Were You the Victim of a Dog Bite Injury?

The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs every year, with approximately 800,000 requiring medical attention. Children account for roughly half of all dog bite victims in the U.S., followed by the elderly.

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dog bite Lawsuits

The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs every year, with approximately 800,000 requiring medical attention. Children account for roughly half of all dog bite victims in the U.S., followed by the elderly.

Dog bites are a regrettably common occurrence in the United States. There are nearly 80 million pet dogs in this country, and while many of them are friendly and well-behaved, some are aggressive and potentially dangerous. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are a staggering 4.7 million dog bites in the U.S. every year, and of those, 800,000 require medical care. The physical and emotional harm that can result from an attack by a vicious dog has led many states to pass strict liability laws designed to hold dog owners liable for any injuries caused by their animals. If you have been bitten by a dog, whether your injuries are minor or serious, the owner of the dog is most likely responsible for the attack. That means you have the right to take legal action against the dog owner and pursue the compensation you deserve for your medical expenses and other losses related to the dog bite. Our consumers advocates at the Consumer Justice Foundation know how painful and traumatic a dog attack can be and we are here to help you get the compensation you deserve in the aftermath of a dog bite accident.

Common Dog Bite Injuries

Most people love dogs. After all, dogs are considered man’s best friend – a constant companion and a source of unconditional love for so many people. However, we sometimes forget that dogs are animals and their behavior can therefore be unpredictable. No matter how loving and well-behaved our own dog may be, it is impossible to know how other dogs will behave towards us. Even dogs that don’t have a history of aggressive behavior can bite or attack without warning, and the consequences of such an attack can be devastating for victims. The following are some examples of injuries that can result from a dog bite:

  • Puncture wounds
  • Cuts, scrapes or deep lacerations
  • Bruising
  • Broken bones
  • Nerve damage
  • Facial trauma
  • Diseases like rabies or MRSA
  • Falls, fractures, head injuries and other trauma
  • Psychological injuries

Long-Term Effects of Dog Bite Injuries

Recovering from a dog bite and healing the physical and psychological effects of the attack can be a long and difficult process. Depending on the severity of the dog bite, victims may suffer lasting injuries or complications, and thus have the right to pursue the maximum amount of compensation for the long-term effects of the trauma they have endured. The risk of infection is a primary concern with dog bite injuries, due to the potentially harmful bacteria that can be found in dogs’ mouths. Even if infection is ruled out though, there are other long-term health consequences that victims of dog attacks may suffer after a serious bite, such as nerve damage, muscle damage, or splintered bones, which may require ongoing medical care or possibly even amputation. Lacerations are a common consequence of dog attacks and these types of injuries often require stitches, skin grafts, or plastic surgery to repair. Unfortunately, even with treatment, laceration injuries can result in permanent scarring or disfigurement, no matter where on the body the injuries occur. After living through a traumatic experience like a dog attack, survivors may also experience psychological injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, nightmares, mood swings, a fear of dogs, and other lasting emotional effects that can significantly diminish their quality of life.

Dog Bite Laws in the U.S.

Most states in the U.S. have laws that specifically relate to dog bite accidents. These laws vary from state to state, but they generally hold dog owners automatically responsible for injuries sustained in any situation where their animal bites another person, even if the owner wasn’t negligent in the attack or had no prior knowledge that the dog could be dangerous. For instance, the dog bite statute in California (Civil Code Section 3342) states that “The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.” 

If you suffer injuries in a dog bite accident, you will want to have a clear understanding of the dog bite statute in your state, if there is one. If your state doesn’t have a specific dog bite law, or if it doesn’t apply to your situation (i.e. if the law only covers dog bites and you were injured because a dog chased your bicycle into traffic), you may still be able to pursue compensation from the dog owner under the common law rule or through a negligence claim. Consult an experienced dog bite attorney right away after the dog attack to get a clear picture of your legal options based on your specific situation.

Dangerous and Vicious Dog Laws

Although any dog can injure someone in an attack, there are certain dogs that the law says are more likely to exhibit violent or aggressive behavior towards humans and other animals. These so-called “dangerous dog” laws, which exist in nearly every state, set forth the definition of a dangerous dog, the requirements for owning a dog that has been labeled dangerous, euthanasia provisions, and the penalties for owners and dogs that cause harm to others. Generally speaking, dangerous dogs are dogs whose behavior puts the public or other animals at risk for injury or death. Some states single out dogs involved in more serious attacks by using the phrase “vicious dog” instead of “dangerous dog.” Similarly, a problem animal whose behavior doesn’t necessarily rise to dangerous or vicious dog status may be labeled a “potentially dangerous dog.” Depending on the state, a dog may be considered potentially dangerous, dangerous or vicious if it has: 

  • Bitten or attacked a person without provocation
  • Engaged in animal fighting or been trained to fight
  • Inflicted bodily injury, serious bodily injury, or death of a person
  • Demonstrated a propensity to attack without provocation
  • More than once injured or killed a domestic animal while off the owner’s property
  • Chased or approached a person in a menacing manner without provocation
  • Caused a substantial puncture of a person’s skin
  • Harassed, chased, bitten, or attempted to bite any other animal

Who is at Risk for a Dog Bite Accident?


Due to their small stature and propensity for trust, young children are among those most vulnerable to dog bites. They also tend to move quickly and without warning, which can seem threatening to a dog, even if they aren’t interacting with the dog directly. Sadly, child victims are more likely to suffer catastrophic physical injuries in dog attacks, usually affecting the face or head region, which can result in permanent scarring and disfigurement. Children may also suffer severe emotional trauma stemming from a dog bite incident, which can be debilitating and long-lasting. 

Adults and Seniors

Depending on their breed, age and size, dogs can be powerful animals, and while most victims of dog attacks are children, dog bites can affect people of all ages, including adults and seniors. In fact, when it comes to unprovoked dog bite accidents, seniors are the second most vulnerable age group after children. Sadly, it is not uncommon for animals involved in dog bite accidents to be known by the victim and for the bite to occur during normal activities, such as feeding or playing with the dog. Elderly individuals can be easily overpowered by larger animals and suffer serious or possibly even fatal injuries. 

What to Do After a Dog Bite

The steps you take in the aftermath of a dog bite accident are critical, as your actions immediately following a dog attack can have a significant bearing on the outcome of your case. You may be in shock after being bitten by an aggressive dog, but it is important to check off these items as quickly as possible after the attack. 

Notify the Police

If you have been attacked by someone else’s dog, call 911 immediately and report the incident to the police. Alerting the authorities ensures that the attack is fully documented and should trigger an investigation into the incident, which will help establish liability. 

Gather the Dog Owner’s Contact Information

You will also want to get the dog owner’s name and contact information and find out whether the dog has been vaccinated for rabies. Even if your injuries don’t seem serious and the dog’s vaccinations are up to date, there are plenty of issues that can arise in the days and weeks after a dog bite, and you will want to make sure you are fully protected. Gathering the dog owner’s personal information is a critical step in this process.  

Write Down the Details

Wherever the incident occurred, and whether the owner was present for it or not, it is a good idea to write down everything that happened leading up to and after the attack as soon as you can after the incident, so you have an accurate accounting of the dog bite for your records. 

Seek Immediate Medical Treatment

You should also seek medical attention right away and keep a detailed record of any medical care you required in the aftermath of the dog attack, as well as any other losses you incurred as a result of your injuries, such as lost wages due to missed days at work. This information will be useful later if you end up suing the dog owner for damages. 

Retain Legal Counsel

If you do plan to file a lawsuit against the dog owner, you will want to hire a knowledgeable attorney with experience handling dog bite claims. You may be tempted to negotiate with the owner’s insurance company on your own or attempt to settle your claim without the help of an attorney, but these strategies are rarely successful. Insurance claims adjusters are trained to pay out as little as possible or avoid paying claims altogether, and without a clear idea of what your claim is worth, you could end up receiving far less than you are entitled to or possibly even nothing at all. 

Who is Liable for Dog Bites?

Dog owners are responsible for the behavior of their animals and most states have laws in place that hold dog owners legally liable for any injuries their animals cause. In most dog bite cases, injured victims can sue the owner for damages, so long as they were on public property or lawfully on private property when the attack occurred and did not provoke the animal into attacking. If the dog owner has a spouse or partner who shares ownership of the dog, that person may also be liable for the attack. Remember this though: whether the owner will be held liable for your dog bite injuries depends on the laws in your state. That is why we always recommend hiring an attorney with a proven history of success handling dog bite claims in your area. 

Pursuing Compensation for Dog Bite Injuries

How a Dog Bite Lawsuit Can Help

Pursuing legal action against the owner of a dangerous dog and compensation for your injuries is your legal right as a dog bite victim. However, it is possible that you won’t have to file a lawsuit to recover damages for your dog bite injuries. If the dog owner has a homeowner’s insurance or commercial property insurance policy that covers dog bites, you may be able to instead pursue a claim against the insurance company, which is something your attorney can help you with. However, if your attorney is unable to negotiate a reasonable settlement with the insurance company, it may be in your best interest to file a lawsuit to recover damages for past and future medical bills, income you have lost as a result of missed time at work, any physical pain or emotional suffering you have endured, and other losses related to the dog bite accident. 

If you find yourself in this position, you will want a personal injury attorney on your side who is prepared to take your case to trial to get the maximum compensation you are entitled to for your dog bite injuries. As we noted above, many dog bites result in physical injuries like lacerations, puncture wounds, infections or facial trauma, but there is also the emotional aspect of a dog bite accident to consider. Being bitten by an aggressive dog can be a traumatic experience, and in addition to possibly sustaining visible injuries, victims may also suffer stress and anxiety that continues long after the initial attack. These are all factors a skilled personal injury attorney will take into account when preparing your case, to ensure that you recover full and fair compensation for the trauma you have endured. 

If your loved one was killed in a fatal dog attack, you may have the right to pursue a wrongful death claim against the dog owner in order to recover additional damages for funeral and burial costs, loss of companionship or consortium, loss of financial support, and more. 

What are the Legal Claims for a Dog Bite Accident?

Strict Liability

Most dog bite laws in the U.S. hold dog owners automatically liable for most injuries sustained in a dog attack. These laws are known as “strict liability” statutes, meaning the victim does not have to prove that the dog’s owner was negligent or that the owner knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous, in order to recover damages after a dog attack. That also means owners of problem dogs can’t argue that they didn’t know their dog was dangerous to get out of being held liable for the victim’s injuries. There are, however, certain points you will have to prove should you decide to pursue legal action in a strict liability dog bite case. For instance, if you are involved in a dog bite accident in California, you will have to establish each of the following elements in order to hold the dog owner liable for damages:

  • The defendant owned the dog that attacked you;
  • The dog bit you;
  • You were in a public place or lawfully in a private place (including the dog owner’s property) when the dog bite occurred; and
  • You suffered damages as a result of the attack. 

Possible Exceptions to Strict Liability Laws

Dog bite laws vary widely from state to state and many of these laws include certain exceptions, which can make recovering the compensation you deserve after a dog bite more difficult than you might think. For instance, a state’s dog bite laws may not apply in certain cases, such as those where the victim was trespassing on private property or provoked the dog into attacking, or in cases where the dog was performing its duties as a military or police dog when the bite occurred. There are also some states with strict liability statutes that apply only to injuries caused by an actual dog bite. In other words, if a dog chases a bicycle and causes a collision, these laws may not cover the injuries resulting from that accident. Furthermore, states can change their dog bite laws at any time, which is why we recommend enlisting the help of a reputable dog bite attorney when attempting to hold a dog owner responsible for injuries sustained in a dog attack.

Common Law Rule

Even in states without specified dog bite laws, dog bite victims may still have legal recourse against dog owners under a common law principle known as the “one-bite rule.” This legal principle holds dog owners financially responsible for injuries sustained in an attack if they knew or should have known that their dog was dangerous and capable of causing such injuries. If you hope to win a dog bite case under a common law rule, you must show that the dog’s behavior was such that the dog’s owner should have been aware of the potential risk that a bite or injury could occur. The court will consider the animal’s history when determining whether the owner should have reasonably known that the dog was likely to hurt someone. For instance, if the dog bit someone in the past, or if the dog routinely growls or snaps at other people when out in public, the owner may be liable under the common law rule if the dog injures someone by acting in a similar way.

Claims Based on Negligence

Negligence, another word for carelessness, is a legal principle having to do with harm stemming from a person or entity’s failure to exercise the appropriate level of care given the circumstances. If there is no dog bite statute in your state, or if the law doesn’t apply to your specific case (for instance, if the law only covers actual dog bites and you were injured when a dog attacked your motorcycle and caused an accident), you may still be able to file a legal claim based on the dog owner’s negligence. Under the legal principle of negligence, if you are injured by a dog and you can prove that the dog’s owner failed to use reasonable care to control the dog, i.e. by refusing to keep the dog on a leash or behind a fence, and you suffered injuries as a result of this negligence, the dog owner may be liable for damages. 

Do I Have a Legal Claim?

To recap, in determining whether you have a legal claim against the owner of the dog that attacked you, your attorney will consider the dog bite laws in your state and, if a strict liability statute exists, the three key factors detailed below. There may be other factors that play a role in the viability of your claim, such as whether the dog has exhibited aggressive behavior in the past, whether you knew the risk of injury, whether your injuries were caused by an actual bite, or whether the dog owner’s actions or lack thereof contributed to the attack, so don’t hesitate to consult an attorney with the skill and expertise necessary to conduct a thorough evaluation of your case. 

These Factors May Come into Play

Where the Attack Occurred

Dog bites can happen anywhere, including at the beach, on a hike in the woods, at a dog park, or in any other public place. However, most dog bites occur right on the dog owner’s property. In most states, if a dog attacks and injures a person, the injured victim can sue the dog’s owner for damages, so long as the attack did not occur while the victim was trespassing on private property. If you are attacked by a dog while in a public place or while in a private place where you were legally permitted to be, you may have a claim against the dog owner. 

Whether the Dog was Provoked

No one deserves to be attacked by a dog and there are strict laws in place that protect dog bite victims. However, if someone intentionally provokes a dog and the dog bites them, the owner may be excused from liability. With regard to a dog bite, the term “provocation” refers to any situation where a dog is encouraged or incited to bite a person. This can include any actions meant to be painful or annoying to the dog or cause the dog to be afraid. In states with strict liability laws, dog owners can use provocation as a defense to a dog bite claim. 

Whether the Dog was Performing Official Duties 

You may be wondering what kind of official duties a dog could be performing that would excuse an attack, and the answer is at least two kinds. If you have been injured in a dog bite accident and the dog was a trained military or police dog that was performing official duties at the time of the attack, strict liability laws may not apply and the dog’s owner may be exempt from liability. 

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Millions of people are injured in dog attacks in the U.S. every year. Most dog bites occur on the dog owner’s property and more than half of dog bite victims are children. Tragically, child dog bite victims often sustain painful and potentially disfiguring injuries to the face, which can affect them for the rest of their lives, both physically and emotionally. Because of their frequency and potential severity, dog attacks are taken very seriously in the U.S. and there are considerable consequences in store for any dog owner whose dog bites someone. That being said, the outcome of your dog bite case depends a great deal on how the dog bite laws in your state apply to your specific situation. It also depends on the quality of your legal counsel. A good attorney will be apprised of how the local dog bite laws relate to your particular circumstances and can ensure that your legal rights are protected following a dog attack. It can be extremely difficult to represent yourself and be your own legal advocate while recovering from a dog bite, which is why we suggest contacting an experienced personal injury attorney to evaluate your case. Hiring the right dog bite attorney can mean the difference between receiving the compensation you deserve and recovering from your injuries without compensation, so call us today to learn more.

By submitting this form, you confirm that you have read and agreed to Select Justice, LLC, LeadClient, Inc., or a law firm may contact you about their services at your above phone number even if it is on a National or State Do Not Call List. Calls / texts may employ automated dialing technology and prerecorded / artificial voice messages and email. I understand my consent is not a condition of any purchase.

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