Do I Need to File a Dog Bite Lawsuit?
Filing any type of lawsuit is a big decision. It can take time and cause stress, but in some cases, it is well worth these downsides. A dog bite can cause a serious injury and may impact you for the rest of your life. Depending on how the dog owner reacts and the response of their insurance company, you may not need to file a lawsuit to recover damages.
In most cases of dog bites, the owner is the liable party. Often, their homeowners’ insurance covers expenses related to dog bites. You may be able to work with them to get the compensation you need to cover related medical expenses.
You may not be satisfied with what the insurance company offers. If the owner does not have insurance, or has no relevant coverage, they may not be willing to pay out of their own pockets. You could be out a lot of money for your injuries.
Only an experienced lawyer can give you expert advice on whether you need to file a lawsuit, but it is always an option. You have a right to sue if you don’t believe the situation has resolved or that the responsible party will cover your full damages.
What About Small Claims Court?
Some victims of dog bites choose to take the dog owner to small claims court. This is typically after one-on-one discussions break down and they cannot resolve the situation or agree on any compensation. You can sue for up to $10,000 in small claims court in most states, a reasonable limit for most mild dog bite injuries.
To go to small claims court, you will need to prepare your case and present it without a lawyer. You are your own advocate. This can be tricky if you have no legal experience. It can also be time-consuming, and you may have to take time off work.
If I’m Filing a Lawsuit, When Should I Do it?
If you cannot get a resolution with the dog owner and small claims court is not a good option, a dog bite lawyer can help you take other steps to recover damages. They will first try to negotiate a settlement with the owner’s insurance, if available. This is a faster option that, if successful, will give you compensation sooner.
File a lawsuit when you have exhausted other options, including settlement negotiations. Don’t wait too long, though. States set a time limit on personal injury cases, known as a statute of limitations. These range from just one year up to six years from when the incident occurred.
How Will My Lawyer Prove Negligence?
How your lawyer will handle your case depends on the laws in your state. They need to consider negligence, liability, and your own fault in the incident, if any.
- If you are in a strict liability state, you do not have to prove negligence. The owner is considered liable as long as you can prove the dog bit you, resulting in damages.
- In states that follow the one-bite rule, you need to prove the owner’s negligence by showing they knew or should have known their dog had the potential to bite. Past incidents, not just bites, and complaints against the dog may prove this. Your lawyer will investigate the defendant to prove they should have known their dog was dangerous and protected you from it.
- Some states have exceptions to an owner’s liability, specifically if the victim of the bite is negligent. For instance, if you trespassed on their property and the dog bit you, the owner may not be liable. Your lawyer may have to defend you against accusations like these to prove the owner is liable for your damages.
How Does a Dog Bite Lawsuit Proceed?
The steps in a dog bite lawsuit are similar to those in other personal injury cases. Your lawyer files the lawsuit, or a complaint, against the defendant. The defendant may respond, but by notifying them of the charges, official action begins.
With the complaint received, both sides investigate to build a case. During the discovery period, lawyers on each side can review information from the other’s investigation. At this point, the defendant’s insurance company may be prepared to settle. Most cases end here, never going to trial.
To go to trial or not is your decision, although your lawyer will advise you. In a trial, both sides present evidence and witnesses to prove their case to the jury. The jury decides if the dog owner is liable, and if so, awards you damages.
How Much Can I Recover in Damages from a Dog Bite Lawsuit?
Damages amounts vary a lot in personal injury cases. In dog bite lawsuits, the amount may be small for minor injuries or significant for severe injuries, permanent disabilities, or wrongful death. Your lawyer can provide a reasonable estimate of damages, based on information you help provide:
- Your medical records
- Your medical bills
- Any lost wages
- Other bills associated with the injury
The lawyer will estimate damages based on these actual costs, but also on non-economic costs. Dog bites can be traumatic and cause emotional suffering, stress, and anxiety. Disfigurement from the injury also causes suffering. These costs must be considered in total damages.
Filing a dog bite lawsuit may seem like an unnecessary step, but consider everything the bite has cost you. If you are not receiving the compensation you need to cover expenses, a lawsuit can help. Let a lawyer experienced in dog bite cases guide your decisions and help you take steps to sue if necessary.