., a dog with a tendency to do an act that might endanger another. Usually, vicious propensity can be found when a dog previously attacked and injured or killed a person, pet, or farm animal without justification, or currently behaves in a way that would cause a reasonable person to believe that the dog poses a serious and unjustified risk of serious injury or death.
If you want to recover additional damages in excess of your medical costs, such as emotional distress or lost wages because of your medical condition, you need to show negligence, such as:
- The owner was negligent in controlling the dog, and this negligence caused the dog to bite you; or
- The owner knew or reasonably should have known, that his dog was dangerous and had a history of vicious propensity.
Reasons for not filing claims against the dog owners
Most dog bite victims don’t file claims against the dog owners because these dog owners are usually their friends, their neighbors, or a distant family relative. However, you should not let this relationship get in the way of receiving compensation for your injuries. Most dog bites will be covered by the homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. Your dog bite lawyer will likely negotiate with the dog owner’s insurance company and not with the dog owner himself. Usually, dog bite lawyers will accept your case on contingency if the dog owner has appropriate insurance that will cover the claim. If there is no insurance coverage, making your claims may be expensive and illusory.
Things to do when you have been bitten by a dog
When you have been bitten by a dog, it is important to do the following things to ensure that you are successful in your claim with the insurance company:
- Get the names and addresses of the dog owner, the person who was in control of the dog when the dog bit you (the dog custodian, if different from the dog owner), and witnesses who saw the dog bite happen. If you are unable to do this because you need medical attention immediately, take note of the people around you and have a friend or family member get this information for you.
- Request from the dog owner a copy of the dog’s rabies vaccination records and the policy booklet containing their homeowner’s or renter’s insurance information. This policy booklet should contain the dog owner’s name, address, and monetary limits of the coverage.
- Get the dog license information, information regarding any prior dog bite history of the dog, and prior notice of the viciousness of the dog on the landlord or property owner’s part.
- Take photographs of the incident. This includes photographs of your dog bite wound and the environment where it happened. Check if there are any “beware of dog” signs or note the lack of such signs. Take a video of the place where the dog bite happened so you and your lawyer can have a good idea of where you and the dog were positioned, which could reflect any possibility of negligence on either side of the parties.
- Go to the doctor and get medical treatment. Keep all the receipts, including receipts for medicine, so you have proof of your medical costs. If you were bitten on the face, request a plastic surgeon’s quote to remove any scar on the face caused by the dog bite.
- Go to the nearest animal control agency and file a report. They will investigate the incident and make their own report.
- Get a dog bite lawyer to represent you in your claims with the insurance company. If the insurance company calls you, ask for its name, address of the adjuster’s office, phone number, claim number, name of the insured, and the amount limitations for liability and medical expense coverages. Getting a dog bite lawyer for legal representation is important because studies show that you will receive a lower offer if you are not represented by legal counsel.
Who can be liable for a dog bite?
The most common person liable for a dog bite is the dog owner. The dog custodian, the person in control of the dog at the time of dog bite, if different from the dog owner, can also be liable for the medical bills of a dog bite victim of a dangerous dog.
The landlord or property owner may be held liable to a dog bite victim for an attack made by a tenant’s dog under premises liability if the landlord had notice of the dog’s presence on the property, its viciousness, and that the landlord had control of the premises or the capability to remove or confine the dog. Amell v. O’Leary, 2007 NY Slip Op 31934 (2007).
Damages you can claim for a dog bite
You can claim economic and non-economic damages for a dog bite.
Economic damages refer to the actual costs you incurred to heal and restore your body from a dog bite, such as medical costs, transportation costs to the hospital, loss of income in the past, loss of the ability to earn money in the future, counseling expenses, and other out-of-pocket costs that you incurred because of the accident.
Non-economic damages are intangible in nature and refer to mental anguish and suffering, humiliation due to a scar caused by the dog bite, or loss of quality of life.
In exceptional cases, you may be able to also get punitive damages.
Defenses of the dog owner
A dog owner can raise several defenses in a claim for damages arising from a dog bite. The most common defenses of a dog owner against a dog bite victim are:
- Trespassing. If you are entering another person’s property without the consent of the owner (or legal possessor of the property), you are considered a trespasser. You may not be permitted to recover damages for a dog bite that occurred while you trespassed on someone else’s property.
- Provocation. If you provoked the dog before the bite occurred, such as slapping, hitting, or threatening the dog aggressively, you may not be able to recover damages.
- Comparative negligence. In certain instances, the dog owner may raise the issue that you were also negligent and your negligence caused the dog bite.
- Assumption of risk. The owner may argue that you assumed the risk of being bitten by the dog. For example, if the owner’s premises contained many “beware of dog” signs, and yet, you disregarded these warnings, the court may say you were comparatively negligent by a particular percentage and reduce the total award in proportion to your negligence.
The two possible scenarios when you have been bitten by a dog
When you have been bitten by a dog, your dog bite lawyer will assess your situation using two scenarios: whether you can claim from the dog owner’s insurance or not.
When the liable party has insurance
When the liable party has insurance (usually homeowner’s or renter’s insurance), you can file a claim with the insurance company. File your claim as soon as you can, but do not settle until you are sure about your damages. A settlement will preclude you from getting more, even if your dog bite later turns more grave or fatal and will require more medical attention and costs.
Getting a lawyer to file your claim is advisable because studies show that insurance company offers more to those claimants who are represented by lawyers. A lawyer will also be able to gather the correct documentation to ensure that you have a strong case.
The dog bite lawyer will also know whether the insurance company’s offer is too low or within the standard. If it is too low and does not even cover your medical costs, you may have to sue. Usually, after suing, parties will settle rather than go through the expensive process of discovery and trial.
In this case, the process will take between two to eight months, depending on the complexity of the case, the skills of your dog bite lawyer, and the congestion of the caseload in the courthouse.
When the liable party has no insurance
When the liable party has no insurance, you only have three options: to settle, to be reimbursed for your actual costs, or to file a case. Dog bite lawyers will usually not accept a case on contingency if the claim is not covered by insurance.
In this case, you will have to weigh the pros and cons, including the costs of filing a lawsuit. You will have to determine whether the liable party can afford to pay the damages when a court awards it in your favor. When you receive money judgment, you can request for garnishment from the liable party’s wages or request his bank account to be frozen. But legal costs can also be expensive. For this reason, it is important to weigh and calculate your options.
Serious injuries in dog bites
When you have sustained serious injuries in a dog bite, you need to consult with a dog bite lawyer immediately. These serious injuries are: bite to the face, bite to the genital area, bites that require stitches, bites that caused a broken bone, bites that resulted in significant tissue injury, bites that required an overnight stay in the hospital, bites that resulted to brain trauma, bites that caused a permanent bruise, or bites that caused a visible, significant scar.
Liability if the victim is another dog
The dog owner can also still be liable if the dog bite victim is not a person but a dog. Nardi v. Gonzales (supra). Damages may be computed differently, and certain damages cannot be claimed, such as lost wages.
Period to file a lawsuit
You usually have 3 years from the time of injury to file a lawsuit against the liable party. Despite this prescribed period, you don’t need to wait long to file your claim. The earlier you file your claim, the better. The memories are fresh in your mind and in your witnesses’ minds about how the dog bite incident happened.
Dog bites can result in serious physical injuries. It is important to consult with a dog bite lawyer so he can evaluate your case and provide advice on your possible remedies. Should you need assistance, we at the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin are here for you. We have offices in New York, NY, Brooklyn, NY and Queens, NY. You can call us at 718-509-9774 or send us an email at email@example.com.