Can I Sue for Animal Bites?

Understand when and how to sue for an animal attack

By Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on July 10, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Jason M. Lichtenstein

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Hundreds of thousands of people are bitten by dogs every year. Many of these cases require medical attention; some could have long-lasting consequences. 

If you have been bitten by a dog or suffered another kind of animal attack, you may be wondering: 

  • Who can I sue? 
  • When should I sue? 
  • What can I get if I sue? 

This article will address these questions and help point to personal injury lawyers specializing in dog bite cases for further legal help. 

What To Do When a Dog Bites You 

If you are bitten or attacked by a dog, the first priority is to make sure you’re safe. Then, seek medical care. Dog bite injuries often require immediate medical attention to avoid bacterial infections and other complications from wounds. 

There are several things you can do at the time of the incident that will help if you decide to take legal action: 

  • Get the dog owner’s personal information. Insurance information is also important since the owner’s insurance company will likely pay for any damages. 
  • Photo and video evidence. Take pictures or videos of the dog bite incident to have as evidence. 
  • Witness information. Get the contact information of anyone who witnessed the incident. Having witnesses will be very helpful to your case if you decide to take legal action. 
  • Call animal control. Report the incident. If the animal that attacked you has a history of aggression or violence on file with animal control, this will help your case. Animal control can also secure the animal if it is loose to prevent further harm. 
  • Contact a dog bite attorney. If you choose to take legal action, it’s essential to get legal advice from a personal injury attorney with experience in dog bite cases and animal attacks. A dog bite attorney can assess your case and formulate the best legal strategy. 

Animals are considered property, so an owner of a dog or someone who controls the dog can be held liable for that dog’s attacks… It’s imperative for someone injured by an aggressive dog to consult with a lawyer. Dog bite law is very fact specific and can be nebulous. Without a lawyer, one wouldn’t be aware of dog owners’ defenses.

Jason M. Lichtenstein

Who to Sue for Animal Bites 

Generally, dog owners are liable when their dog bites or attacks someone.  

“Animals are considered property, so an owner of a dog or someone who controls the dog can be held liable for that dog’s attacks,” says Jason M. Lichtenstein, a personal injury lawyer at Edgar Snyder & Associates in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Since dogs are considered property under the law, “dog bites are usually covered under the homeowner’s insurance policy.”  

“So, if a dog bites someone,” says Lichtenstein, “they write a letter to the homeowner. The homeowner’s insurance company gets involved and conducts an investigation to determine whether the elements of the state’s dog bite law have been fulfilled.”  

Depending on state laws, dog owners may be liable in one of three ways: 

  • Strict liability. Many states have dog bite laws that impose strict liability on dog owners. Under these laws, an owner is liable for a dog attack regardless of whether they knew the dog was dangerous.  
  • One-bite rule. To be liable under this rule, an owner must have known or should have known that the animal was dangerous or vicious. While a previous attack is certainly enough to make an owner aware, it isn’t required. If a dog threatens, chases, or jumps on people, this can also be used to show the dog is dangerous. In some jurisdictions, particular breeds are considered dangerous as well.  
  • Negligence. If a dog owner acts recklessly or without reasonable care and doesn’t keep a dangerous dog contained or on a leash, they can be liable for injuries the dog causes. 

Learn more about legal liability in animal bite cases.

In addition to dog owners, the following people can also be liable depending on the circumstances: 

  • Animal keepers such as kennels, vets, animal shelters, or pet sitters 
  • Landlords, if they knew the animal was dangerous but allowed a renter to keep it on the premises 

If you are wondering who to sue for a dog bite, it’s best to speak with a lawyer who understands dog bite laws and liability in your jurisdiction. 

When to Sue for Animal Bites

If you’re a dog bite victim and want to sue, you may be on a tight timeline. Depending on your state’s statute of limitations, the deadline could be from one to six years. Many states give two years.

Whatever you do, don’t miss your state’s deadline. Victims of dog bites can have serious injuries that last the rest of their lives, including disfigurement, nerve damage, and emotional trauma. But if you miss the deadline, you can’t file a lawsuit or get compensated for these injuries and expenses.

“It’s imperative for someone injured by an aggressive dog to consult with a lawyer,” says Lichtenstein. “Dog bite law is very fact specific and can be nebulous. Without a lawyer, one wouldn’t be aware of dog owners’ defenses.”  

What Can You Recover in an Animal Bite Lawsuit? 

Compensation in a lawsuit depends on several factors, including: 

  • Medical expenses for surgery or ongoing medical care 
  • Whether the injuries resulted in disfigurement or disability 
  • Loss of wages or future earnings 
  • Non-economic damages such as pain and suffering or emotional distress 
  • Whether there was damage to private property in the attack 

Questions for a Dog Bite Lawyer 

If you are considering suing for a dog bite or other incident, it’s essential to get legal advice from a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.  

An attorney with experience in dog bite cases will understand your state’s laws and help you exercise your legal rights. 

Many attorneys give free consultations to prospective clients. These meetings are a great resource for both attorney and client because they allow the attorney to hear the facts of the case while the client can determine if the attorney or law firm meets their needs. 

To decide if an attorney is the right fit, ask informed questions such as: 

  • What are your attorneys’ fees? 
  • What is the statute of limitations for bringing a dog bite lawsuit? 
  • What kind of liability does my state have for dog bite claims? 
  • What are the potential defenses to an animal attack claim? 
  • What damages could I get if I win a lawsuit? 
  • What are the chances of a settlement in my case? 

Once you have met with a lawyer and discussed your situation, you can decide whether to hire them and begin the attorney-client relationship. 

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs 

It is essential to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can give you legal help through your entire case. You can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.  

For legal advice in an animal bite case, look for a lawyer practicing animal bite law

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