Most dog encounters range from friendly to unremarkable. However, accidents happen, and people get hurt when a dog suddenly feels threatened and bites. Determining if you have a strong legal case after a dog bite depends on a variety of factors. For advice on navigating this challenging situation, keep reading.
Will Privette

Will Privette

Will Privette, Personal Injury Lawyer at Herrman and Herrman PLLC.

Building a Dog Bite Injury Case

The laws surrounding dog bite cases and the resulting injuries vary state by state.

Under the current laws in Texas, a dog owner can be civilly and criminally liable in certain circumstances if their dog injures another person. To find out if you have a valid legal case for a dog bite, you need to know more information about the dog and if the dog has a history of violent behavior.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in Marshall v. Ranne that a dog’s first time biting someone will not result in civil or criminal liability for the injuries. After the dog has bitten someone once, any bite after the first, the owner is liable for the resulting damages. Many have begun to call this rule the “one bite” rule: essentially saying, the first bite is free.

The Supreme Court reasoned that for a dog owner to be liable for injuries caused by the dog, the dog owner must know of the dog’s propensity for violence after the first attack. In a typical dog bite case, the injured party typically needs to show:

  • Who owns the dog?
  • The dog owner knew the dog has acted aggressively or bitten someone in the past, although this does not apply to some dog breeds in Texas. Some breeds are recognized as inherently dangerous in Texas. Still, the victim needs to show that the dog was aggressive or may attack and bite another stranger when loose or near others.
  • The dog owner failed to exercise reasonable caution in controlling the dog or preventing the victim from being bitten, resulting in the victim’s injuries.

If the victim can prove the above-referenced items, there will be a valid legal case for a dog bite.

Establishing a Dog Bite Case Depends on Where You Live

Florida, for instance, has strict liability laws when it comes to dog bite injuries. Strict liability means that the dog’s owner is on the hook for resulting harm (e.g., medical bills, lost wages, pain, and suffering) regardless of the level of care they took to keep their dog from biting another person.

If the dog bites someone in public – or while that person is lawfully on private property – then the owner is liable, even if they were cautious or didn’t know the animal had vicious propensities. So, if someone sustained a dog bite in Florida, they’d have to prove (a) the dog bit them and (b) the attack happened in public or while they were welcome on someone else’s premises.

In certain situations, dog bite victims might also want to establish a dog bite injury case that’s based on negligence. This is typically most relevant when the victim is attacked by a dog that’s classified as a “dangerous dog” under Florida state law.

When a dog is “dangerous,” owners have a responsibility to take certain precautions to keep others safe. If the owner fails to do that and another person is attacked, then the owner may be considered negligent and therefore liable for resulting injuries and costs.

Bill Allen

Bill Allen

Bill Allen is a personal injury lawyer in Gainesville, Florida, and founder of Allen Law Firm Accident & Injury Lawyers.
Jay Knispel

Jay Knispel

Jay Knispel, a founding partner of the Law Offices of Jay S. Knispel Personal Injury Lawyers, is an NYC personal injury lawyer with more than 25 years of experience.

Proving A Dog Bite Case in New York

New Yorkers have a few different options for proving liability if they’ve been bitten by a dog. Under state law, a personal injury case can be based on negligence or strict liability, depending on the facts.

Workers’ Compensation
If a person is bitten by a dog while working, they might have the legal right to compensation under New York’s workers’ compensation laws. In order to secure benefits, the dog bite victim would have to prove (a) they were bitten by a dog, (b) they were performing job-related duties at the time of the attack, and (c) they’re covered by an employer’s workers’ compensation insurance policy.

Negligence
If a dog has no history of aggressive behavior – meaning it hasn’t bitten anyone before – dog bite victims who want to file a lawsuit must typically prove negligence. Negligence involves establishing that the dog’s owner (or another party like a landlord or property owner) owed them a duty of care, breached it in some way and that, as a result, the dog bit them and caused them harm.

Strict Liability
There are two instances when a dog owner in New York can be strictly liable for a dog bite regardless of what steps the owner took to prevent a bite or keep the victim safe.

1. Dangerous Dogs
The first involves situations when the dog is classified as “dangerous.” A dog may be categorized as “dangerous” if it injures or kills a person or another animal without cause or acts in a way that a reasonable person would believe constitutes a substantial threat to their health or safety. In that situation, the owner would be strictly liable for the victim’s medical bills. Note: Other damages aren’t available under New York’s dangerous dog law.

2. One Bite Rule
New York has a one-bite rule, which means that owners are liable for injuries if they knew (or should have known) their dog had a history of viciousness. It’s called a one-bite rule because liability doesn’t automatically attach the first time a dog bites another person. Instead, that first bite triggers liability for subsequent attacks. If a person is bitten by a dog in New York, they can use the one bite law to establish liability by (a) proving the dog bit them and (b) offering evidence to show the dog has been vicious in the past.

Find Out if the Owner Has Insurance

Regardless of whether you have a case or not, you should ask the other pet owner if they have a liability insurance policy. Usually, this is supplied through homeowners or renters insurance, although some people carry a separate umbrella policy for liability issues.

If the other pet owner has an insurance policy that covers dog bites, it will help you know which next steps to take to cover the cost of medical bills resulting from the bite.

Daniel Caughill

Daniel Caughill

Daniel is one of the co-founders of The Dog Tale.
Branka Vuleta

Branka Vuleta

Branka Vuleta, General Manager and Founder of LegalJobs.io.

Keep Records of the Incident

Dog bites always come down to circumstantial evidence and to what extent you can prove that you were bitten by that specific dog. In most cases, the dog is the guilty party and thus their owner when it comes down to legal affairs. So, to prove it, you must go to a clinic or the ER immediately after you get bitten – not later that night or the next day. It’s crucial for you to have your bite medically assessed, but most importantly, documented. The paperwork that you get from the hospital will have key information that can later be used in court, including, of course, the time and date that it happened.

You should also take the name of the owner down and all relevant contact information. Also, make sure to take plenty of pictures of the bite itself and the dog, if possible!

3 Types of Liability Laws for Dog Owners

If you’ve been bitten by a dog, you should absolutely explore your options for seeking compensation, even if it seems unnecessary. Most personal injury cases don’t make it to trial. The parties nearly always settle outside of court beforehand. Depending on the damage and costs incurred from the dog bite, you could be awarded tens of thousands for your trouble.

Although you’ll need to check with your local laws, there are generally three types of liability laws for dog owners.

  1. Many states have a dog bite rule that automatically holds the owner accountable for any injury and often is covered by home insurance and renter’s plans.
  2. Some states have a one-bite rule that holds the owner accountable if the dog is known to be dangerous, in which case the victim would need to prove that the owner knew the dog had bitten before.
  3. You could have a negligence claim if you were injured as a result of the owner being unable to control the dog.
Alison Pearson

Alison Pearson

Alison Pearson, Head of HR at Hal Waldman and Associates.
Katherine Brown

Katherine Brown

Katherine Brown, the Founder and Marketing Director of Spyic.

6 Steps to Filing a Dog Bite Lawsuit

If you or someone you care about has been bitten by a dog and you believe legal action is required, there are several steps you can take to improve your chances of succeeding in court.

1. Obtaining the name of the dog and its owner is the first step after seeking medical assistance for the dog bite victim, whether it is yourself or a loved one. Compile a list of names, addresses, and other relevant information.

2. Take pictures of your injuries. This creates a visual record of your injuries, which you can use to substantiate your claims in court.

3. Report the dog bite to your local authority. This report aids in the documentation of your case and provides authorities with a paper trail.

4. See if the dog has been engaged in any previous incidents. Examine written documents to see if the dog has a history of biting or violent behavior.

5. Make sure you maintain track of all medical treatments and costs. Document the impact of the occurrence on your life, including emotional anguish, physical discomfort, job loss, and so on.

6. Contact an attorney and submit all pertinent details. Your lawyer will be able to pursue the dog bite case and demand compensation from the entity that caused it.

Dog Bite Laws Vary from State to State

The law is generally on the side of the dog owner if:

  • The owner can prove that the dog was provoked, if the person were trespassing or if the person willingly put themselves at risk, which can be hard to do.
  • Some states may be more lenient if this is the dog’s only offense, and if the owner can prove that they did not [know] that the dog would be aggressive.

Dog bite laws are on the side of the person that was bitten if:

  • The dog owner was acting negligent in restraining the animal, such as not having them leashed or penned with visitors around.
  • The dog owner knew their dogs could pose a danger.
  • Some states will hold the dog owner responsible even if there were no priors and they had no reason to suspect the dog would cause any trouble.

Dog bite cases are very circumstantial and will depend on where they take place.

Chyrle Bonk

Chyrle Bonk

Chyrle Bonk, A veterinarian working with ExcitedCats.
Seth Price

Seth Price

Seth Price Founding Partner of Price Benowitz LLP.

Building a Valid Legal Case for a Dog Bite

When bitten by a dog, you must document and keep all paperwork about the injury. It can include photos of the injury, medical documents surrounding the injury, etc. Documentation will help you to build a valid case around the dog bite and will help you to prove your side of the story.

You will, however, also need to prove that you had a lawful right to be where you were when you were attacked and that you didn’t provoke the dog. These laws may vary by state, so it’s a good idea to do some research on the dog bite laws in your location to get a more accurate idea of what can be done and what constitutes a valid dog bite case.

Gather Reliable Evidence

The very first valid evidence is the medical documents. They are the most certain form of evidence that speaks for the injuries. Make sure these documents are signed by a certified professional in the field.

Try to find proof or a witness that can confirm that the victim in no way provoked the dog. Prove that you were not hitting or teasing the animal in any way. This is mostly done with the help of nearby security cameras (if there are any). You will be lucky if you get the recordings, as this can also be a piece of strong evidence for your case.

Erin Mastopietro

Erin Mastopietro

Erin Mastopietro, Founder of Dope Dog.

Celynn Leow

Celynn Leow, Managing Editor at The Halo Pets.

Gather Pertinent Information

1. Medical Attention
Once you get bitten, you need to go to a medical clinic or hospital because after treatment, the medical certificate or record is your strong proof that you suffered from a dog bite. You need to take a photo and video of your injury before and after you seek medical assistance. All doctor’s evaluations, prescriptions, and expenses, plus receipts, must be kept.

2. Lawful Right
The person who was attacked, bitten, or injured by the dog must be in the lawful right, in the right place, and not caused the dog to provoke him to bite by chasing, teasing, or hurting him. This means the victim should have a right to the area where he or she was attacked or bitten. The victim did not trespass or break a law.

3. The Dog Posed a Danger
The owner of the dog is held liable if his/her dog poses a danger, has a record of another biting incident, is aggressive, or is not controlled by them. A dog is considered dangerous when it threatens people, barks at strangers, jumps on people, chases people, fights with other dogs, or if there are complaints that it poses a danger to the community.

4. No Provocation
Make sure that the victim did not unintentionally provoke the dog. An example of this is when you accidentally stepped on the dog’s tail and you were bitten, you pet the dog when they’re eating or chained, or you spray a repellant on the dog because of self-defense. The court may disqualify your claim.

5. File a Case
Document the incident in detail and include all the relevant information and the impact it created. For example, if you are unable to work or even lose your job, it can be a traumatic experience and have other mental and physical effects. Be sure to have the information of the dog owner and other pertinent details. Then, go to your municipal government to file the dog bite report/case. Bring all the records and proof you’ve gathered.

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