Even though millions of Americans are bitten by dogs every year, only a few thousand ever receive a dime in compensation. Every year a number of people, mostly children, are mauled to death by dogs. In many cases it is possible to win a personal injury judgment against the owner of the dog that bit you. State law, however, is highly relevant to your chances of winning a dog bite personal injury claim.
Strict Liability States
In some states, an owner is strictly liable for the actions of his dog. If you are a dog bite victim in one of these states, you do not have to prove that the owner was at fault in any way to win a lawsuit against him. This favorable state of affairs (for the dog bite victim) will provide you with leverage in settlement negotiations. Nevertheless, two major sticking points may bedevil you: proving your actual amount of damages, and countering any legal defenses that the dog owner might raise. A good personal injury lawyer will possess strong negotiation skills and will understand how to counter the legal arguments of the defendant and his insurance company. The bottom line is that an experienced dog bite lawyers most likely will end up increasing the value of your settlement far beyond what you pay him in legal fees.
“Dangerous Propensities” States
In some states, you cannot win a lawsuit against a dog owner in a dog bite case unless you prove that the owner was at fault. Typically, this means you must prove that the dog had “dangerous propensities” or “vicious propensities” — that the owner knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous, and that he failed to take appropriate precautions that likely would have prevented your injury.
In a “dangerous propensities” state, you can try to prove that the dog was dangerous (and that the owner knew or should have known about it) by showing that:
- The dog was kept for protection (and thus was expected to attack strangers under certain circumstances),
- The dog had a history of aggressive behavior, including fighting with other animals,
- The dog was often chained up or muzzled (to prove that the owner considered the dog dangerous),
- The owner warned others about the dog – either verbally of with a “Beware of Dog” sign,
- The dog’s breed is known for its aggressiveness.
Even if you prove one or more of the foregoing factors, victory is not guaranteed – a court is likely to look at the totality of the circumstances to determine whether or not a dog had dangerous propensities that the owner should have known about.
If you are bitten by a stray dog, you obviously cannot assert a claim against a non-existent owner. You might be able to win against the city government, however, if you can show that the city was obligated to attempt to secure the city from the dangers of stray dogs, and that it negligently failed to do so.
A dog owner might assert one of several possible defenses in a dog bite lawsuit, including:
- Provocation: The dog was provoked into biting by the victim or by a third party.
- Reasonable care: The owner undertook reasonable safety precautions in light of the dog’s known propensities (such as leashing), and therefore should not be held liable for the injury.
- Contributory negligence (assumption of risk): The victim removed a dog’s muzzle, for example, or otherwise acted carelessly.
- Trespassing: The victim was trespassing on the owner’s property at the time of the dog bite (this might also be characterized as a form of provocation).
If you have suffered a dog bite that you believe someone else may be responsible for, use our lawyer search function to locate an experienced dog bite lawyer in your location.