Dogs are one of the most popular pets in U.S. household. Estimates show that U.S. households owned about 78 million dogs as of 2016. While these canine companions provide many benefits, they also can cause injuries when they interact inappropriately or aggressively with the public at large.
If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog, or if someone has accused your dog of causing harm to another person, there are a multitude of facts that need to be analyzed to determine legal liability. Complicating matters, laws regarding dog bites can vary from state to state, and the analysis of who was at fault and who should pay any resulting medical bills is highly specific to the facts of your individual bite. If you have been involved in a dog bite incident, there are a few things you should keep in mind to help protect your legal rights, as a personal injury lawyer relies on can explain.
The One Bite Rule
While there is a split of law across states, a majority of jurisdictions in the United States follow what is known as the “One Bite Rule.” In order to assign liability or recover damages in court, States that follow the One Bite Rule require that a claimant or injured party demonstrate that the dog’s owner had previous knowledge of the dog’s dangerous or aggressive tendencies. This evidence typically comes in the form of a previous bite. In certain circumstances, even if the dog has not bitten, the previous aggressive behavior may be enough to satisfy the One Bite Rule requirements. It is important to note that while the rule commonly refers to dog bites, the same logic applies to any aggressive or dangerous behavior that causes harm such as lunging at or jumping up onto people.
Who Had Control
Another major consideration in some states comes down to who was in control of the dog at the time of the incident. Depending on where the incident took place, it may not be the owner who is liable in the event of a dog bite. Many dog bite statutes assign responsibility for medical and other damages to the person who had control, or was supposed to have control of the dog. The person with control could be a neighbor, pet walker, groomer or family member. Control is an important issue since making a claim against the wrong party could delay or otherwise impact your ability to be made whole in the event of a dog bite or injury.
Historically, dog bite law is a complicated field with a variety of individual considerations. One of the biggest complicating factors is the variation of law from state to state. The fact-specific nature of dog bite liability can also make it difficult for the average person to assess whether they have a claim for damages or whether someone may be able to pursue them for injuries caused by their pets.
Injuries and the facts surrounding any dog bite should always be well documented, as close to the time of the incident as possible since this is when the details are the freshest in everyone’s minds. Owners and injured parties should also feel free to reach out for legal assistance to protect their rights as qualified legal advice can help navigate the myriad of legal and factual analyses that are critical to determining liability.