An Overview on Animal Bites Law

What happens when someone gets bitten by an animal?

If you were bitten by an animal—domesticated or wild—you might be able to bring a personal injury claim and recover damages. Usually, these claims involve the injured party and the animal’s owner. Sometimes, they include the injured party and the state or local government.

Animal bite claims vary by jurisdiction and characteristics of the animals. If you are considering bringing one of these claims, you might find it beneficial to speak with a lawyer. The following is a brief overview of common issues so you have a good foundation and can feel confident speaking with a lawyer, should you decide to hire one.


States create their own laws about what happens when someone gets bitten by an animal. Liability can vary by state or by the type of animal that caused injury. Some states hold the animal’s owner liable in any circumstance, while others only hold owners liable when they knew about their animal’s dangerous propensities. Laws also exist to address liability when someone is bitten by a wild animal.


States that hold owners liable in any circumstance are called strict liability jurisdictions. In these jurisdictions, it doesn’t matter what precautions the animal’s owner took to keep their animal away from other people. It also does not matter if the animal has never bitten anyone before or if the owner did not know the animal was inclined to bite people. The only defense available in strict liability jurisdictions is that the victim provoked the animal.

Strict liability will also usually apply if someone keeps a normally wild animal as a pet. The law expects owners to recognize that wild animals are inherently more dangerous than domesticated animals, so it holds them liable even when they took precautions to protect people from the animal.

Other states look to the animal owner’s knowledge. In these states, it matters whether the owner know their pet had dangerous tendencies. In these states, the owner might not face liability when their dog bites someone for the first time, but they might be liable when their dog bites someone a second or third time.

Wild Animals

Liability for injuries caused by wild animals can depend on whether the injury happened on public or private land. Generally, the law protects property owners from wild animal attacks on their property unless they were negligent in preventing the injury.

On the other hand, if you were bitten by a wild animal on public lands, you may be able to hold the government liable. These cases can bring up tricky issues about governmental immunity, but you can sometimes recover from the government if you can show that it was in the best position to prevent an attack.

Common Questions

Below are some common questions you might want to consider when meeting with an attorney for the first time.

  1. What will happen to the animal that bit me?
  2. What damages can I recover?
  3. How long after an animal bite can I sue?
  4. What is the one bite rule?
  5. Can I sue if I was petting a dog before it bit me?

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs

It is important to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, 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 personal injury lawyer with experience with animal bites.

Why Should I Talk to a Lawyer?

Animal bites cases can range in complexity, so you will likely find it helpful to speak with a lawyer. A lawyer will know the applicable state law and whether you live in a strict liability jurisdiction or must prove animal characteristics. Your lawyer can help you investigate the animal that bit you to determine whether its owner knew about its dangerous characteristics or whether it has bitten anyone before. They will also be able to obtain any necessary medical documents and interview the animal’s owner and any additional witnesses.

A lawyer will be able to anticipate potential problems with your case and advise you on how to approach them. Your lawyer will also keep track of deadlines and file all the paperwork with the necessary courts and agencies, giving you one less thing to worry about.

Why Super Lawyers?

Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The patented selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations. The objective is to create a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of outstanding attorneys that can be used as a resource for attorneys and consumers searching for legal counsel. As Super Lawyers is intended to be used as an aid in selecting a lawyer, we limit the lawyer ratings to those who can be hired and retained by the public. You can learn more about the selection process here.

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