Although dogs are beloved pets for millions of people around the world, occasionally, they bite. Unfortunately, sometimes these bites can be quite serious and cause significant injuries. If you have recently been bitten by a dog, or if one of your friends or family members has, then it is good to know exactly what your legal rights are in such a situation.
Right to Sue
In the United States, victims of dog bites have the right to sue the owner of the dog for damages following a dog bite. This means that if you have recently been bitten by a dog, you can sue the owner for damages to pay for things like medical bills, pain and suffering, etc. If you win the case, then the owner of the dog can be forced to pay the amount of damages that the jury approves.
In some states, such as Alaska, Texas and New Mexico, dogs are allowed one “free” bite. In other words, dog owners cannot be held liable if a dog has never before demonstrated that it had a tendency toward biting or causing injury. So, if a bite is the first bite, and if it is a complete surprise to both the dog owner and victim, then the victim may not be able to successfully hold the dog owner liable for damages.
In most states, dog owners are liable for injuries from even the first bite. But for one-bite states, a dog owner may be held liable for even the first bite if certain circumstances occur; for example, if the person was in violation of a leash law and did something like let their dog loose at a park. Another example of a situation that could result in a person being held liable for a first bite in one-bite states is if they were proven to have been involved in reckless behavior with their dog, which could have caused the dog to become overly agitated.
If you are going to sue the owner of a dog for damages resulting from a bite from their dog, then you must be able to prove that it was their dog that bit you and that this bite caused your injuries. It can be relatively easy to prove that the dog bite caused the injuries because a dog bite leaves a very distinct mark on the skin. However, proving that a particular dog made the bite can be more difficult. If there were witnesses of the event, then they can be useful by making testimonies on your behalf. Any photos of the incident can be extremely helpful too.
Prevention and Protection
Dog bites are an unfortunate reality in society, as not every dog can behave perfectly all of the time. Some of them are simply trying to protect their territory (e.g., their owner's property) or are defending themselves against a perceived threat.
If you are a dog owner, then you should make sure that you comply with all leash laws and do not create situations that could cause your dog to become highly agitated.
To minimize your chances of being bitten, avoid wandering too close to open areas where dogs are unleashed and unsupervised; never provoke or behave aggressively toward a dog, especially a large one; and don't enter private property without an invitation from the owner.
However, if you are bitten by a dog, then you do have the right to sue the dog owner for losses. There will generally be a greater chance of success for such a lawsuit if you live in a state that does not have the one-bite rule. However, if you do live in a one-bite state, then there is still a chance that you could sue for damages successfully if it was not the dog’s first bite, or if the owner was negligent.