Answering how much a dog bite suit might cost involves complex analysis. First, if you’re a dog owner, you want to know your potential exposure if you face a claim. On the other hand, if you or your loved one were the victims of a dog bite, you want to know how much it will cost you to get a lawyer to recover damages. This article will answer those questions and more.
As for the award, as with all lawsuits, what the victim receives always depends on the specific case. For example, if you have severe or permanent injuries, your compensation will be higher than for someone with less serious injuries.
As for your costs, most injury lawyers take dog bite cases on a contingency fee basis. For this reason, attorneys are careful about the cases they accept on a contingent basis. Contingency fee arrangements only require payment when your attorney gets a successful result in your case. This means it must settle in your favor or result in a favorable verdict. The attorney will receive a fee that is some percentage of your award at that point. If you do not recover compensation, the attorney does not receive any fees.
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How Does the Law View a Dog Bite?
State laws on dog bites vary. For instance, in New York, the law makes owners of dogs previously found dangerous strictly liable for a victim’s medical and veterinary costs. For any other damages, New York requires the victim to allege and prove that the dog had a vicious propensity and that the owner knew it did. Vicious propensity can be established with a prior bite or other vicious behavior. New York law does not permit the victim to recover against the dog owner on the grounds of simple negligence.
A previously adjudicated dangerous dog can injure a person, a companion animal, a farm animal, or a domestic animal. The owner of the dog is any person who keeps or harbors the animal. The owner of a dangerous dog may have to pay a fine and cover your medical costs. The court will base the amount of the fine on how severe the injury was, whether the injured victim was a person or an animal and whether the dog had been previously judged dangerous. To recover more, prior vicious propensity must be established.
Dog Bite Criminal Penalties
In New York, a dog owner found guilty of causing harm through negligent handling of their dog can face criminal penalties. These penalties can include fines of up to $3,000 and 90 days in jail. If a dangerous dog escapes and kills a person, the dog’s owner can be convicted of a Class A misdemeanor.
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Damages Other than Medical or Veterinary Costs
When the damages in dispute in a dog bite case are other than medical or veterinary costs, New York is a “one-bite” state. This classification means that, for these other expenses, the law will hold the owner strictly liable only if the owner knew or should have known about the dog’s dangerous nature or actions, which it had demonstrated in the past. Your lawyer can establish knowledge of the dog’s prior viciousness by proof of prior acts, such as acting viciously or prior bites.
On the other hand, “beware of dog” signs are not sufficient to imply knowledge. If the owner can show the dog has never bitten or growled at anyone, the owner might even get a summary judgment. Your lawyer can admit the nature and result of the current attack and any prior attacks as evidence of the dog’s viciousness.
New York law generally applies a negligence per se standard where a court showed a person to have been violating a law related to the injury in a given case. Dog bites are different. Interestingly, the New York Court of Appeals has specifically held that there is no negligence cause of action when a dog bites a person while violating a leash law.
You may hold landlords liable for a bite injury from a tenant’s dog. However, the victim must prove that the landlord knew about the dog’s presence and its vicious tendencies.
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Common Injuries from a Dog Bite
Certain injuries are common to dog bites. Some of these more typical injuries are:
- Abrasions – These are the superficial red bite marks and scrapes that don’t break the skin after a dog bite. Usually, there is little to no bleeding, but a severe abrasion can leave a scar. You can treat most of these at home, but you should get them looked at to avoid or treat infections. Medical records will be valuable if you need to sue later.
- Lacerations – Lacerations are tears or deep cuts in the skin, often going into muscles, bones, or nerves. They often bleed heavily and feature uneven patterns. They should not be treated at home as infections are likely. These wounds require medical attention and likely stitches as well.
- Puncture Wounds – Puncture wounds occur when the dog’s teeth pierce deeply into the tissue. They are generally a lot smaller than lacerations, but they are deep and hard to clean. Because they are hard to clean, they are at high risk of causing infection and should receive medical attention even if there is little bleeding. The lack of bleeding in puncture wounds is one of the causes of the higher infection rates.
- Crushing Injuries – Large dogs can exert extremely high bite force with their jaws. This strength allows them to crush, break, or fracture a victim’s bones simultaneously as they injure muscles and other tissues. Tragically, large dogs can crush an infant’s head, so infants make up many dog bite fatalities.
- Avulsion Injuries – These injuries occur when a dog completely rips something off your body—skin, tissue, a finger. These are severe injuries that potentially require reconstructive surgery and possibly lead to scarring or other lifelong impacts.
Your injury can depend on your relationship with the animal. Injuries from familiar dogs are often on the face or neck. Injuries from dogs you don’t know tend to be on the hands since you hold out your hand for the dog to sniff it. The exception to this rule is children who often experience facial wounds from familiar or strange dogs.
Some of the typical complications of dog bites include:
- Infections – Approximately one or two of every ten dog bites lead to infection. The infection can come from germs in the dog’s mouth or on your skin. These germs are why you need a proper cleaning of any wounds from a dog bite. Look out for signs of infection, including pain, redness and heat, swelling, and pus.
- Rabies – Although fairly rare in the United States due to almost universal vaccination of animals and people, rabies is the worst infectious disease you can get from a dog bite. If you have suffered a bite by a dog that isn’t vaccinated or that you can’t find, you need immediate treatment in an emergency room. Symptoms of rabies can show up as much as a year after the bite. They include muscle spasms, paralysis, sensitivity to light and sound, and confusion. Once symptoms have appeared, the disease is virtually always fatal, with fewer than 20 documented cases of human survival.
- Tetanus – Tetanus is less common than rabies and results from bacteria on your skin. Tetanus is especially prevalent in deep puncture wounds. Recovery can take months. Most people have had vaccinations against tetanus, but the prognosis is poor for the unvaccinated once symptoms appear.
- Scarring and Nerve Damage – Both scarring and nerve damage can result from severe canine attacks, especially attacks on children, which often leave facial wounds. The damage is not only whatever function may be lost but also includes emotional disorders resulting from the disfigurement.
- Death – Dogs caused 48 U.S. deaths in 2019 and 46 in 2020. Approximately one-third were children aged nine or under, and of those, nearly 90 percent were two or under. Large dogs, as noted above, are capable of crushing an infant’s skull, thus causing them to be over-represented in deaths by a dog bite.
A Dog as a Weapon
Under a rarely used New York law, police can arrest a person for criminal possession of a weapon where that weapon is a dog. Although courts have struggled with this issue, the general trend appears that if the owner uses the dog as a weapon, the dog is a weapon in the eyes of the law. The development appears to come from a 2001 death of a California woman mauled by a dog. The court convicted the owner of murder. State statutes seldom list dogs as dangerous weapons, and these charges are rare, but such criminal cases exist.
What Damages Can You Recover?
You can recover your medical or veterinary expenses on a strict liability claim. Damages include:
Economic or Special Damages – Economic damages are the easily ascertainable out-of-pocket losses you experience from an injury.
They can include:
- Medical Expenses such as hospital bills, drugs, therapy
- Lost wages for any time missed because of your injury
- Veterinary expenses if the victim was another animal
- Household assistance if required after an injury
- Costs associated with canceled plans
- Loss of future earnings
Non-Economic or General Damages – Non-economic damages are more subjective and more difficult to prove than economic damages.
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of earning capacity
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Scarring and disfigurement, especially for children, can be devastating and cause lifelong emotional damage
Punitive Damages—Punitive damages are theoretically available in a dog bite case, but given the level of intent or egregiousness required for punitive damages in New York, courts virtually always deny them.
New York does not cap damages on injuries.
How Can a Lawyer Help?
As you’ve seen, there are some twists and turns in New York’s dog bite laws. It’s not an easy case to settle on your own, especially given the owner’s likely emotional attachment to the biter. An experienced dog bite lawyer will gladly meet with you for an initial consultation and evaluation of your case, often at no cost, to help you determine how to proceed.
If you or a loved one suffered a dog bite in New York, an attorney experienced in handling dog bite cases can help you with:
- Investigating the animal’s history of viciousness
- Interviewing eyewitnesses to the dog’s previous behavior and the current incident
- Investigate the dog’s behavior to determine whether appropriate precautions kept the animal and others safe
- Work with your medical professionals to value the costs of your injuries and general damages.
- Negotiate with insurance companies so they can’t blame you or your loved ones.
Dog bite attorneys regularly work with insurance companies. They understand the lowball offers and blame the victim strategy. Don’t try to handle a case like this when you struggle emotionally and physically due to your injury. Let a skilled attorney take on your case. They know how to navigate the complicated waters of dealing with the insurance company and, potentially, the court system if your case needs to go that far.
Following a bite incident, report the matter to the proper authorities, get immediate medical attention, and consult a dog bite lawyer about your options. You should not cover any costs of your bite if the owner is liable. Never assume that you must pay for your medical costs and other losses – let an attorney evaluate your claim as soon as possible. Contact us now.