Most dogs are awesome, friendly, funny creatures. But sometimes, one gets spooked—and some dogs are aggressive. If you or a loved one has been on the receiving end of a dog attack, you should take the following steps to protect your health and finances.
Steps to take when you’re bitten by a dog
Seek medical attention right away. Over 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, many of whom are children. The infection rate of a dog bite wound is about 5 percent. Even if the bite doesn’t break the skin, have a professional take a look.
If you need treatment, follow your doctor’s orders. Take the medication as directed, and if you find that you’re experiencing additional symptoms or issues as a result of the dog bite—an infection, nerve damage, for example—call your doctor for a follow-up. Some wounds may require stitches or cosmetic surgery. Document everything.
Take photos of your injuries, any bruises, torn or bloody clothing, and the location where the attack took place. Once you’ve received treatment, file a dog bite report with the proper authorities so you can legally document your case and create a paper trail. This record will also help police should other people also be bitten by the same dog at a future time.
Identify the owner of the dog. Gather insurance and contact information. Ask for the dog license information and records about the dog’s previous history. Find out whether the dog has bitten or attacked anyone else prior to biting you and whether the dog is legally designated as dangerous or potentially dangerous. Don’t allow the dog owner’s insurance company to interview you or record any conversations. In fact, you shouldn’t need to talk to the dog owner’s insurance company at all.
Why you should contact an attorney
Legal issues associated with a dog bite are often complex and challenging to navigate. A dog bite lawyer or personal injury lawyer is someone—besides your medical team or doctor—who will look out for your interests.
Dog bite laws vary from state to state. In New Jersey, the dog owner is legally liable for all damages received by a dog bite victim, even if the dog has never bitten a human before. The liability from section 4:19-16 of the New Jersey Statues reads:
4:19-16. Liability of owner regardless of viciousness of dog
The owner of any dog which shall bite a person while such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, shall be liable for such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.
For the purpose of this section, a person is lawfully upon the private property of such owner when he is on the property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when he is on such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner thereof.
A bite doesn’t have to break the skin of the victim, and shopkeepers or other businesses can be held liable of a dog presents a danger to customers or is vicious. If the victim was trespassing, however, or wasn’t looking where he was going—or there’s a dog walker who was inattentive and is found at fault—the victim may not receive compensation or may only receive partial compensation.
How to tell if you’ve got a good case
For it to be worth your while to retain an attorney, your situation needs to have three elements:
- Liability on the part of the defendant.
- An injury that deserves substantial compensation.
- Insurance coverage.
In New Jersey, there is a liability dog bite statute. Some areas may also have liability ordinances, and if the victim can prove that the dog has previously bitten someone else or behaved in a vicious manner—and the dog’s owner knew about it; the dog’s owner or a landlord was negligent in some way and that negligence enabled the attack; or a third party/ dog’s owner violated a leash law, which resulted in a dog bite, there is a case.
Compensation for injuries depend on a wide range of variables: the extent of the injury; extent and impact of treatment; scarring; disability; loss of income; pain and suffering; future costs for additional treatment like cosmetic surgery, physical therapy, or counseling. Only insurance adjusters and personal injury attorneys are qualified to estimate what compensation amount is appropriate. When injuries are insignificant, it’s rarely worth the time and expense to retain a lawyer.
People who live in homes they own generally have homeowner’s insurance, which usually covers damages that result from dog bites. Sometimes, renter’s insurance will also cover dog bites, as well as insurance held by those who live in condos and mobile homes.
Why is insurance important? It ensures that there will be money to pay the victim and that the victim can contract the services of an attorney on a “no recovery, no fee” basis. Generally, attorneys who accept dog bite cases don’t ask for payment until (and if) a monetary award is given.
Why hire a lawyer?
Fewer than 1 percent of dog bite victims receive compensation, and without a lawyer, it’s rare that a victim will recover a fair amount. Insurance adjusters typically offer victims 10% to 20% of what they might offer if the victim had retained an attorney’s services. Since most lawyers work on contingency and typically receive about 33% of a settlement, it’s more financially sound to retain an attorney because you’ll receive 66% of the full settlement amount (generally higher than if you were to negotiate on your own).
Not sure? Make the call.
If you’re worried about your case going to court, don’t. Generally, 98 percent of bodily injury cases are settled out of court and without a trial. Hiring a lawyer tends to ensure that claims are handled more efficiently and quickly. A good attorney can present your case to the insurance company so that the claim is resolved well before it goes to court and a possible jury trial.