Dog Bites: Basic Legal Concepts

What Are The Legal Rights Of A Dog Bite Victim?

A dog bite victim's rights will depend on whether the victim shares in the fault for his or her injuries. 

If the victim was not at fault for his or her injuries

If the victim was not at fault for his or her injuries then he or she should be able to recover from the dog owner an amount of money that compensates the victim for any medical bills, missed time from work, emotional distress damages, and any other types of personal injury damages a judge may deem appropriate. 

If the victim shares in fault for his or her injuries

A victim may share in fault for his or her injuries when that person took an action that contributed to the dog bite. For example, a person may have taken the muzzle off a dog while the owner wasn't looking, which then lead to a bite. In this example, the victim would be responsible to the extent removing the muzzle contributed to his or her injuries, and the owner would be responsible for his or her lack of monitoring the dog.

If the victim's shares in responsibility a judge or jury will determine the amount of fault each party shares. Depending on the jurisdiction, they may result in the victim recovering no money for his or her injuries.

When are Dog Bite Lawsuits NOT Allowed?

Although state laws may vary, in many the dog bite victim may NOT recover for his or her injuries when:
  • The victim was a trespasser.
  • The victim was a veterinarian or canine professional who was treating the dog at the time of the incident.
  • The victim provoked the dog by physically abusing it.
  • The victim assumed the risk (i.e., explicitly or implicitly consented) to being bitten.
  • The dog was assisting police or the military at the time of the incident.

Who Actually Pays for Dog Bite Damages?

Damages are usually paid by:

  • Homeowner's insurance.
  • Renter's insurance.
  • Landlord's insurance (covering the owner, occupier and/or manager of property).
  • Commercial general liability insurance (covering stores and other businesses).
  • Insurance covering employers (protecting employees only).
  • Motor vehicle insurance (if the accident results from the use of the vehicle; i.e., if the dog and the victim were inside the car, or the dog was tied to the car and the victim was walking past the car, but probably not if the dog jumped from the car and ran 25 feet to bite the victim.

What Damages are Available to Dog Bite Victims?

  • Medical treatment such as first aid, emergency room, hospital, and ambulance.
  • Future medical treatment for scar reduction.
  • Psychological counseling to overcome the emotional trauma of the attack, fear of dogs, fear of being outdoors, and dealing with disfigurement.
  • Loss of earnings from work or the victim's business.
  • Torn clothing and broken glasses.
  • Medications.
  • Pain and suffering.
  • Future disability.
  • Other pets injured or killed may be entitled to compensation.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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