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Dog Bites Can Result in Serious Injuries

Dog Bite Law

Most American states make dog owners liable for all dog bites when a person is bitten, based simply on owning the dog that did the biting. Alabama is with the minority of states that requires the dog be vicious or dangerous and the owner to have been careless in management of the animal.

Fortunately the victim’s legal damages are covered by most homeowners and renters’ insurance policies purchased by dog owners, and by general liability policies that insure businesses and public entities. 

Only 16,000 dog bite victims receive such insurance payments per year, however, even though about 5 million Americans are bitten. For that reason, the services of Attorney Ken Guin who represents victims without charge unless and until money is recovered.

Those who own, harbor or keep a dog may be held liable for the payment of compensation if it harms a person, a domestic animal, a farm animal, or property of any sort. 

The one bite rule

In every state, a dog owner or harborer will be held liable if he knew, before the biting incident, that his dog had the tendency to bite people without justification. 

The names “one bite rule” and “first bite free rule” are inaccurate because a “bite” is not necessarily required. A victim is entitled to recover if he can prove simply that the dog previously demonstrated that it wanted to bite people, and that the dog owner knew (or should have known) that the dog previously demonstrated this vicious tendency.

The victim is compensated by the dog owner’s insurance company

Statistically only one in six dog bite victims will receive medical attention, so the “usual” dog bite does not result in a claim for compensation other than medical expenses.  When the injury is serious and the dog owner is liable, however, either the dog owner or his insurance company has to fully compensate the victim. Homeowner’s insurance policies and renter’s insurance policies usually provide full coverage for dog bite injuries. Whether or not the dog owner is liable, the “guest medical coverage” in such policies often will reimburse the victim’s medical costs up to the policy limit, which usually is only $1,000 but often is $5,000 or more.  

What can the victim receive money for?

Generally, the victim of a dog bite is entitled to receive compensation for the full range of his damages. The specific items of damages can include pain, mental suffering, permanent scarring, temporary or permanent disability, loss of future earning capacity, loss of quality-of-life, medical expenses to treat the injury, cosmetic services to improve the appearance of the injury, psychological counseling, damaged clothing, and loss of income. The foregoing list covers the most common examples of loss, and is not exhaustive. 

What about punitive damages?

Punitive damages consist of money over and above that which is required to compensate the victim, awarded for the purpose of punishing a defendant and making an example of him.

In cases where the dog owner knew that his dog was dangerous or vicious, however, he faces the very real possibility of having to pay punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages.  Additionally, there is legal authority that such damages cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. 

Is the dog owner the only person who can be held legally liable for a dog bite?

Other people, companies and even governmental agencies (such as the police department, animal control department or school district) also can be held liable under certain circumstances. Here are examples:

·      The dog liability statute (if there is one) might cover not only owners but also “harborers” and “keepers” of the dog.
·      Day care centers and schools sometimes foolishly allow dogs to mingle with the children, causing injuries to the kids.
·      Stores sometimes foolishly allow customers to bring in dogs, causing other customers to trip over leashes or to get bitten. 
·      Animal control departments sometimes neglectfully allow a known dangerous dog to roam the neighborhood, eventually resulting in serious injuries to a person.
·      Police sometimes negligently allow their working dogs to maul suspects or to even bite people other than suspects. 
·      Employers can be held liable for injuries inflicted by dogs belonging to their employees and used in the course of work. The ground for liability is simply based on being the employer, not on negligence. 

What should a dog bite victim do to ensure getting compensation?

•       Make a report to the animal control authority. Don’t assume that the hospital’s report will trigger the necessary investigation, because it will not.
•       Record the names of the dog owner or handler, and all witnesses. 
•       Take photographs of the wounds before they are treated and afterwards. 
•       Get medical attention immediately. This is not only to document the cause and nature of the injuries, but to prevent infections that could lead to horrific consequences. 
•       The next step depends on the severity of the injuries. If the bite is to the face, or is significant, or requires hospitalization, retain a lawyer who has experience with dog bite cases. Attorney Ken Guin reviews possible cases for free (to contact him, click “Contact” at the top of this page) or call 205.282.4500.
•       An adult who is injured by a dog needs a lawyer who will work on a contingency basis, advance all necessary costs, and obtain 3 to 5 times more than the victim could get on his own.
•       Answers to the most common concerns
•       Specific reasons why a dog bite victim should never attempt to be a “dog bite prosecutor”
•       The many advantages of professional legal help, at no up-front cost

Overview

There are many good reasons to hire a lawyer to handle a dog bite claim.

One of the best reasons is that less than 1% of dog bite victims get compensated.  Dogs bite at least 4.7 million Americans per year, but insurance companies pay only 15,000 to 16,000 victims.  So without a lawyer, a victim has very little chance of getting justice.

“Contingency basis” means that the attorney will not ask the victim to pay for anything. Getting paid will be contingent on recovering money for the victim. If nothing is recovered, the victim will owe nothing. He will not have to pay the attorney a fee, and will not have to repay the attorney for his costs.

A person who attempts to pursue a dog bite claim places himself or herself in the position of the prosecutor.  That arouses resentment unnecessarily.  This is exacerbated by the fact that the victim himself doesn’t know the right things to say in order to get the claim settled efficiently.  All too often, a victim will make accusations that are unnecessary under the law.  With an attorney, however, a victim always can comment, “it was the attorney who said that, not me.” Criticism can be deflected easily.  Having a lawyer handle this legal matter is therefore more efficient and less stressful, in addition to posing no financial risk.

A lawyer for an injured person does not confront the dog owners, make them feel guilty, put them in a bad light, harass them, write threatening letters to them, embarrass them, foreclose on their home, drive them into bankruptcy, or have their dogs euthanized.  At least, not unless one or more of those things is absolutely necessary, and never without the permission of the client himself. If the client wants his lawyer to behave in a gentle manner, then the case will be handled as the client instructs.

When the claim has been paid, the dog owners will realize that it was their insurance company that did all the work and paid all the money.  Any of their initial anger will be gone.  They will agree that the injured person hired an attorney only to arrive at a mutually fair conclusion — not for the purpose of hurting anyone.

Getting a lawyer is not the same thing as suing.  A good attorney knows how to present a case to an insurance company so that the claim gets resolved without it going to court.  At least 98% of bodily injury cases settle out of court, without a trial.  Therefore a person who retains an attorney is not making matters worse, but actually is probably ensuring that the claim will be handled more quickly and efficiently.

A victim who is disfigured may have a very, very substantial claim for loss of future earning capacity, based on sociological and psychological research. Proving an earning capacity loss is considered to be a specialize topic even among lawyers, and is completely beyond the ability of an accident victim. Since this can be the largest portion of the loss over the years, it is essential that an experienced attorney handle this for the victim.

A lawyer uses his own money to get official, reliable copies of medical evidence and billings, engage a photographer to take photos of the victim, hire a private investigator to learn the history of the attacking dog, and retain a nurse consultant to review and summarize all of the medical evidence.  This usually costs between $1000 and $2000 for every claim.  Clients are not asked to pay for any of these expenditures until money is received on the claim (except in several states that do not allow lawyers to do this on a contingency basis). There is no reason for injured people to use their own money for this purpose, especially because they frequently have already lost time from work because of the accident.

Retaining a lawyer early in the process enables the insurance company to make a better estimate of the amount of compensation that the victim must receive. Experienced attorneys can offer guides and key evidence to the insurance adjuster; the victims themselves do not know what information to give, or even where to locate it.  If a proper evaluation is done soon after the accident, the claim is that much easier to settle. An inexperienced person runs the clear risk of passing along the wrong information and insufficient evidence, thus making the process longer, error-prone and more difficult.

Contact a highly qualified, experienced general practice law firm today.
Call Ken Guin Attorney at Law, P.C. at 205-282-4500 or contact him online to schedule your free initial consultation.

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