Millions of people own dogs, making them the most common pet in the United States. In most cases, the dogs are excellent companions and, in some, considered part of the family. Most dogs never hurt anyone. However, a dog is still an animal and could bite when scared, teased, injured, and for other reasons.
You would certainly have physical injuries if you suffered a dog bite or attack. However, you could also suffer psychological injuries. Someone who once loved dogs could become afraid of them or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or even depression.
A dog bite or attack victim could recover compensation for damages with the help of a dog bite lawyer, including medical expenses and, if the injuries are severe enough, pain and suffering, among other damages.
Who Pays for Dog Bite Injuries?
In many cases, the dog owner’s homeowners’ or renters’ insurance pay for damages due to dog bites. The dog owner might even have liability insurance on the dog. However, if the dog owner does not have insurance, you could attempt collecting from the dog owner.
You can also use your health insurance to cover medical expenses for dog bite injuries. However, if you recover compensation from the dog owner or the dog owner’s insurance, you will most likely have to reimburse your health insurance company.
Working with Insurance Companies
When claiming with the dog owner’s insurance company, you have a dog bite lawyer help you. Insurance companies are in business to make a profit, and every claim they pay out decreases those profits. Thus, insurance companies look for any reason to deny your claim. Barring that, they will offer the least amount possible to “make you go away.”
That small amount might not cover all of your medical expenses, never mind compensation for other damages you deserve. Insurance companies use many tricks to get out of paying you what you deserve. They will twist your words and blame you for the incident. Some sneaky insurance companies also tell you their client is at fault, but the most they can pay is small. That is almost always never true.
Instead of taking a chance on not recovering the compensation you deserve, especially if the dog bite injuries cause long-term or permanent disabilities, you should retain an experienced dog bite lawyer to fight that fight while you are recovering.
Factors That Might Affect a Dog Bite Settlement
The compensation you recover for dog bite injuries depends on several factors.
If a dog is a known stray, you might be unable to recover compensation from anyone. Since stray dogs have no owners, there is no one you can hold responsible. You can use your health insurance to cover your injuries, but you most likely willl not recover damages such as lost income, loss of future earning capacity, or pain and suffering.
Severity of Injuries
The severity of your injuries significantly impacts how much compensation you might recover from the dog owner’s insurance company. Some injuries could be catastrophic or even cause death. If you lost a loved one because of a dog attack, you should always schedule a free case evaluation with a dog bite lawyer to learn more about your rights and recover the compensation you deserve.
Dog bite injuries include:
- Bumps, bruises, cuts, scrapes, punctures, and scratches. Any of these could become infected and cause additional medical expenses because of potential hospital stays and pain and suffering.
- Strain, sprains, pulled muscles, torn muscles, and other soft tissue injuries. Any of these could happen while you fight to get away from a dog, even a smaller dog. You could easily step down wrong, step in a hole, or even step on the dog and injure yourself.
- Simple and compound fractures. If a dog knocks you down in an attack, you could break bones, including ribs, ankles, knees, legs, wrists, hands, fingers, and arms—any bone will break if you land on it just right, and hard enough.
- Crush injuries. Larger dogs could bite hard enough to crush the bones in your hands, wrists, lower arms, or even your ankles and feet.
- Internal injuries. You might suffer internal injuries from falling while being attacked by a dog or as a secondary injury. For example, breaking a rib could cause internal injuries by puncturing a lung or another organ.
- Face and eye injuries. If a dog bites you in the face, it could cause excessive scarring or disfigurement. It could also cause blindness or partial blindness if the dog’s teeth puncture or damage your eye.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries. You could suffer these types of injuries from bites or from falling during a dog attack.
- Traumatic brain injuries. Falling and hitting your head could cause traumatic brain injuries, including concussions and cracked skulls.
- Back and spinal cord injuries. Twisting away from the dog and falling could cause back and spinal cord injuries.
- Nerve injuries. If a dog’s bite is deep enough, it could cause nerve damage.
Severe dog bite injuries could leave excessive scarring and disfigurement. They could also cause long-term or permanent disabilities. While each insurance company might have its definition for long-term injuries, the Social Security Administration defines long-term or permanent disabilities as those that will result in your death or those lasting more than 12 months.
Statute of Limitations
All states have a statute of limitations for dog bite cases. Some might align with that state’s personal injury statute of limitations, or like this state, it might be a separate statute of limitations.
While Arizona’s personal injury statute of limitations is generally two years for personal injury, dog bites have only one year because of the strict liability clause for dog bites.
Many states have laws that state you have to prove a dog is dangerous. This usually means that unless a dog bites, the state considers it less dangerous. Arizona has a strict liability law for dog bites.
Regardless of whether the state deems the dog as a vicious dog or not, a dog owner is liable for your damages if the dog bites you. Even if dog owners do not know their dogs are vicious, they are responsible for your injuries and other damages.
Additionally, the strict liability law for dogs states that the court cannot take the dog’s breed into consideration when making a ruling in a dog attack case. If someone mistreats a dog, the dog suffers injuries, or is ill, it could very well attack, even if it is one of the most docile breeds. Additionally, dog bites could be the result of poor training—not necessarily the breed.
Exceptions to the Strict Liability Rule
You cannot recover compensation for a dog bite if the dog is a working dog in the police or military and the dog is doing its job—apprehending a suspect. Additionally, if a police or military dog bites you because it defends itself, a police officer, or another person, you cannot recover damages from the bites.
Actions a Dog Bite Victim Can Take to Help Prove a Dog Bite Case
Not all dog bite victims will be able to take action after an attack. However, if you are able, you can help a dog bite lawyer prove your case by taking photos of the dog and your injuries.
Obtaining medical assistance immediately also goes a long way in helping your case, especially if your injuries seem minor. Insurance companies will argue that your injuries are not serious if you neglect to seek immediate medical attention.
Some injuries, such as severe infections, could take several days to manifest. However, if you have what seems to be a minor wound treated immediately, you could either prevent infection or, if not, you will have proof that the infection came from the dog bite.
Finally, seeking legal help immediately after an accident helps, since the attorney can help you file a claim with the dog owner’s insurance company and prevent it from trying to trick you into a pittance or a claim denial.
Recovering Compensation After a Dog Bite
The amount of compensation you could recover after a dog attack depends on several factors, including the severity of the bites. Most people recover compensatory damages in the form of economic damages. Those who lost a loved one or suffered severe or catastrophic injuries might recover compensatory damages in the form of non-economic damages.
The court orders compensatory damages in an attempt to make you financially whole. You might recover punitive damages in certain circumstances. However, the court only orders a defendant to pay punitive damages if the defendant’s actions or inactions were grossly negligent or intentional—punitive damages are a punishment for the defendant’s actions. They are more difficult to recover and take extra time, but if your injuries are severe enough, it is sometimes worth the extra effort to recover punitive damages.
What are Economic Damages?
Most people recover economic damages, which have a monetary value and include:
- Doctors’ appointments
- Surgeries and follow-up appointments
- Prescriptions and prescribed over-the-counter medications
- Ambulatory aids
- Physical therapy expenses
- Occupational therapy expenses
- Psychological therapy expenses
- Cognitive therapy expenses
- Home health care expenses
- Rehabilitation exenses
- Nursing home and/or rehabilitative home expenses
- Hand controls for your vehicle
- Home updates including wheelchair ramps, grab bars, handrails and widened doorways
What are Non-Economic Damages?
Some people —usually those who suffer catastrophic injuries or lose a loved one in a dog attack—recover non-economic damages, which do not have a monetary value.
While the money cannot remove your disabilities or bring back a loved one, it goes a long way to making you and your family financially stable when you can no longer work, have to work part-time, take a lesser-paying job, or lose a loved one.
Non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress, whether from the incident itself or because you lost a loved one because of a dog attack.
- Loss of quality of life if you have to make lifelong changes such as taking prescriptions or using ambulatory aids.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy time with your family or attend family activities and events.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer enjoy a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of use of a body part such as a hand or foot.
- Loss of use of a bodily function such as your eyesight.
- Excessive scarring and/or disfigurement.
- Amputation of a digit or limb, whether during the incident or because a doctor cannot save a crushed digit or limb. A doctor might also amputate if an open wound develops a bad infection, such as gangrene.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you usually do, including but not limited to grocery shopping, house cleaning, lawn maintenance, and home repair and maintenance.
If you suffered injuries or long-term or permanent disabilities or lost a loved one because of a dog attack, contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.