Dog bite liability laws can be more complicated than you might imagine, and often vary from state to state. Many states base their laws on the understanding that all animals can turn vicious under the right set of circumstances, and a pet owner must then assume all responsibility when an attack occurs. Even if an owner’s dog isn’t typically aggressive, the owner is still liable. In other states, the first bite is free. These are “one bite” states. That means if an owner had no reason to believe the dog would bite because it never happened before, he or she can’t be held financially responsible for that first attack. Subsequent bites, though, will force the owner to pay up.
Regardless of your state’s liability laws, you’ll want to enlist the help of a personal injury attorney. A lawyer will help you determine an owner’s share of responsibility, and also contact the pet owner’s insurance company (if they have one) in order to get you the highest possible payout. Notably, compensation is many times higher when victims reach out to an attorney instead of going directly through insurance company representatives.
Even though most of us never anticipate the worst can happen, it sometimes does. If your child is injured in a dog attack, you need to act immediately.
What to do after the attack
First and foremost, you need to come to terms with what you may already know–the vast majority of dog attacks in which children are victimized are carried out by a loved one’s pet. This can make the decision to sue a difficult one, but you should always put the safety of your child and financial realities at the forefront of your thoughts.
When your child is involved in a dog attack, you need to act fast to record the accompanying series of events with as much clarity as possible:
- Call the police. Although you’ll likely be tempted to communicate with the dog’s owner on your own, avoid doing so. The police will help you locate the owner and recover insurance information if available. They will also create a record of events that your lawyer might eventually use in court.
- Seek medical attention, no matter what. Even if the bite appears non-threatening, dog saliva can facilitate infection. On top of that, the court needs to know that you did everything you could to protect your child at the time of the incident.
- Take photographs of the wound directly after the attack occurs. If you couldn’t do it at the time of the attack, do it as soon as you can afterward. Photograph the dog as well.
- Check with witnesses and ask them to record their version of the events that led up to the attack as well as the attack itself.
- Hold onto the clothes your child was wearing. Right now, they’re evidence.
- Document the physical and psychological condition of your child as he or she recovers. Since your child’s emotional state in the aftermath of the attack is as important as physical well-being, these can factor into any compensation you receive.
The physical pain and emotional distress from a dog bite can endure longer than most of us realize. Because most children who are attacked by canines are bitten on the head or neck, damage can be catastrophic, and recovery can be excruciating. If the need for plastic surgery arises, it can drag on for years. Some children can expect to experience post-traumatic stress disorder well into adulthood. Because these factors make dog bites such a serious matter, be sure to consult with a personal injury attorney immediately.
About The Author
Abraham Jaros, co-partner and founder of Jaroslawicz & Jaros PLLC, a personal injury law firm located in New York. He began his career over 40 years ago and has tried hundreds of cases winning numerous multi-million dollar verdicts on behalf of his clients. When not in the court room he can be found writing information blogs about the current state of personal injury law.