Can I Sue for A Minor Dog Bite?
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The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that over 4 million dog bites occur throughout the country every year. Whether the bite resulted in severe or minor injuries, the dog bite victim may be able to file a claim against the dog bite owner to recover compensation for losses incurred as a result of the injury. However, it is important to remember that the victim’s conduct around the time of the accident may reduce or eliminate the value of the claim.
WHAT IS A “MINOR” DOG BITE?
The severity of a dog bite depends on several factors. One of the most significant factors is the type of dog involved in the attack. Breeds such as Kangal shepherds, cane corsos, Rottweilers, and pit bulls are notorious for having strong jaws that can inflict serious damage. Another important factor is the age, height, and weight of the victim. In general, children and elderly individuals are more at risk of sustaining a serious injury.
Professionals in the dog community use “levels” to help describe the severity of a dog bite. Those levels are:
- Level 1: The dog’s teeth don’t touch the skin.
- Level 2: The dog’s teeth touch, but do not break, the skin.
- Level 3: There are one to four shallow puncture wounds in the skin.
- Level 4: One to four punctures from a single bite. At least one puncture wound is deep.
- Level 5: Multiple bites, including some deep puncture wounds. May result from a dog attack.
Generally speaking, “minor” dog bites are those classified as Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 bites. Although seeking medical attention from a trained professional is always preferred, these types of bites may be treated at home if needed. Proper treatment for such bites includes thoroughly washing the wound daily and constantly checking the wound for signs of infection (e.g., discoloration, odor, or swelling).
In contrast, non-minor dog bites should prompt the victim to seek immediate medical attention. These bites typically involve bleeding and serious flesh wounds. Failure to promptly treat the wound can compound the injury by increasing the risk of infection.
Determining whether you can sue for a minor dog bite requires a careful examination of several important factors. For instance, you should consider whether the attack is serious enough to warrant litigating the claim. You should also consider factors such as when the attack occurred, the available evidence, and your relationship to the dog owner. Ultimately, an experienced lawyer may help you determine whether you should bring a minor dog bite lawsuit.
If you do decide to file a claim, or if you are interested in learning more about your legal rights following a minor dog bite attack, you should consider contacting a personal injury lawyer. A lawyer with experience handling dog bite accidents may be able to gather the facts of your case, inform you about your state’s dog bite laws, explain your legal rights, and help you navigate a claim. A lawyer may also be able to help strengthen your case by interviewing witnesses, collecting important evidence, and negotiating with insurance companies.
DOG BITE LAWS VARY BY STATE
Each state has its own unique set of dog bite laws. Some states, such as Colorado, have specific legislation dedicated to governing dog bite accidents. Other states, such as Texas, do not have specific dog bite statutes. In these states, the courts have assumed the responsibility of creating dog bite laws.
The viability and outcome of a dog bite claim may significantly depend on the state in which the accident occurred. In many states, the dog’s owner can be held strictly liable for any dog bites that take place. Strict liability imposes legal responsibility for damages or injuries even if the liable party did not act negligently. Examples of states that have some form of strict liability dog bite laws include:
In other states, however, the victim must establish either that the dog’s owner was negligent or that the dog’s owner was aware of the animal’s violent tendencies. Examples of states that follow this standard include:
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
Because your dog bite claim depends heavily on your state’s laws, consider discussing your case with an experienced dog bite lawyer in the state where the accident occurred. A brief consultation may allow you to better understand your state’s dog bite laws and what you must show to succeed in your dog bite claim.
YOUR ACTIONS IMPACT YOUR COMPENSATION
A dog bite victim may be entitled to compensation after suffering a dog bite attack. However, the amount of compensation that may be awarded to the victim may be reduced if the victim shares part of the blame for the injury. Listed below are several examples of conduct that may reduce a dog bite victim’s compensation.
You Provoked the Dog
In many states, such as Arizona, Colorado, and Michigan, provocation of the animal is a defense that may be raised by a dog’s owner. This means that a dog’s owner may not be held responsible for a dog bite attack if the attack occurred because the animal was provoked by someone else. Examples of provocation include taunting, hitting, chasing, and barking at a dog.
You Were Trespassing
Trespassing is also a defense to many dog bite claims. In general, property owners do not owe a duty of care to individuals who are on the property without permission. Thus, many states will not impose liability on a dog bite owner in cases where the dog attacks a trespasser. Examples of states that allow dog owners to raise a trespassing defense include California, Colorado, and Tennessee.
You Knew the Dog Had Violent Tendencies
Some states may elect to not impose liability on a dog’s owner, or elect to reduce the victim’s damages, if it is established that the dog bite victim was aware of the dog’s violent nature. For instance, if the victim saw but ignored a “Beware of Dog” sign, a court may hold the victim partially to blame and reduce the amount of damages awarded to the victim.
Handling Shared fault
It is also important to realize that states handle shared negligence cases differently. There are essentially three ways that states handle shared negligence:
In a minority of states, a victim’s negligence will bar recovery. This means that a dog bite victim will not be allowed to recover damages if it is shown that the victim contributed in any way to the dog bite attack.
Pure Comparative Negligence
Under a pure comparative negligence standard, any compensation for the injury will be reduced by a percentage equal to the dog bite victim’s share of fault. Thus, a dog bite victim who suffered $100,000 in damages but was found to be 60% at fault will only receive $40,000.
Modified Comparative Negligence
The majority of states use a modified comparative negligence standard. This standard is similar to pure comparative negligence. However, a dog bite victim who was found to be 50% at fault (or 51% in some states) will not be entitled to compensation.
OUR DOG BITE LAWYERS MAY BE ABLE TO HELP
Navigating a dog bite claim, even a minor dog bite lawsuit, is a complex task that requires a thorough understanding of personal injury law, effective negotiating skills, and patience. Thankfully, Zinda Law Group’s team of dog bite attorneys may help you navigate a claim following a dog bite attack, even if the dog bite didn’t break the skin. Our lawyers are eager to handle your claim from start to finish while you focus on recovering from your injuries.
Through years of experience handling dog bite claims, our attorneys have developed the legal and personal experience that help protect our clients’ legal rights. A Zinda Law Group dog bite attorney working on your behalf may:
- Conduct a thorough investigation to gather evidence to strengthen your claim
- File a timely lawsuit on your behalf to ensure that the applicable statute of limitations period does not expire
- Research applicable dog bite law to determine whether your conduct diminishes the value of your dog bite claim
- Negotiate with insurance carriers and opposing counsel
- Explain the significance of shared negligence and how it may affect your claim
- Carry out other legal responsibilities necessary to ensure that your legal rights are fully protected
Our firm also believes that an injury victim should never have to worry about being able to afford excellent legal representation. That is why we offer 100% free consultations, and why you pay nothing unless we win your case.
If you would like to discuss the details of your case with an experienced dog bite lawyer, or to learn more about the claim filing process, call Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 to receive your free case evaluation.