Liability In A Dog Bite Injury
Generally, it’s the owner of the dog that is liable in dog bite cases, but owners are not the only ones that can be held liable for their dog’s behavior. In some dog bite cases, the temporary caretakers of the dog can be held liable for dog bite injuries. Any person in control of the dog at the time of the dog attack, can potentially be held liable. Also, property owners and employers who allow dogs to frequent their properties can be held responsible for dog bite injuries under premises liability.
Dog bite laws differ from state to state. Regarding liability, some states follow a strict liability rule and others, including Georgia, follow a one bite rule.
In strict liability states, dog owners are held responsible anytime their dog attacks someone. It does not matter that the dog had never shown signs of aggression. It also doesn’t matter whether the owner knew that his dog was aggressive. The owner will be liable to the dog bite victim for the injuries.
The one bite rule can be much harsher on dog bite victims. For owners to be held liable in states that follow the one bite rule, your dog bite lawyer must show that the dog had a propensity for violence in the past and that the owner knew about the dog’s propensities. An owner’s knowledge can be shown by the dog’s previous bite history. It also must be proven that bite occurred because of the dog owner’s carelessness.
Luckily, in Georgia, there is another way to hold the at-fault party liable. If local ordinances are violated, Georgia law follows the strict liability rule. If a victim is attacked by a dog while in violation of leash law, then the owner or caretaker of the dog will be help liable. Fortunately, most cities have ordinances in place requiring the owner to control his dog in a specific way.
Being able to prove liability and deciding who can be held liable are important questions that need to be answered before filing your claim. An experienced dog bite lawyer can help you answer these very important questions.
Factors That Affect Liability
In addition to the proof required to show negligence, there are a number of defenses that can affect a dog owner’s liability. Some of these defenses can outright make the owner not liable. Others can limit the liability on the owner.
A common defense is provocation. If the alleged victim was intentionally provoking the dog, it could be that there is no liability on the owner. Intentional provocation could consist of hitting the dog, taunting, pulling its ears, or growling at it. This defense is very common in situations where there are no eye witnesses to the attack.
Another common defense is trespassing. Generally, a person who is not permitted to be on a dog owner’s property can not sue the owner if the dog on the property bites them.
A less common defense that might be used is assumption of risk. This defense usually applies to employees and professionals in the pet industry. For instance, dog catchers more than likely assume the risk of being bitten or attacked by dogs. They likely won’t be able to recover from the owner of the property for the injuries they sustain.
Lastly, liability can be limited in situations where the owner can prove that the dog bite victim was also negligent. In Georgia, a dog’s owner is not liable at all if the victim was 50% or more at fault for their injuries. For anything under 50%, the dog owner’s liability will be reduced by that amount.
Fighting against these defenses can be a difficult task. Many times, owners have insurance companies defending them. Insurance companies will do what they can to prove that these defenses exist. A dog bite lawyer will help you fight against these defenses, help you prove liability, and help you enforce your legal rights.
Injuries That You Could Sustain After A Dog Bite
Dog bites can result in mild to serious injuries. Dog bite injuries can be located anywhere on the body, but the majority of wounds tend to happen on the hands, legs, face and neck areas. Sadly, it is the family pet that is responsible for most dog bites. Its frightfully common for infants to be bitten in the face area by the family dog. Children are also more likely to need surgery or other forms of medical treatment than adults.
More serious types of dog bites usually result in lacerations or puncture wounds. The force of the bite can also lead to broken bones. These bites can result in many types of injuries including but not limited to the following:
- lost appendages
- nerve damage
- severe scarring
- even wrongful death
Hand wounds tend to become more infected than wounds to other parts of the body. Antibiotics can decrease the chance of infection in high-risk wounds such as puncture wounds on the hands. Getting stitches can increase the likelihood of infection. Studies have also shown that puncture wounds become infected more than lacerations.
Dog bites can result in severe damage to the victim. Some of that damage will be immediate. Some of it will be lingering. Sometimes the bite itself might not be that bad, but the lingering effects of it are. Victims of dog bites should seek medical attention immediately after a dog attack. The sooner you seek medical care, the sooner you will recover from your injuries.
Recommendations After a Bite from an Aggressive Dog
If the injury is very serious, injured victims should do whatever they can to reach a medical professional immediately. This could include dialing 911 or driving straight to the nearest emergency room. Medical staff can assist you from there.
For less serious bites, make sure you go to a place where the dog cannot physically get to you anymore. If you’re bleeding, you or a helper should apply pressure with a clean, dry cloth to the wound area to stop the bleeding. At this time, try to regain your composure and take a deep breath.
Once you’ve composed yourself, apply a gentle soap such as Dove or Cetaphil to the wound and allow warm water to run over it for a few minutes. After the wound is dry, take pictures of the injury. You should then apply an antibacterial ointment such as Neosporin to it and wrap it tightly with a dry sterile bandage. Afterwards, make sure to follow up with your medical provider. Even the smallest injuries can result in infections.
After you are stable and your injuries are under control, you should get the dog owner’s information. The owner may have homeowner’s insurance policies or personal funds to compensate you for your injuries. You must have their name, telephone number, address, and insurance information before you’re able to hold the owner liable.
You should talk to witnesses who saw the dog attack. A common defense to dog bite cases is provocation. To fight that defense, it’s helpful to have witness statements claiming that they saw the incident and that there was absolutely no provocation. Witness statements are also used to build your dog bite claim.
You should also file a police report and alert animal control. Alerting the proper authorities could prevent this from happening to someone in the future. This also creates more evidence for your dog bite claim.
Lastly, search for experienced dog bite attorneys near you. Reach out to several law firms to find the right fit for you. Get a free case evaluation. Once you find the right fit, your attorney should be able to advise you of your legal options. Throughout the process, you should continue to follow up with your medical providers until you are discharged by a medical professional.
Filing a Dog Bite Claim
During your initial consultation with your dog bite attorney, you will explain the circumstances of your injuries with your attorney. Bring whatever documentation you have at the time. This could be witness statements, police reports, the dog owner’s information, animal control reports etc. Your attorney will listen to your story and look through these documents. They’ll thoroughly explain your legal options.
After your meeting with your dog bite attorney, you should continue to follow up with medical care. Your attorney will then file an insurance claim on your behalf. Some time later, you and your attorney will have an accurate estimate of the extent of your personal injuries. Your attorney will then gather medical records, medical bills, witness statements, police reports, and other documents to prove your dog bite case. Once this information is gathered, the attorney will send a demand asking for compensation for your injuries to the dog owner and the dog owner’s insurance provider. Negotiations would then begin.
If you’re unable to settle your case, your personal injury lawyer will then need to file a lawsuit. In Georgia, the timeline for filing a dog bite lawsuit is two years from the date of the attack. This time frame is referred to as the statute of limitations. If victims fail to file a lawsuit within that two year time frame, they can be barred from ever recovering anything for their injuries. For this reason, it is important to reach out to a dog bite lawyer as soon as possible to ensure that your legal rights are protected.
After the suit is filed, your dog bite lawyer should continue negotiations with the owner and the owner’s insurance company. If the case still does not settle, the discovery phase will begin. During the discovery phase, the opposing party may ask you questions about the attack. You and your attorney should go over what those questions might be beforehand and how you should respond.
If the case still does not settle, your case will go to trial. You and your personal injury attorney will appear at court. Your attorney will select jurors to hear your case. The attorney will give an opening statement explaining why the dog owner was wrong, why you should be awarded damages, and what those damages amount to. Your attorney will call witnesses to testify on your behalf and cross examine adverse witnesses. At the end, you attorney will give a closing statement weaving the law with the facts and explain to the jury why you are entitled to compensation. The jury should then reach a verdict deciding whether you’re entitled to compensation and if so how much.
Dog Bite Prevention
Unfortunately, dog bites do happen, but there are measures that can be taken to help reduce the chance of them occurring. Dog behavior can sometimes be predictable. Most of the time, dog bites occur when the dog is either scared, nervous, or protecting their food, toys, or territory. When they’re about to bite, their body language could consist of any of the following:
- Hair standing up on the back
- Ears pinned back with tail tucked
- Lips curled with teeth baring
If you’re unfamiliar with the dog and notice any of these signs, you should not approach the dog. You should not try to convince the dog that you are friendly in an attempt to put the dog at ease. It’s advised that you avoid eye contact, and you back away very calmly. If you see a dog that you would like to pet, you should always ask the owner’s permission before doing so.
There are steps pet owners can take to help reduce the chances of their dogs biting as well. Ideally, owners will socialize their dogs with other dogs and with strangers when they are puppies. Dogs exposed to different experiences and sights and sounds at a young age will help to lessen the anxiety within the dog as they grow bigger. There are also training programs that dogs can undergo. Successful training techniques give the owner more control over the dog.
As a pet owner, please accept the fact that your dog might have violent tendencies and make sure to warn people of those tendencies. If your dog is growling and he’s baring his teeth, don’t tell the person approaching that your dog won’t bite. Owners should familiarize themselves with basic signs of aggression, and trust that those signs indicate violent tendencies within their dog.
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