New York City Personal Injury Law Blog

Dog Bites and Claims – An Overview

Posted on Dec 18, 2017 in Dog Bites

Each year, several hundred Americans are bitten by animals – mostly by dogs. In many of these cases, the person bitten by the dog may have a legal right to recover damages from the responsible party.

According to a report issued by the CDC, close to 4.5 million dog bites occur in the US every year, and 900,000 of the bites get infected. Since the US population is about 325.8 million people as of 2017, it suggests that a dog bites about 1 of every 72 persons. These are rather scary statistics. But, scary can become a lot less so, if you are armed with the right arsenal of information.

Why do Dogs Generally Bite?

Dogs do not really bite unless provoked. They could bite:

  • As a reaction to a stressful situation.
  • When they feel scared or threatened.
  • When they aren’t feeling well.
  • When they are startled.
  • In order to protect themselves, their puppies, or even their owners.

Dogs sometimes nip or bite during play and hence it is important not to indulge in rough play or overexcite them. 80% of dog bites do not cause any injuries at all or only minor injuries that do not need any medical treatment.

Dogs that bite

A few breeds are known to have the temperament to bite more than some others. These are:

  • Chihuahua
  • German Shepherd
  • Bulldog
  • Bull Terrier
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Pit Bull
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Papillion
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Pekingese

According to the Insurance Information Institute, 1/3rd of all homeowner’s insurance liability claims result from dog-related injuries and dog bites. The average cost is more than $37,000. The insurance industry paid out over $530 million in dog bite related claims in the year 2014. Statistics also suggest that most dog bites involve dogs who are not neutered or spayed.

What should you do if an animal or dog bites you?

If an animal bites you, the very first thing you must do is to seek medical attention right away. If you neglect the bite and injuries, it can cause serious injuries and in some cases, death, if the animal is diseased. Once you have been evaluated medically, you should also consider consulting an attorney who has experience in dealing with animal bite cases. This attorney will be able to tell you if stand a chance to a legal claim, and also what damages you could recover.

The attorney will ask you for in depth information regarding the circumstances surrounding the incident. You must be able to provide the name and phone number of the owner of the animal that bit you. This is the most minimum and basic information that will be asked of you. If you don’t possess this information, you may request a neighbor or witness to give you these details. Also, note down the name and phone number of any witnesses who witnessed the entire incident.

Owner Liability for Dog Bites

Who is the owner of the animal or dog is the first thing to be determined when deciding who is responsible for the animal bite. Certain states in the US impose something known as ‘strict liability’ upon all owners whose pets bite or attack others. Under this law, an owner becomes legally responsible for the bite, regardless of whether the owner was able to protect the victim from the bite. This theory also states that the owner will be liable even if he had no reason to know that the pet was dangerous.

In certain other states, the owner of the pet that inflicts injury on another, will be liable for the incident, provided the owner knew or may have had reason to know that his pet possessed dangerous propensities. In other words, if the animal’s owner knew that his pet was dangerous and could cause injuries to others, he would be held liable for the animal’s actions.

Determining whether or not an owner did know of his pet’s “dangerous propensities” is not easy. The very first question that arises in making this decision whether the owner needs to know of that the breed of animal is potentially harmful. By this we mean that, should an owner of a pit bull, know that his pet will be harmful. Because pit bulls are known to be aggressive.

Virginia Man, Wants Stricter Laws on Animal Bites

A dog that allegedly attacked an elderly man in Stafford County of Virginia, three times or thrice in a matter of weeks – and also bit off a part of his ear – is back home with its owner.

Larry Marshall, 80, claimed that he was standing in his own yard September, talking to his neighbor when his Great Dane suddenly attacked him.

Larry stated that all of a sudden he felt a blur from his right and a very intense thud to the right side of his head and neck coupled with excruciating pain.

Doctors had to perform hour long reconstructive surgery on his ear, which required 60 stitches.

Marshall said that the same dog had bitten him earlier on two instances, each time causing puncture wounds.

Larry was stunned when the verdict was passed that the dog was dangerous, but in no way vicious and spared its life. He said, “The judge made a rather grave mistake.”

As per Virginia law, owners of a dog that is deemed dangerous are mandated to follow certain rules such as making it wear a muzzle and also putting up a “dangerous dog” sign on their property.

However, an upset Larry said that this wasn’t enough and strongly believes that the dog must be put to sleep as he is afraid that it could get loose and grievously injure children or other people in the neighborhood.

He added that he is now working with lawmakers to strengthen the state’s law in dog bite cases.

Potential Defenses in Dog Bite Cases

There are several instances in which the owner of a vicious animal may not be held responsible for an attack by the animal. For instance, if the owner of the animal had adequately warned others that the animal was dangerous and could be a threat to others and also took measures to keep it away from people and a person who ignored these warnings was injured, he may not be held liable for the injuries.

The person who succumbed to the injuries will not be able to sue the owner. In legal terminology, the injured person’s behavior will be termed as ‘assumption of the risk’, or ‘contributory negligence’. The injured person is said to be contributorily negligent when he fails to exercise the degree of care for his own safety that any other person would exercise in a similar situation.

A good example of this would be when a person climbs over a gate and gets bitten by a dog on the other side of the fence, the jury could decide not to hold the owner of the dog legally responsible for the victim’s injuries. This is because a normal reasonable person wouldn’t have climbed over the gate in the first place. Let us give you yet another example.

If the owner, has put up a ‘Beware of Dog’ sign and the person ignores the sign and steps into its territory and gets bitten, the owner may not be held responsible for the injuries that the person sustains. If the owner claims either contributory negligence or assumption of risk, the owner will have to convince the jury of these arguments.

The dog’s owner may also argue that the person who sustained the bites, provoked the animal. This is a way for the owner to evade liability. For instance, if the person makes a threatening gesture towards the animal which provokes the animal to attack, this could bring down the owner’s liability.

Other Responsible Parties

It is not just animal owners who can be held responsible for animal bites. Listed below are a few common scenarios, wherein someone other than the owner of the animal can be held responsible for a dog bite:

Animal Keepers: Any person or party responsible for the care of a dog can be considered as the owner or keeper of the animal and be held responsible for animal bites. This includes a pound, an animal sitter, and kennels.

Parents of Minors: If an individual under 18 owns the animal that has caused the injuries, in many states an injured person can sue the minor’s parents (keepers), even if they did not have any sort of direct involvement with the dog.

Property Owners: A property owner can be held responsible for bites and injuries that is caused by an animal that the owner keeps on his property or allowed onto his property.

Landlords: If an apartment landlord was aware that his tenant owned a dangerous animal, the landlord may also be held legally responsible for the bite injuries.

Dog bite lands a health care worker a whopping $1.75M as compensation

According to a lawsuit filed in Bergen County Superior Court, Howard Kraft, a physical therapist by profession, was leaving the Hillsdale home of the Tasciyan family on Feb. 5th 2014 after caring for their elderly relative.

All of a sudden, the couple’s 30 lb. Schipperke-Corgi bit him on his left hand. Kraft, who was around 59 during the time of the incident, suffered three very deep puncture wounds that needed drainage and also supposedly delayed primary closure, according to the lawsuit.

Kraft suffered from various ramifications from the bite such as complex regional pain syndrome coupled with inflammation, and also decreased range of motion. An infra-clavicular catheter was implanted to alleviate pain.

Kraft stated that he was invited on the premises, which made the couple legally responsible for his injuries under the Statute of New Jersey Dog Bites.

According to the New Jersey law, an owner of a dog that bites a person in public, or lawfully in a private property will be liable for damages in most instances.

What are the damages that you can recover?

Your attorney will be the best judge as to how much you can recover for injuries resulting from an animal attack. In most cases, you will be entitled to claim for:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Property damage.
  • Lost wages
  • Medical expenses

In some cases, you could also be entitled to claim for punitive damages that is awarded to punish someone for his reckless behavior. To justify this, the wrongdoer’s behavior or conduct must be more than just negligence. You must be able to prove that his conduct was either intentional or reckless.

For instance, if the dog’s owner knew that his pet was extremely dangerous, and despite knowing so, repeatedly let it run free near a school, and the dog attacked a child, the jury is bound to conclude that the victim qualifies for punitive damages.

Getting Help

At times, even the most well behaved dog, can go rogue without provocation and bite someone. This can cause serious injuries to the victim, and in some cases death. Since dogs are domestic animals they are the responsibility of their human handlers. This allows a victim to file a claim for injuries in many cases. However, as a layman you may not understand your rights thoroughly, and it is hence prudent that you seek the counsel of an experienced attorney to understand the legal implications of your situation.

Bitten by a Dog? Get a Free Initial Claim Review

If you or somebody you know has been grievously injured by a dog or animal, you are entitled to recover damages for the injuries that you sustained. Determining your legal rights can be quite complicated.

To ensure that you receive a fair compensation, you must contact a marvelous and profound personal injury lawyer Rosenberg, Minc, Falkoff & Wolff, of RMFW Law at 212 697 9280 to find out if you can file a lawsuit against the negligent party. One of our attorneys will review your case in great detail and help you understand what you can claim for, apart from representing your case, and helping you obtain fair compensation.

Call us today! RMFW Law knows how to win these types of cases. Do not sign anything with any insurance company until you have spoken to us.

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