Reporting a Dog Bite: What Legal Actions Do You Take?
Dogs are known as man’s best friend. In millions of households, they are beloved family members.
But they are still animals, and sometimes they can be unpredictable.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year.
A study from the Insurance Information Institute found the number of dog-bite claims nationwide is increasing.
Even seemingly minor dog bites can result in significant medical bills and other harmful consequences.
Reporting a dog bite is crucial, but it’s only one of the steps you should take to protect yourself and your family both physically and financially.
Here’s what you need to do if you or a family member is bitten by a dog.
Get Medical Attention
The first thing you should do after a dog bite is get medical attention. If the bite is severe, you should call 911 or have someone drive you to the emergency room.
Even if the bite is minor, you should see a doctor. Dog bites can lead to many complications and infections. Dogs that have not been vaccinated could carry rabies.
It’s important you get a medical evaluation of your injuries and have all necessary tests performed.
The records showing your medical treatments and testing also will be important when you need to demonstrate that you sustained injuries and deserve compensation.
If possible, you should take pictures of your injuries, including puncture wounds and bruises, before your treatment begins or as soon after the incident as possible.
Identify the Dog and Its Owner
It is crucial after a dog bite that you identify the dog’s owner and (if needed) the people who had custody of the dog when it attacked you.
If you are unable to get this information, you may not be able to verify the dog’s vaccination history. This could mean you’ll have to go through a series of expensive and painful rabies shots.
And it might mean you’re not able to pursue legal action later.
If the dog is not with its owner, you (or someone you designate) should check to see if anyone in homes nearby recognizes the dog.
Try to take a photo of the dog, if possible.
If you are not able to identify the dog and owner because of your injuries, see if someone else can do it for you.
Documenting a Dog Bite
Besides taking a picture of your injuries, document everything connected to the dog bite incident, including any torn or bloody clothing.
You should also write down everything that happened as soon as possible. The more details and circumstances you can remember, the better.
You (or someone you designate) should also speak to any witnesses and document their accounts of what happened. Witness accounts can be very important, especially if there is a dispute with the dog owner.
Reporting a Dog Bite
Reporting a dog bite to your local animal control agency is very important.
Sometimes a dog bite victim doesn’t want to file a report because he or she is friends with the owner. Or maybe they don’t want anything to happen to the dog.
But filing a dog-bite report helps authorities enforce state and local dog-bite laws. It also may prevent future attacks as the dog that bit you or your family member could well bite someone else if steps are not taken to stop it.
Reporting a dog bite to authorities will trigger an investigation. If a dog is found to be dangerous, the owner may be required to take extra precautions with the dog to protect public safety. In extreme cases, a particularly vicious dog may need to be put down.
The owner may also face fines or even criminal charges if he or she doesn’t comply.
Reporting a dog bite also provides legal documentation for your case. You will need the report if you need to file an insurance claim or a lawsuit against the owner.
Filing a report will also help you get details about the dog’s history and its vaccination records.
Besides all that, alerting animal control agencies about a dog bite can sometimes reveal that the dog is being abused or neglected, and needs to be rescued.
Dogs that bite may also be victims, and bringing official attention to their living conditions may also expose their dangerous living conditions.
It’s important you cooperate with the animal control investigation into the dog-bite incident.
Animal control may issue subpoenas, interview witnesses, and hold hearings to figure out what happened.
What the Law Says
The laws on dog bites vary from state to state, and city to cite.
It’s important for you to know the specific laws in place in the location where your dog attack took place.
In most states, the law holds owners automatically liable for any injury their dog causes, whether they knew their dog was likely to bite or not.
But some states have a one-bite rule that says the dog owner is only responsible if he or she knew the dog was likely to bite or had a history of biting.
There are also breed-specific and other rules imposed by cities and counties.
Fortunately, dog-bite damages are usually covered by homeowners and renters insurance policies, up to liability limits (usually $100,000 to $300,000). Any damages above those limits would be the responsibility of the dog owner.
Get A Lawyer
The legal issues in a dog-bite case can be complicated and difficult. A lawyer with experience handling dog-bite claims in your specific location will be able to walk you through the process.
But every state has a statute of limitations on filing dog-bite lawsuits.
In most cases, that limit is two or three years. So it’s important to act right away after a dog bite to line up legal help and make sure you get compensation for your injuries.
A good legal team can help you discover more information about the dog-bite statutes in your area, as well as about other matters.
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