Dog Bites

Dog bites are likely far more common than people realize. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 800,000 dog bites each year require medical attention, and almost half (334,000) require hospitalization afterward.

If a dog bite results in an injury, the victim may decide to file a dog bite lawsuit against the dog owner responsible. Compensation from a dog bite lawsuit can help pay for the medical treatment needed after injury.

With over 40 years of experience handling personal injury lawsuits, Sokolove Law can help you determine what legal options may be available for you. Submit a free legal case review today.

What to Do If a Dog Bites You

Sudden and unexpected, dog bites can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. That said, dog bites primarily involve children. According to the CDC, more than half of all dog bite victims are children.

Generally, if you or a loved one suffer a dog bite, you should follow the steps below.

1. Get to Safety

If you or your child were hurt in a dog bite incident, your very first step should be to make sure you’re safe and take note of the circumstances, starting with the wellness of the person who has been bitten. Once you have determined that the situation is safe, call for help.

2. Collect Evidence

Even if immediate help is not required, be certain to take a video and/or photographs of the injuries and the scene, documenting where the dog bite took place, including street names, house/building addresses, and any nearby landmarks.

In addition, write down the identifiable characteristics of the dog, including its color, its relative size and weight, any unique physical attributes, and its age and breed (if known). Be sure to get the contact information of the dog’s owner as well.

If possible, collect the names and contact information of any witnesses who saw the dog bite take place. This information will prove invaluable should you decide the dog bite warrants legal action.

3. Record All Medical Expenses

Depending on your incident, the dog bite may require medical attention. If this is the case, be sure to keep track of any expenses, such as hospital visits, medical bills, and any missed or lost income due to inability to work.

Even if it doesn’t seem like you require immediate medical care, you should still consider getting a quick checkup with your doctor and a rabies shot if it’s an unfamiliar dog and you’re not sure if the dog had their rabies vaccination.

Depending on the severity of animal bites, you might also be at risk of infection from the puncture wounds and require a tetanus shot in addition to the rabies vaccine.

4. Talk to a Dog Bite Injury Attorney

Finally, reach out to an attorney. Dog bites are far more common and far more serious than people often realize. Contacting an attorney is the first step toward recovering lost costs associated with the dog bite incident. Reach out to Sokolove Law today for a free consultation to see what legal options may be available to you.

5. Contact Animal Control

Once you or your loved one are home and have received medical care for any bite wounds, you should call your local animal control office and report the bite.

While laws may vary among states regarding whether you have to call animal control after a bite, it's generally recommended that you do so, as animal control will investigate the incident and help establish a history of biting or aggressive behavior.

How to Sue for a Dog Bite

If you, your child, or a loved one were bitten by a dog, then you may be wondering if you should file a dog bite lawsuit. In many cases, if the dog attack was unprovoked and injuries resulted, then the owner of the dog may be considered legally responsible for any injuries.

The legal process of suing over a dog bite involves a few steps, including:

  • Gathering details: No matter how small or large your dog bite injuries are, the important thing for building your claim is to document any and all expenses related to the incident. Expenses can include the costs for medical visits, imaging tests, medication, torn/destroyed articles of clothing, missed work or loss of income, plastic surgery in severe cases, and pain and suffering.
  • Contacting a personal injury attorney: If, after adding up the costs associated with the dog bite, you decide to pursue legal action, your next step will be to research and choose a qualified and experienced dog bite injury lawyer to represent you. Sokolove Law will evaluate your case free of charge and determine whether it may be appropriate to sue.
  • Filing a lawsuit: After discussing your situation with an attorney, they may advise you to move forward with filing a legal claim against the owner of the dog that bit you. State laws vary, so depending on the state where you live, it may be advisable to pursue a settlement through small claims court instead of filing a lawsuit. In some states, dog owners are more protected from dog bite lawsuits than in others. A qualified attorney will best know the laws relevant to your case.

While making the decision to file a lawsuit can be difficult, it’s very important to know your rights. At Sokolove Law, our experienced lawyers have been practicing in the area of personal injury law — which includes dog bite lawsuits — for more than 40 years.

Our trusted legal team will explain your rights, help you determine whether you have a viable case, and work on your behalf to maximize any compensatory damages you may be eligible for.

Dog Bite Laws by State

Though dog bites are relatively common, the laws that govern liability in dog bite cases are inconsistent across the United States. A successful dog bite lawsuit in one state might not be successful in another.

Generally, the state laws concerning dog bites fall into three broader categories, and the ability of a victim to file a dog bite lawsuit will differ according to these laws.

Among these differing state laws, the common denominator is the percentage at which the dog bite victim is at fault — known as “shared fault.”

Here are the three different types of “shared fault” dog bite laws:

  • Modified Comparative Negligence: The most common among states, this rule allows dog bite victims to file a claim for compensation so long as they are not deemed to be 50% or more at “shared fault” for the dog bite.
  • Pure Comparative Negligence: States with this rule allow dog bite victims to file a claim for compensation no matter their percentage of “shared fault.”
  • Contributory Negligence: Least common among states, this rule disallows victims of dog bites from filing claims for compensation if they in any way shared fault for the dog’s bite. Dog bite lawsuits in these states must prove that the victim was in no way responsible for the attack.

In addition to these general rules above, additional dog bite laws may apply, such as the “one bite rule” and “strict liability” dog bite laws.

What Is the One Bite Rule?

According to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School, the “one bite rule” refers to a state law that holds the person responsible for the care of the dog legally liable for the dog’s harmful or hostile actions.

However, in order to prove liability under the one bite rule, the injured person or party must prove that:

  • The animal in question has a tendency to act in a harmful, violent, damaging, or malicious way
  • The person responsible for the dog must have been aware of the animal’s tendency to act with harmful intent
  • The animal in question has caused bodily harm to the injured person or party

On the flip-side, the person responsible for the care of the animal may not be held liable for injuries if they can prove that the injured party provoked the animal.

It’s also worth noting that the “one bite” rule may differ across states and may be worded slightly or significantly differently from one state to another.

What Are Strict Liability Dog Bite Laws?

Many states use “strict liability” laws for dog bite cases. Essentially, “strict liability” holds the person responsible for the care of the dog in question liable for any harmful or hostile events — even if there was nothing they could have done to prevent the dog’s actions.

In strict liability states, the dog owner (or caretaker) is held responsible when their dog bites someone, as long as the dog bite victim didn’t provoke the dog, trespass, or commit any unlawful acts at the time of the dog bite.

Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire are all examples of states with strict liability dog laws.

While our roots may be in New England, Sokolove Law is a national law firm that’s helped thousands of clients across the country over the last 40 years. Get a free legal consultation for your case today.

How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit for a Dog Bite?

The amount of time that a victim has to file a lawsuit for a dog bite will vary from state to state. The laws that govern these time limits are known as statutes of limitations.

The statute of limitations in the majority of states lasts between 1 and 3 years, though there are of course a few states that exceed this range. All states, however, are similar in that once the statute of limitations is over, the injured party can no longer file a lawsuit for their injury.

If you or a loved one were bitten by a dog, get a free legal consultation today to see if you may be entitled to compensation for your personal injury.

Average Dog Bite Settlement

Dog bite settlements will vary according to the particulars of each individual circumstance, making it difficult to determine how much a given case may be worth.

That said, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), in the year 2019, the average settlement from a dog bite insurance claim was $44,760.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Dog Bite?

Hiring an attorney to represent you in a dog bite lawsuit may be the best course of action for you to pursue in order to recover damages and pay for any health-related costs associated with the incident. This advice especially applies to those who were not at fault for provoking the dog in question.

The attorneys at Sokolove Law have been helping personal injury victims for more than 40 years. We understand that dog bite cases are complicated and emotions may be running high.

If you were bitten by a dog and do not believe you were at fault, we encourage you to contact us today for a free legal consultation. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.

Dog Bite Lawsuit FAQ

What constitutes a dog bite?

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) has established 6 levels of dog bite severity:

  • Level 1: Aggressive and intimidating behavior but no contact made between a dog’s teeth and a person’s skin.
  • Level 2: A dog’s teeth made skin contact but did not puncture the skin more than 1/10th of an inch, resulting in slight bleeding.
  • Level 3: One to four skin punctures from a single dog bite resulting in wounds no greater than a depth of half of the dog’s teeth.
  • Level 4: One to four skin punctures from a single dog bite resulting in wounds deeper than half the length of the dog’s teeth. In addition to blood, bruising around the bite often occurs at this level.
  • Level 5: Multiple dog bites or attacks, at least two bites of which are a level-4 bite.
  • Level 6: Dog bites that result in the dog bite victim’s death.

According to the APDT, levels 1 and 2 account for 99% of all dog bite incidents.

If you’ve been bitten by a dog, reach out to Sokolove Law today for a free legal consultation. You may be entitled to compensation if you’ve been injured by a dog bite.

How bad does a dog bite have to be to sue?

Any injury may qualify an individual dog bite victim to file a lawsuit. That said, as with all injury cases, the more severe the injury, the more likely the case will warrant significant compensation.

Other factors, such as the percentage of blame in a dog bite incident, can also impact a person’s ability to sue. Get a free legal review today to see if you may have a case.

How much money can you get from a dog bite lawsuit?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the average settlement from a dog bite insurance claim was $44,760 in 2019. Note that this figure is an average and that all dog bite cases will differ based on their own unique variables.

Who is liable for dog bites?

When a dog bites an unsuspecting victim, the owner of the dog — or the person charged with the dog’s care — may be considered liable for any injuries sustained. In other words, the owner may or may not be held responsible, depending on the circumstances surrounding the dog bite incident.

Dog owners may, for example, place their dog in the care of a friend, family member, or professional dog watchers and walkers. In dog bite cases such as these, the person who is taking care of the dog at the time may be liable.

What happens if you share fault for the dog bite?

The fault and/or responsibility of a dog bite is perhaps the most difficult determination in any given dog bite case. Importantly, individual state-level laws play a large and critical role in the question of liability, and these laws will vary from state to state, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

In many states, the responsibility for a dog bite is determined by percentage of shared fault. For example, a victim’s actions may have been partially to blame for the dog bite — in such a scenario, a victim’s compensation will be adjusted according to how responsible they were found to be for the incident.

How long does a dog bite lawsuit take?

There is no standard amount of time for how long a dog bite lawsuit may take. Dog bite lawsuits are largely dependent on whether the case goes to trial or settles out-of-court.

Commonly, cases that proceed to trial may take several months to a year or more to reach a conclusion than cases that settle out-of-court. Settlements, on the other hand, can take days, weeks, or months to reach.

Author:Sokolove Law Team
Sokolove Law Team

Contributing Authors

The Sokolove Law Content Team is made up of writers, editors, and journalists. We work with case managers and attorneys to keep site information up to date and accurate. Our site has a wealth of resources available for victims of wrongdoing and their families.

Last modified: March 17, 2021

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