Can I Sue When Someone's Dog Bites Me?

The laws regarding dog bite cases in Nevada

By Judy Malmon, J.D. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on May 1, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Dana P. Oswalt

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If you’re injured by someone else’s dog, can you have them pay your medical bills, emotional distress or other damages? Are there any criminal charges that apply to someone whose pet may be dangerous?

The answers to these questions are governed by Nevada state dog bite laws, local ordinances, and a body of case law, amounting to the conclusion: It depends.

How Dog Bite Liability is Determined in Nevada

Nevada does not have a state dog bite statute covering dog bites. Consequently, a dog bite injury claim would come under general personal injury laws regarding negligence.

There are four categories under which a dog owner may be held liable for their dog’s harmful behavior:

  1. If the dog has bitten someone in the past. This is known as the “one-bite rule”, meaning that if it’s the dog’s first time biting anyone, the owner may not have reason to know it could bite. But if the dog bit anyone before, the owner is responsible for controlling a dog known to bite. Failure to do so is considered negligent.
  2. The dog owner was otherwise negligent. If there was no previous biting, it must be shown that the owner failed to use reasonable care to prevent injury, that the injury resulted from this lack of care, and that the damages claimed were from this injury.
  3. The dog has been determined “dangerous” or “vicious” by animal control. Nevada’s criminal code sets out standards under which dogs may be determined either dangerous or vicious. Higher standards of safety are required for dangerous dogs, and it is unlawful to keep a dog once it has been labelled vicious.
  4. The dog’s owner was in violation of a local ordinance related to pet ownership. In some cases, a dog owner may be liable because they failed to follow a local law, such as leashing or restraining dogs in public areas. This may be considered “negligence per se,” that the violation itself constitutes a lack of reasonable care, and is presumed responsible for the injury.

As a dog owner, you have the responsibility to make sure your dog is not vicious and doesn’t pose a danger to the general public.

Dana P. Oswalt

Insurance May Cover Dog Bite Injuries

Dana P. Oswalt is a personal injury attorney with Benson & Bingham in Las Vegas who has handled several cases on behalf of people either bit or knocked down by dogs. In those cases, the claim is filed through the dog owner’s homeowners or renters insurance. But there can be some hurdles.

“The owner of the dog is sometimes not known,” she says, which can make filing a claim nearly impossible. Even if they are known, it can be difficult confirming coverage. “Renters insurance doesn’t always have a provision for dogs, and the majority of places don’t require renters to have insurance. It’s also rare for renters to take out a policy. It can be a big hurdle.”

Unlike renters insurance, most homeowners insurance policies cover dogs and victims of dog bites. One of Oswalt’s successful dog bite lawsuits, involved a dog sitter on July 4 who was attacked by the pet during the fireworks. Another involved a FedEx driver who, when dropping off a package at a home, was bitten when the dog came loose from its chain. But claims aren’t exclusive to the premises of a policyholder’s home.

Oswalt had a client who was knocked down by two dogs in a Henderson park. The city’s statute required that all dogs be on a leash, thereby making the owner negligent. “As a dog owner, you have the responsibility to make sure your dog is not vicious and doesn’t pose a danger to the general public,” she says.

What Could I Receive in Damages?

If a dog owner is found liable for a dog bite injury, they may be responsible for the following types of damages:

  • Compensatory damages—out-of pocket expenses and losses caused by the injury, including medical bills, lost wages, as well as future earning capacity and other medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering—also known as “general damages,” this is non-monetary harm caused by the injury, such as emotional distress or disfigurement
  • Punitive damages—only available if the dog owner’s behavior is found to be reprehensible or malicious
  • Wrongful death—if a dog attack causes death, damages that apply to a family member’s loss of a loved one

“Depending on the severity of the dog bite, there can be scarring that is left for a long period of time,” Oswalt says. In such a case, an experienced attorney may recommend seeking a cost estimate from an plastic surgeon and argue that it should be covered under compensatory damages.

“Some insurance companies will consider it, and it can depend on the location of the scar and the severity of it. If it’s on your face, they’d give it more weight compared to an ankle or place easily covered by clothing.”

Defending Dog Bite Claims

There is no strict liability for a dog owner for dog bites in Nevada, and so may raise defenses to a claim against them. If the dog owner can show that the dog bite victim was provoking or harming the dog and the dog was acting in self-defense, the owner may not be liable for harm caused by the dog in defending itself.

Nevada negligence law provides for an apportionment of responsibility as a “modified comparative fault” state. If the person who was bitten is found to have been taunting the dog or otherwise behaving in a way that contributed to their injury, fault will be allocated based on the degree to which each party was responsible for the injury. For liability to attach, the dog owner’s portion of fault would need to be greater than 50 percent.

If you have a claim for a dog bite, or if your dog has recently bitten someone, you may wish to speak with an experienced Nevada personal injury lawyer or dog bite attorney for legal advice or legal action about a personal injury lawsuit. Most law firms and lawyers offer a free consultation, for more information and assistance. If you’d like more general information about this area of the law, see our animal bites law overview.

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