The amount of time you have to file a lawsuit after a dog attack varies from a few months to several years, depending on where the attack happened and who was to blame. If you fail to take legal action within that time window, you will most likely lose your right to compensation.
Hiring an experienced dog bite injury lawyer protects you from missing a deadline and maximizes your chances of receiving full compensation.
Time Limit Affected by Liable Party and Other Circumstances
The identity of the party liable for a dog bite can affect how long you have to take legal action against them. For example, in New York, if you want to file a personal injury lawsuit against a party responsible for a dog attack, you generally have three years to do so. But if the party at fault is a municipal employee or agency, you usually must give the government notice of your potential claim within 90 days of the injury and file suit no more than a year later.
The statute of limitation for a dog bite lawsuit can also depend on the nature of harm the victim suffered. For example, if a victim dies from injuries suffered in a New York dog attack (a rare occurrence, though it can happen), a personal representative of the victim’s estate has just two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit. But, as mentioned, the time limit is three years if the victim suffered non-fatal injuries.
Exceptions to Statute of Limitation
In addition to variations in the length of the limitation period, some exceptions to statutes of limitation also exist. They, too, can vary from state to state.
Common exceptions include:
- Legal disability. If the injured person is a minor or otherwise legally incapable of filing suit, the clock doesn’t start running until the minor turns 18 or the incapacity gets resolved.
- Unable to serve the defendant. If the at-fault party leaves the jurisdiction and cannot be properly served with the lawsuit, the limitation clock stops running and doesn’t start again until the defendant returns or can otherwise be served.
- Discovery of injury. Although unusual in dog bite cases, some injuries don’t become known until long after the incident that causes them, and in those cases, the clock does not begin running until the person discovers or should have reasonably discovered them.
To invoke an exception to a statute of limitation, you must be able to prove it in court. For example, suppose you only recently discovered that the mild concussion you suffered in a dog attack triggered a degenerative brain disease that has left you disabled ten years later.
To survive a motion to dismiss your lawsuit seeking damages for your current health condition, you will need to present supporting evidence establishing that you couldn’t have discovered the brain degeneration and its link to the concussion earlier. And the only realistic way to do so would be to hire a skilled dog bite lawyer to represent you.
Quick Legal Action Is a Key to Success
The statute of limitation is an expiration date, not a suggestion for when to begin pursuing a case. For most dog bite victims, hiring an attorney to take quick legal action soon after a dog attack — and long before the statute of limitation expires — is the key to securing maximum compensation. Here’s why.
It Ensures High-Quality Evidence
The size of your compensation depends on the quality of evidence supporting your claim. Evidence consists of any information that a lawyer could use in court, if necessary, to prove someone’s liability to you and the amount of your damages.
In a dog bite case, it might include, for example:
- Your and other eyewitness recollections of the attack;
- Images of the attack or location where it occurred;
- The dog’s registration and vaccination records;
- Public records reflecting other complaints about the dog;
- A veterinarian’s evaluation of the dog’s health or dangerousness;
- Medical records documenting your injuries and treatment; and
- Bills, invoices, and statements reflecting your financial losses.
As time passes, evidence grows harder to find and loses quality. Video and still images get deleted. Witness memories fade. Documents get misplaced or thrown away. As the availability and quality of evidence decline, so do the strength of your case and the likelihood of securing fair compensation.
The most reliable way to support a dog bite claim with the highest quality evidence is to hire a lawyer as soon as possible after the attack. Once hired, a lawyer can immediately begin locating, obtaining, and preserving the evidence necessary to prove liability and damages.
It Communicates the Seriousness of Your Claim
Prompt legal action on your dog bite claim signals to at-fault parties, insurance companies, and their representatives that you mean business. Those liable for a dog bite will often pay more for a claim pursued immediately than one filed years after the attack.
If a dog bite case goes to trial, a judge and jury will also tend to place a higher value on a claim you promptly filed than one that seems tardy. Quick action lends credibility to your claim and can lead to a more favorable outcome.
Your Lawyer Might Not Need to Sue to Get Results
The legal action your lawyer can take to get you compensation for a dog bite might include options other than filing a lawsuit. Sometimes, a knowledgeable dog bite lawyer can take alternative steps to secure payment for injuries inflicted by a dog attack.
For example, before filing a lawsuit, a lawyer might send an informal written demand for compensation to a liable party or that party’s lawyer. A typical demand summarizes the facts of the dog attack, explains the legal basis for seeking damages from the liable party, and requests payment for your losses. A well-drafted and persuasive demand can sometimes prompt the liable party to accept liability and offer payment.
A lawyer might also prepare and submit insurance claims under policies covering your losses. A first-party insurance claim seeks payment under insurance coverage you purchased. A third-party claim seeks payment from an at-fault party’s liability insurance carrier. Insurers recognizing their potential liability may engage directly with your lawyer and negotiate a settlement of your claim.
These alternative options and filing a lawsuit aren’t mutually exclusive. Often, a lawyer will recommend pursuing multiple avenues at once or in sequence to force liable parties and insurers to pay what they owe. Every dog bite case differs, so it pays to have an experienced dog bite attorney handling your case and evaluating your options.
Who Can You Hold Liable for A Dog Bite?
It’s not always evident who should face liability for a dog attack. Legal action against the wrong party can delay your compensation and cause you to miss the filing deadline. Let a skilled dog bite injury lawyer handle your claim to ensure you only pursue someone who owes you compensation.
A lawyer can investigate the circumstances of your attack and identify every individual, business, or entity you can hold accountable for your losses. Multiple parties could owe you damages for the harm you’ve suffered.
For example, a lawyer might discover that liable parties include:
- The dog’s owner;
- The dog’s non-owner custodian, such as a dog sitter;
- Service providers (dog walkers, groomers, vet technicians);
- The owner or tenant of the property where the attack happened; or
- An arm of municipal government, such as a police department.
Determining the at-fault party is key to filing a successful lawsuit. It requires knowledge of local laws and an in-depth analysis of the evidence. For example, in some states, the dog’s owner will be held automatically liable for your injuries under strict liability laws. Other states require proof that an owner acted negligently or knew of the dog’s prior vicious conduct. And some states have hybrid rules, such as New York, which imposes limited strict liability on an owner when authorities have previously deemed the dog to be dangerous but require proof of the owner’s prior knowledge of the dog’s viciousness (a so-called one-bite rule) to recover compensation in most other cases.
Hiring a dog bite lawyer gives you an advocate who understands the law applicable to your case and can build a claim on your behalf.
What Damages Can You Get?
As the victim of a dog bite, you can seek compensation for the physical, emotional, and financial harm you suffered. But you don’t need to wait until those damages pile up before taking legal action. An experienced dog bite lawyer can evaluate your current and future losses and build a persuasive case proving the appropriate compensation you should receive.
The precise damages recoverable in a dog bite case depend on its unique facts and circumstances.
In general, however, a skilled dog bite lawyer can often secure payment for your:
- Medical expenses in treating the bite and any subsequent health complications;
- The cost of mental health care to assist in overcoming the trauma of a bite, which is often essential for a child victim;
- Lost income and job benefits from missing work while healing from a bite or caring for an injured child;
- Loss of future earnings and opportunities due to disabilities, scarring, or disfigurement inflicted by the bite;
- Physical pain and discomfort from the bite or necessary medical treatments;
- Attack-related emotional disturbances like lasting anxiety or PTSD;
- Diminished quality or enjoyment of life traceable to the dog bite; and
- Challenges from living with scars, disfigurement, or loss of bodily function.
Your dog bite case could also justify a court award of punitive damages if the at-fault party engaged in extreme or malicious conduct. Consult with an experienced dog bite lawyer today to learn about the scope and amount of damages you could expect to receive.
Suggested Steps to Take After a Dog Bite
After a dog bite, to protect your right to compensation:
- Seek immediate medical care, especially if the bite broke the skin (posing a risk of rabies infection) or caused rapid bruising or swelling (which may indicate severe trauma).
- Report the bite to your local animal control or public health authorities, which protects the community and may help you identify the dog’s owner and vaccination status.
- Contact a dog bite lawyer once you’ve addressed your immediate medical needs to ensure prompt, effective legal action.
The steps above protect your health and well-being. They also safeguard your legal rights by creating maximum opportunity for a lawyer to secure evidence, identify liable parties, and develop a convincing case for damages.
Contact an Experienced Dog Bite Lawyer ASAP
Depending on where your dog attack happened and who is liable, you may have months to years to file a lawsuit for damages. But there’s little — if any — benefit to waiting that long. In most cases, delaying legal action hinders your ability to obtain compensation. Wait too long, and you could lose your rights altogether.
If you or someone you love sustained injuries in a dog attack, don’t wait to get the legal support you need. Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer in your area today for a free consultation to learn about your rights and options.