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What are my rights after a dog bite?
Dog bite laws vary by state. With this in mind, if you own a dog, it’s important to familiarize yourself with your state’s laws. In general, however, states have chosen between two different dog bite laws: strict liability laws, which claim that the owner of the dog is responsible for the injuries caused by the dog regardless of whether they knew or should have known about the danger, and the One Bite Rule, which allows that the owner may only be liable if they had foreknowledge of the potential risk of a dog bite.
States that use a One Bite Rule
Fifteen states have adopted the One Bite Rule. States that currently use this system include Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.
Under the One Bite Rule, which dates back to the 1600s in standard common law, owners are not legally liable for the first injury or bite caused by their dogs.
Does this mean that you can never sue an owner if their dog bites you and its the dog’s first bite? No, it simply raises the standard of proof to establish the owner’s liability.
Proponents of the One Bite Rule argue that dogs are, by their very nature, unpredictable, and the owner may have absolutely no knowledge of their propensity to bite. After the first bite, however, the owner cannot claim that they were not aware of the danger.
Winning a personal injury claim in a One Bite state
Filing a claim in a One Bite state and winning compensation for your dog bite injury may be tough, but it is not impossible. It will simply require evidence that the dog’s owner had previous knowledge about their dog’s aggressive tendencies. For example, you may need to prove that:
- The dog was not properly constrained at the time of the incident.
- The dog had a history of aggressive behaviors: lunging or growling.
- The dog was a restricted breed.
- The dog owner had trained the dog to be aggressive.
- The owner had a history of owning aggressive dogs.
- The dog was trained for protection.
In some states, such as Texas, you also may receive compensation—even though they follow the One Bite rule—if you can prove that the dog was declared a dangerous breed and that the owner failed to register the dangerous dog with the local animal control authority; they did not have sufficient liability coverage to cover personal injuries; and the dog was not properly confined or restrained.
One Free Bite Laws and the second bite
While proving liability for a dog bite in a One Bite State may be difficult the first time the dog has bitten someone, the laws can actually be helpful if you need compensation for a second dog bite.
For example, in a One Free Bite state, assuming the dog has bitten someone in the past, the owner has no excuse if they bite a second time. Under state laws, the owner is not only aware of their dog’s tendency to bite, but they have also assumed responsibility for any subsequent injuries.
Strict Liability Dog Bite Laws
The remaining states currently follow strict liability dog bite laws. In strict liability states, the owners of the dog may be held legally liable for dog bite injuries, regardless of whether or not they knew or should have known that their dog was aggressive.
Additionally, if you are bitten in a strict liability dog bite state, you may not have to prove in court that the owner of the dog was negligent. The most general strict liability statutes allow compensation if the plaintiff can prove that they were in a location where they were legally allowed to be and they did not provoke the dog to bite.
Different states, however, may have different standards of proof to win dog bite liability claims. General exceptions, which may be found in some strict liability states, include the following:
- The victim provoked the dog.
- The victim was bitten on the owner’s property.
- The victim was a trespasser.
- The victim was committing a felony against the owner at the time of the bite.
- The victim was a professional treating the dog at the time of the bite.
- The victim was warned that the dog was dangerous.
Hiring a personal injury lawyer
If you have been severely injured by a dog, it may be time to talk to an injury lawyer. State laws vary, and injury lawyers can review the laws with you and determine if you have sufficient evidence to file and win a dog bite lawsuit.
Keep in mind, as with all personal injury claims, that there is a specific time limit for filing a claim. Wait too long to file your injury claim and you will lose your right to compensation.