My neighbor's dog bit me. What are my rights?
Anyone who is bitten by a dog has the right to sue for medical bills and non-economic pain and suffering when an actual dog owner or caretaker can be identified. The negligent party does not necessarily need to be the dog owner, as anyone who is left in charge of an animal may potentially be legally liable for the animal's actions. This is especially true when an animal has been known to bite people before, or has shown aggressive behavior toward other people.
Suing as a result of a dog bite is similar to any other personal injury, with a few exceptions depending on the state statutes.
Verifying and Seeking Treatment for the Injury
It is crucial for anyone bitten by a dog to go to a medical treatment facility as soon as possible if they intend to pursue legal recovery. One good reason for doing so is that dog bites can lead to serious diseases when the animal has not had proper vaccinations. Rabies is probably the most serious disease associated with dog bites, but infections and traumatic physical injury are also possible, especially when the dog is of a designated vicious breed.
The medical records can serve as documentation that an injury occurred, and a police report will also verify other particulars regarding the attack. It is important to not delay for both personal health and legal recovery reasons.
Dog Owners and Insurance
Many states and localities have laws aimed at certain types of dogs, most prominently pit bulls, and certain dog owners are required by law to carry a minimum amount of insurance protection on their homeowner's policy. The need for this coverage amount specifically addresses dog ownership as the reason.
Owners of unregistered vicious animals may also be prosecuted in some states when they are not compliant with either the registration or insurance laws. The injured dog-bite victim can file a claim with the insurance company before going to court, but this is not always a good idea because of the potential of a bad-faith negotiation and the unwillingness to pay without a significant delay by the insurance company.
It is imperative to report the injury to any agency immediately after it occurs, especially when the dog owner is attempting to avoid being sued. A dog owner can effectively "leave the scene of an accident" if they refuse to recognize that they are responsible and not address the legal situation. In a jury trial, this can lead to a maximized award based on the irresponsibility of the owner.
Even though dog owners or caretakers are held to strict liability standards, meaning that proving negligence is not always necessary to validate a claim, the victim will still almost always need an experienced personal injury attorney who can ensure ongoing medical coverage when the injuries are slow to heal, or not healing properly. In particular, rabies treatment shots are painful, and there will also be the potential for non-economic pain and suffering awards for the healing process.
Lost wages can also be recovered when the dog bite causes the injured party to miss work due to the injury. In addition, there may also be the potential for multiple negligent parties in cases involving dogs that are being housed in a facility, or if the owner has assured visitors that a vicious animal will be held in check, especially when the animal has previously bitten someone.
Just as in most other personal injury claims, dog bite cases can become complicated and argumentative. They can also result in a claim by the dog owner that the victim was displaying a "reasonable assumption of personal risk" by interacting with the dog. In cases where the dog owner is defending the claim aggressively, the version of events leading up to the bite can be central to a fair compensation amount and actual establishment of responsibility for the dog owner. Having an attorney who is experienced in dog bite cases can help establish this legal responsibility.