What is Animal Bite Liability Law?

Victims injured by animals have legal options available

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on January 25, 2023

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Animals—domestic, livestock, and wild—pose a potential safety threat to people. The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasizes that animal bites remain a significant cause of morbidity and mortality around the globe. In the United States, one of the primary safety hazards comes from “man’s best friend.” According to data cited by the Canine Journal, approximately 4.5 million people nationwide are bitten by dogs each year. Many other animals injure people as well.

An injured person has many options available. Domestic animal owners, property owners, and other parties may be held legally responsible for injuries caused by an animal bite. The following information is designed to serve as a brief introduction to animal bites and animal bite liability. If you or your family member was injured by a dog or any other dangerous animal, you should contact a top-rated animal bite liability attorney for immediate help.

Animal Bite Liability Law – What You Need to Know

  • Animal liability laws typically arise at the local level, and your right to recover damages will depend on your city and state regulations.
  • Suppose you or your family member suffered a severe injury caused by an animal. In that case, you must get the financial compensation that you need to pay for medical treatment and support your family.
  • Animal bite cases are highly fact-specific, so it is essential that incidents are thoroughly investigated by a top-rated personal injury lawyer with experience handling animal liability claims.
  • The amount of available compensation will vary based on the severity of your injuries, your ability to prove liability, and the laws in your state.

An Overview of Animal Liability Law

For the most part, animal bite liability laws are at the state level. If an animal injures you, your right to recover financial compensation from another party largely depends on your specific state laws. That being said, other regulations could be a factor as well. For example, cities and towns may have municipal regulations regarding dog or other animal ownership.

As animal bite cases are highly fact-specific, any incidents must be thoroughly investigated by a top-rated personal injury lawyer with experience handling animal liability claims. An attorney will be able to review the specific circumstances of your case, explain the applicable state and local laws, and advise you on the next steps to take to pursue justice and compensation.

Animal Bites Require Immediate Medical Attention

All animals require immediate medical attention from a licensed physician. Nothing is more important than your health, safety, and well-being. You should always be able to be treated by a qualified medical professional after suffering a severe injury. Indeed, severe dog bites or other animal bite injuries require prompt emergency medical care. Seemingly “minor” or “moderate” animal bite injuries should be seen by a doctor as well. If any animal—including a dog or a cat—penetrates the skin with its teeth, there is an infection risk. It is also important to notify law enforcement soon after the incident so that there can be an official report.

How Animal Bite Lawyers Help Injured Victims

In a legal context, civil liability is the state of being responsible for something. Since animals are generally considered their owner’s property under state laws, the owner of a dog or other animal can be held liable for the animal’s dangerous behavior.

Animal or dog bite lawyers are effectively personal injury (tort) attorneys representing animal attack victims. Many different unique issues could potentially arise in an animal bite claim. Common cases handled by animal bite liability attorneys include the following.

Strict Liability States

A severe dog bite injury can cause physical, emotional, and financial distress. Most U.S. states (more than two-thirds plus the District of Columbia) have strict liability dog bite statutes. Black’s Law Dictionary defines strict liability as a form of liability that arises without finding negligence or wrongdoing.

In effect, these state dog bite laws hold that an animal’s owner is automatically liable if their canine bites another person. In many of these states, compensation can be sought for economic damages (medical bills, lost wages, etc.) through a strict liability statute. However, an injured victim may still need to prove fault to recover compensation for pain and suffering or emotional distress.

Dangerous Dog States

Not all U.S. states are strict liability jurisdiction for dog attacks. In a minority of U.S. states, the owner of a dog is only liable for a dog bite if they knew or should have known that their canine had dangerous propensities.

You may hear these laws referred to as “one-bite rules,” since, traditionally, dog owners were only liable for dog attacks if their dog had previously bitten or attacked someone. The dog would get “one free bite” before the owner was on the hook.

Nowadays, a previous bite is no longer necessarily required for the owner’s liability. Instead, the dog owner may be liable if they knew that the dog displayed aggressive behavior towards people in some form.

The owner’s knowledge of the animal’s dangerousness and failure to take reasonable steps to keep others safe from the dangerous animal (for example, by posting “bad dog” signs in their yard) are key to their dog owner liability. In some states (such as New York), owners who negligently allow their dangerous dog to bite someone may be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Negligence and Premises Liability Claims

Dog bite cases, and other animal liability claims may be pursued against individuals who don’t own the animal, such as landlords or business owners. These types of personal injury cases generally fall under premises liability law. A plaintiff in a premises liability animal bite claim typically must prove that the defendant acted negligently. Further, the plaintiff must also show that the defendant’s negligence (recklessness or carelessness) contributed to the animal attack. It can be difficult to prove liability in these types of cases, and it’s wise to speak with a lawyer about your legal options.

Livestock Injury Cases

Livestock can be dangerous. Whether it is a horse, cow, pig, or another farm animal, the owners and any other responsible parties must take the proper precautions to protect people from undue risk.

Other Animal Bite Claims

Animal bites can also occur in contexts beyond those mentioned above. If you were bitten and seriously injured by an animal, an experienced attorney can help you identify all possible options for pursuing financial compensation for your damages.

An Overview of Compensation that May Be Recovered After an Animal Bite

If you or a family member are a dog bite victim, it is crucial that you can get the financial compensation you need to pay for medical treatment and to support your family. The amount of available payment will vary based on the severity of your injuries, your ability to prove liability, and the laws in your state. An experienced animal bite injury lawyer can help you build a well-supported legal claim. Depending on the nature of the animal attack, an injured victim may be entitled to financial compensation for:

  • Ambulance fees and emergency medical treatment
  • Hospital bills and other medical expenses
  • Rehabilitative care, including skin grafts
  • Mental health care and counseling
  • Loss of current and future wages
  • Pain and suffering and emotional distress
  • Permanent scarring or physical disfigurement
  • Long-term disability or impairment
  • Wrongful death of a close family member

Common Questions About Animal Bite Claims

Dog bite and animal attack claims can be stressful, confusing, and overwhelming. It is always important to take a proactive approach. Unfortunately, you cannot rely on an insurance company for guidance with a legal claim. One of the first steps you should take is setting up an initial consultation with an experienced lawyer. A consultation is your opportunity to get answers to your questions about animal attacks. Here are some of the most common questions that people ask animal bite liability lawyers:

  • What are the specific steps I need to take to protect my legal rights and interests?
  • Who can be held legally liable for my animal bite injuries?
  • How is the owner’s negligence proven?
  • Does my state have a leash law?
  • What is the statute of limitations in my animal bite injury case?
  • How much compensation can I recover through a personal injury claim?
  • What can I expect when dealing with defendants and insurance companies?
  • Are there any legal defenses that the other side can raise in my case?
  • Can I sue for an animal bite if I was trespassing?

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs

It is essential to approach the right type of personal injury attorneys—professionals who can advise on the common law and statutes around animal liability. You can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.

To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for a lawyer who practices animal bite liability law for your dog bite claim.

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