What to Know About Dog Bite Cases

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Having a dog as a pet is something that plenty of people do and have no problem with. Even many people who don't own dogs love them. Still, not all dogs feel the same about us humans, and every now and then one of them bites a person. What do you need to do if this happens to you?

Dog bites can be traumatic. Even if they don't cause serious damage, it can be frightening to have to deal with an angry animal snarling at you. Unfortunately, though, a lot of dog bites do require a visit to the doctor or emergency room—each year, about 800,000 dog bites require some sort of medical care, according to the CDC. Even if the owner says the dog was provoked, that does not necessarily excuse them from fault.

It depends on the case, of course, but many owners are held responsible for their dog's aggressive behavior and have to foot the bill for medical care for the victim. The dog's owner will generally have to provide reimbursement for medical expenses as well as income lost due to time needed off work and pain and suffering. If you've been involved in a situation where a dog bit you, there are some things you need to know.

1) Is the owner always liable?

While you may be quick to assume that whomever owns the dog is liable, that's not necessarily the case. Some states have the "one bite" law, which is a bit misleading of a name for a law. While it implies that the owners shouldn't be held liable for "one bite," the law actually means the opposite—that an owner is responsible for almost any injuries their dog causes, so long as they knew the dog had a tendency to bite. However, with "one bite" laws, you will need to be able to prove that the owner knew their dog had a tendency to cause danger. This can be difficult to prove.

The owner will also be able to be held liable for the bite if it was negligent behavior on their part that caused the bite. For example, if a dog is allowed to run around an unfenced yard unleashed, and it bites someone, the negligence of the owner not using any restraints on the dog will be what causes the owner to be held liable.

2) What are your state's laws about liability?

You'll want to make yourself aware of your state's dog bit statutes. For example, some state dog bite laws hold the owner liable regardless of whether the owner knew the dog was dangerous. Other states may have breed-specific legislation in place with certain stipulations for what happens to a dog or certain fines that must be applied depending on the case.

3) What should you do if you get bitten?

If a dog bites you, the first thing you should do is get the name and phone number of the dog's owner. You may not need their contact information in the end, but it's better to have it if you do rather than need to hunt it down because you didn't get it when the bite happened.  If there are any witnesses, especially if it is a particularly vicious attack, get their names and contact information as well, since it will help to have back-up for your story. Stubborn owners may try to deny it was their dog that bit you, and witnesses will be able to corroborate the events. Get medical attention if you need it for the bite—make sure to get copies and records of what care is administered and what bills are issued. If the dog was a (seemingly) stray dog, or you don't know who the owner is, you'll want to call animal control so that it can be picked up and possibly quarantined, tested for rabies and other diseases, and then placed in a shelter.

4) Will the dog have to be put down if you report it or file for compensation?

This varies from case to case, generally speaking. While it's understandable that you may not want a dog to face that fate for being an animal and, arguably, following its instincts, there is also something to be said for protecting the safety of a community, so it's best to discuss this matter with a personal injury lawyer for more detailed advice based on your municipality. That being said, some states have "dangerous dog" laws, which means that in the event of a dog bite, a judge will order the owner to prevent the dog from injuring anyone else and, if the owner does not do that or cannot, the dog may be ordered to be put down. Again, if you're unsure of your state or city's legislation regarding this and you have strong feelings one way or the other, it's best to seek the help of a personal injury attorney who is familiar with the laws in your area.

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