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Dog Bites & Animal Attacks



According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, about 800,000 Americans a year seek medical attention because of a dog bite. If you are a the victim of a dog bite, you should be aware of your legal options.

Dog bite laws generally fall into three categories:

  • Strict liability laws
  • One-bite laws
  • Negligence laws

Strict Liability Laws

Strict liability means that the dog owner is responsible for any injury caused by the dog, regardless of whether the dog had a history of biting. Even if the owner takes proactive steps, such as posting signs on his or her property warning people about the dog, the owner is still responsible if his or her dog hurts someone. There are, however, a couple of exceptions to strict liability laws. A dog owner probably is responsible if their dog bites:

  • A person who is trespassing on their property without permission
  • A veterinarian who is treating the dog
  • A person who is provoking the dog to respond aggressively

California, Florida, and Illinois are among the states that have strict liability laws when it comes to dog bites.

One-Bite Laws

Some state laws say that dog owners are not responsible the first time a dog bites someone, but if the dog bites anyone after that, the owner is responsible for any injuries caused by the bite. Once the dog's owner knows that the dog has the potential to bite, the owner has the responsibility to ensure that the dog never bites anyone in the future.

One-bite laws do not care how much time passes between the first bite and the second bite. Nor does it matter if the dog bites the same person or a different person the second time.

The exception to the one-bite law is if the dog owner had reason to believe the dog might bite. In this case, the owner would be liable the first time his or her dog bites someone.

Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia are among the states that have one-bite laws.

Negligence Laws

Most state laws will also hold a dog owner responsible if the owner acts with negligence and the dog injures someone. Negligence means that a person failed to act with reasonable care and someone was injured as a result.

Imagine a dog has been known to bite. The owner want to make sure that the dog doesn't bite anyone else, so he or she posts signs outside the house and yard that caution visitors to beware of the dog. And the owner has installed tall fences with locked gates around the yard. Arguably the owner took reasonable care to prevent other people from being bitten.

Now imagine the owner let his or her dog, who had a tendency to bite, roam through the neighborhood without a muzzle, and the dog bit someone. Most people would probably say that owner was negligent.

If You Are a Victim

If you are the victim of a dog bite, you may be able to recover money from the dog's owner (or his or her insurance company) to compensate you for:

  • Medical bills, including medication, and future treatment for scar reduction
  • Mental health counseling
  • Lost wages
  • Torn clothing
  • Pain and suffering

Laws Vary from Area to Area

It's important to remember that cities and counties may have dog laws that are more restrictive than the state laws. Legally, dog owners are responsible for adhering to all of the laws that apply, and ignorance of the law is not a valid defense if a dog injures someone.

Dog bite law requires some specific knowledge and expertise. If you've been bitten by a dog, talk to a personal injury attorney who's knowledgeable with dog bite laws in your area.

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