A Dog Bit Me: Can I Get Compensation?
In any given year, 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by a dog. Of those people, almost one in five will require medical attention, many of them being children. Depending upon the severity of the bite or the level of medical care that is required, the damages incurred by the victim can be substantial. In most cases, the owner of the dog who bit the victim is legally liable for those damages and the owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy can be used to pay the claims of the victim.
Not all dog bite cases will be so tidy, however, because dog bite liability is a strictly state-specific issue. There are three main categories of state statutes regarding dog bite liability: so called “one bite” states, strict liability states, and mixed “one bite”/strict liability states. To make matters more confusing, each state also has its own exceptions to liability, some of which are more unique than others.
If you are bitten in a “one bite” rule state, the owner is given protection from liability for the first bite committed by the dog but is then strictly liable for any subsequent bites. If you are the first person bitten by the dog in a “one bite” state, you may have no legal recourse, although it still is worth filing a claim with the owner’s insurance company.
Other states follow a statutory strict liability rule in which the owner is strictly liable for the injuries caused by their dog. In these states, there is no “one free bite” pass. The owner is strictly liable from the start.
Still, other states follow a mixed “one bite” and strict liability rule. In these states, the victim may be allowed to recover damages for their injuries even if this was the first time the dog bit someone, but they may have to prove that the dog was behaving viciously to be entitled to more remote damages such as loss of income.
However, there are some notable exceptions to the imposition of strict liability including if the victim was trespassing, the victim provoked the dog, the victim was a veterinarian or other medical professional treating the dog at the time, the victim was committing a felony against the owner of the dog at the time, or the victim assumed the risk, explicitly or implicitly, to be bitten.
Regardless of which state the victim is bitten in, the steps to take in the immediate aftermath are fairly universal. First, try to remain as calm as possible to avoid further provoking the dog and to be able to seek out medical assistance if necessary. Second, go get medical assistance. Make sure the medical personnel who are assisting you document the nature and extent of your wounds as this will be useful later down the road when you are seeking damages. Third, consider hiring a personal injury lawyer to represent you against the owner of the dog and their insurance company since you may require more compensation than either might be willing to provide. Fourth, document everything you can remember about the encounter and your version of the events. Do not embellish. This should be a strictly factual document.