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. A large percentage of them were Pit Bulls. In New York City alone, there are over 500,000 dogs. Although the vast majority of these dogs are not dangerous, Pit Bull bites are still quite common. If you have been bitten by a Pit Bull, consult with a Pit Bull bite lawyer to know your remedies. Pit Bull bite lawyers will accept your case on a contingency basis, especially when your injury is severe and the Pit Bull owner has a homeowner’s insurance policy.
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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 Pit Bull with a tendency to do an act that might endanger another. Usually, vicious propensity can be found when a Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull, and this negligence caused the dog to bite you; or
- The owner knew or reasonably should have known, that his Pit Bull was dangerous and had a history of vicious propensity.
Reasons for not filing claims against the Pit Bull owners
Most Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull bite lawyer will likely negotiate with the Pit Bull owner’s insurance company and not with the dog owner himself. Usually, Pit Bull bite lawyers will accept your case on contingency if the Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull
When you have been bitten by a Pit Bull, 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 Pit Bull when the dog bit you (the dog custodian, if different from the dog owner), and witnesses who saw the Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull owner’s name, address, and monetary limits of the coverage.
- Get the dog license information, information regarding any prior dog bite history of the Pit Bull, and prior notice of the viciousness of the Pit Bull on the landlord or property owner’s part.
- Take photographs of the incident. This includes photographs of your Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull bite happened so you and your lawyer can have a good idea of where you and the Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull bite.
- Go to the nearest animal control agency and file a report. They will investigate the incident and make their own report.
- Get a Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull bite?
The most common person liable for a Pit Bull bite is the dog owner. The Pit Bull custodian, the person in control of the dog at the time of Pit Bull bite, if different from the Pit Bull owner, can also be liable for the medical bills of a Pit Bull bite victim of a dangerous dog.
The landlord or property owner may be held liable to a Pit Bull bite victim for an attack made by a tenant’s Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull bite
You can claim economic and non-economic damages for a Pit Bull bite.
Economic damages refer to the actual costs you incurred to heal and restore your body from a Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull bite, or loss of quality of life.
In exceptional cases, you may be able to also get punitive damages.
Defenses of the Pit Bull owner
A Pit Bull owner can raise several defenses in a claim for damages arising from a Pit Bull bite. The most common defenses of a Pit Bull owner against a Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull bite that occurred while you trespassed on someone else’s property.
- Provocation. If you provoked the Pit Bull before the bite occurred, such as slapping, hitting, or threatening the Pit Bull aggressively, you may not be able to recover damages.
- Comparative negligence. In certain instances, the Pit Bull owner may raise the issue that you were also negligent and your negligence caused the Pit Bull bite.
- Assumption of risk. The owner may argue that you assumed the risk of being bitten by the Pit Bull. 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 Pit Bull
When you have been bitten by a Pit Bull, your Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull 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. Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull bites
When you have sustained serious injuries in a Pit Bull bite, you need to consult with a Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull owner can also still be liable if the Pit Bull 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 Pit Bull bite incident happened.
Pit Bull bites can result in serious physical injuries. It is important to consult with a Pit Bull 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 are located in New York, NY. You can call us at 212-233-1233 or send us an email at [email protected].