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Dog / Animal Bites

Every year, millions of Americans are bitten by dogs. Dog bite claims fall under the umbrella of personal injury law, where the injured party has the legal right to seek compensation for injuries caused by another party's actions or negligence.

If you are involved in a dog bite incident it is important to first establish if medical treatment is necessary. Gaining pertinent information about the dog, its owner, and any witnesses is also crucial. You should also report the incident to local police or animal control authorities.

In general, an animal attack can be described as an attack by an animal that causes injuries and sometimes death to a human being. Laws related to animal attacks will define when an owner may be liable for resulting injuries. As such, the definition and legal consequences related to such actions will vary by state.

For example, a dog owner may face criminal assault charges in some states if their dog assaults another person. This can occur when a dog's traits meet the definition of “vicious” or “dangerous” provided in a state statute and their owner fails to reasonably restrain (e.g., put a leash on) their dog despite knowing that it is dangerous.

Another example of when a legal action may be brought for an animal attack is when a state has enacted strict liability measures for people who raise wild or illegal animals. For instance, suppose a person keeps a wild tiger in their apartment in a jurisdiction that recognizes strict liability laws and the tiger severely injures or attacks a neighbor. That person will immediately become responsible for damages regardless of whether the neighbor instigated the attack.

In addition, many states also have statutes about domesticated animal liability, especially laws specifically created for dog bites or attacks. There are also instances where there may be exceptions that act as defense to the dog attack like if they were stopping a criminal.

Finally, a person can be sued for their animal's actions if they failed to keep a victim reasonably safe from harm. These actions are based on the theory of negligence and can arise in a variety of situations, such as if the owner failed to warn victims of the animal's potentially dangerous trait. In such cases, the owner will still be responsible even if the owner wasn't aware of any prior incidents.

For instance, failing to add a warning sign to your fence if you own a specific type of dog breed that is notoriously known for having certain dangerous traits.

Animal Bite Accident Statistics

Animal bite accidents make up one of the most common types of personal injury claims in the United States. Every year, millions of bite accidents and animal attacks occur, mostly

due to interactions with animals that people keep as pets. Some of these involve very minor injuries, while others may result in serious or even fatal consequences. Below are some statistics and facts on animal bite accidents, mostly complied from information provided by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2009.

Dog Bite Statistics:

  • Dog bites are by far the most common type of animal bites in the U.S. with around 4.7 million dog bites occurring each year.
  • An estimated 800,000 dog bites are serious enough to require medical care.
  • About 2/3 of all dog bites occur near or on the property of the victim; in most dog bite cases, the victim knew the dog that bit them.
  • On average, there are about 31 fatal dog bite cases per year.
  • Around 92% of fatal dog bite cases involve male dogs; of these cases, 94% of the male dogs were not neutered.
  • Chained dogs are more likely to bite by a factor of 2.8 times more than unchained dogs and account for 25% of fatal dog attacks.
  • Slightly over 71% of all dog bites occur to the arms, legs, feet, and hands. However, 65% of dog bites among children are to the neck and head.
  • Pit bulls are responsible for the most human deaths each year, followed by rottweilers and huskies. However, many dog bite cases don't get reported.
  • Half of all dog attacks involve children younger than 12 years of age.
  • 70% of all dog attack fatalities involve children who are less than 10 years old.

Most people associate animal bites with dog bites, but cat bites are also a very common phenomenon. Some cat bite statistics are as follows:

  • There are an estimated 400,000 cat bites each year.
  • An estimated 66,000 hospital emergency visits each year are due to cat bites.
  • In 2009, there were 81 rabies cases from dogs, but 300 rabies cases from cats, meaning that cats were three times more likely to be rabid than dogs that year.

Statistics and facts for other types of animals:

  • Three children have been killed by pet wolves in the past 30 years.
  • Reptile pets can also be fatal; some injuries involve strangulation instead of bites as they are caused by reptiles such as boa constrictors and pythons.
  • An injury caused by an exotic animal is a strict liability offense. This means that the owner of the exotic animal might be held liable for an attack regardless of whether they were in fault.

Thus, animal bites make a significant portion of the personal injury cases each year. Liability for a pet or animal bite will most likely lead to a damages award to help the victim recover their financial losses.

What Do You Do If Your Animal Bites or Attacks Someone?

In the event that an individual's animal bites or attacks someone, there are a number of steps they can take that may help to diffuse the situation, such as:

  • Remaining calm and collected;
  • Being as kind and accommodating as the situation will allow;
  • Ensuring that the victim seeks medical attention if the incident calls for it;
  • Obtaining the names, addresses, and phone numbers of any witnesses;
  • Refraining from making statements or posting on social media about the matter; and
  • Locating and preserving copies of the animal's medical records, including those that show proper care of the animal (e.g., proof of rabies shots, other relevant vaccinations, etc.).

Is a Pet Owner Liable for Injuries and Damage Caused by their Pets?

Yes. Pets are the personal property of the owner. This means that their owners can be personally liable for any injuries they inflict onto others or onto anyone's property. Typically people think of animal injuries associated with dog (dog bites), but any injury or property damage caused by your pet, whether the pet is a dog, cat, snake, rabbit, bird, etc., can expose you to liability.

In most states, the liability of a pet owner, and in particular a dog owner, is established by statute.

For instance, a victim's immediate family members may bring a wrongful death suit against an owner whose animal caused death to a loved one. Damages for these cases typically involve some kind of monetary or compensatory damages award if successful.

Other parties that may be held responsible include:

  • Animal keepers who are not the owners;
  • People in possession of the animal who are not the owners (e.g., pet sitters);
  • Employers whose businesses involve animals (e.g., pet shop owners, animal shelters, zoos, kennels. etc.), or allow animals on the property (e.g., cafes that permit dogs);
  • Individuals who sell animals;
  • Stable keepers; and
  • Animal instructors or trainers.

Depending on state statutes and the facts surrounding a specific matter, different rules will apply if the attack was carried out by a pet or domestic animal versus a dangerous or wild animal. As briefly mentioned above, people who own wild animals will automatically become liable for any resulting injuries caused by their animal. Possessors or keepers of wild animals can be held liable as well.

As for owners of domestic animals or pet owners, the type of claim filed and state statutes will dictate who can be held liable. For instance, both an owner or keeper who knew of a domestic animal's dangerous traits can be held responsible. However, if a state has a “dog bite” statute like the one enacted by California legislatures, then such statutes will only apply to the owner under a theory of strict liability.

In general, the most common way that other persons aside from an owner can be held responsible for a pet or domestic animal's actions will be based on a theory of negligence.

How Long Do I Have to Sue after Being Bit by a Dog or Other Animal?

The answer to this question depends on how long the Statute of Limitations is for injuries in the state where the accident occurred. Generally speaking, the shortest statutes of limitations for injuries like dog bites are 6 months, and the longest are 3 years.  Check with a personal injury attorney in your state to see what time limit may apply to your case.

What if the Defendant is a Government Employee or Agency?

If the defendant is a government agency or employee, the statute of limitations may be shorter than for other defendants. In some states, a victim only has 6 months to bring a charge against a government employee or agency for an injury like a dog bite.

What if the Victim is a Child or Another Animal?

Many states hold that if the victim is a child, he or she can sue at any point before becoming 19 years of age. With regard to animal victims, many states hold that the injured animal's owner can bring suit against a non-governmental defendant for up to 3 years.  But each state has different rules, so be sure to check your states law.

How Can Animal Owners Protect Themselves from Liability?

As a pet owner, to protect yourself from liability, there are a couple of things you can do.

First, consider obtaining homeowner's or renter's insurance, especially if you live in a state where you are considered responsible for your dog's attacks unless there are extraneous circumstances. Check your policy to see whether dog bites on your property are covered. Some insurance companies do not cover animals or certain dog breeds, such as pit bulls, which are considered more dangerous and aggressive dogs.

Second, knowledge is power. Look into your state, county, and city's ordinance regarding dog ownership. Some states have “strict liability” statutes as mentioned above. These statutes make you legally responsible for any injuries your dog inflicts by virtue of you being the animal's owner.

What are Defenses to Dog Bite Claims?

If your dog bite another person, the following defenses may be pleaded:

  • Provocation: If the person injured provoked or aggravated the dog, you may not be liable for the resulting injury.
  • Contributory negligence: In states that adopt a contributory negligence standard, you may be liable only for the percentage by which a court finds you liable as the dog owner. In other words, if the victim contributed to the attack, your liability may be limited.
  • Assumption of the risk: If you gave plenty of warning to others about your dog's aggressive tendencies and the victim willingly entered the situation knowing it may not be safe, they have assumed the risk of the injury.

Can Veterinarians Sue Pet Owners for their Injuries?

Typically, veterinarians cannot sue pet owners if the pet bites during a vet visit. Veterinarians, by virtue of their profession, assume a certain amount of risk when working with any animal. Further, a veterinarian's job sometimes is to poke and prod at an animal, which often leads to an involuntary reaction by the animal. Finally, some courts hold that veterinarians become its temporary owner after they receive custody of the dog, thereby removing the actual owner's liability when the pet is in the vet's care.

There are a couple exceptions. An owner can still be liable if the pet is unusually ill-tempered and the owner does not warn the veterinarian. Additionally, a vet's employees can sue the vet if their employer fails to properly protect her employees from unnecessary risks posed by the animal.

Do I Need an Injury Lawyer for Help with an Animal Attack?

Animal attacks can lead to serious consequences for both the owners of the animals and the people injured by them. Thus, whether you are the victim of an animal attack or your animal is responsible for injuring another individual, you should consider contacting a local personal injury lawyer for further legal guidance. An experienced personal injury lawyer can discuss the state laws that apply to your case, assist you with preparing and filing a lawsuit, and will be able to represent you in court if necessary. Dog bite law varies by place and circumstance and also may include a limitation on the time you have to file a legal claim. In general, a dog bite victim has the right to seek injury compensation from any party whose negligence caused the dog bite attack, any party in violation on leash or restraint laws, and any party who knowingly harbors a dog with a history of biting people.

If a dog has bitten you, you may be entitled to recover damages as a result of this injury. Determining your legal rights, however, can be complicated. It may be unclear who you should bring a claim against and the damages to which you are entitled. To ensure that you receive just compensation, consult a knowledgeable personal injury attorney to discuss your situation and your legal right to compensation for your injuries. Call our office today at 212-994-7777 or complete the convenient online contact form to set up a consultation.