The regulations that govern dog bite incidents can seem challenging to understand. Complicating this fact is that many incidents involving dogs involve neighbors or family members, making it difficult to separate the emotional from the purely legal. If you're trying to get a grasp on whether you should pursue a claim, it can be helpful to look at the problem from the viewpoint of a dog bite attorney.
One-Bites Laws vs. Strict Liability
An estimated 4.7 million dog bite incidents occur each year, and only a small fraction of those lead to litigation. Part of this discrepancy occurs because the majority of cases don't require medical care. Another aspect, though, is that dog bite laws can be difficult to parse. That makes it challenging to figure just what is going on legally in any one particular case.
U.S. states tend to break up into two groups when it comes to the issue of dog bite liability. On one side are the states that utilize the one-bite law system. On the other side are states that employ a system of strict liability.
In a one-bite system, the court generally doesn't assume a dog is dangerous until it bites someone at least one time. The exception to this rule is when the owner had a clear reason to believe the dog might be dangerous, such as displaying aggressive behavior in a documentable manner. For this reason, it's wise to document incidents involving aggressive dogs in case you might one day need to file a claim.
In a strict liability system, the defendant is liable if they can't prove two key things. The first is that the plaintiff wasn't legally allowed to be at the place where they were bitten. The second is that the dog's bite was provoked. If a dog chased someone out onto a public sidewalk without being taunted, for example, then strict liability likely obliges the dog's owner to pay up.
Filing a Claim
Dog bite liability cases are usually paid out as homeowner's insurance claims. The insurance company will assign an adjuster to decide if the claim is valid and to negotiate a settlement if it is. When a canine's owner doesn't have insurance, you may want to consider working with a dog bite lawyer to pursue a lawsuit. A victim's medical insurance carrier may also enter a case as a third party with its own claim to recover its expenses.
For more information, reach out to a law firm such as The Lombardo Law Firm.