You don’t have to be a dog lover to feel a sense of shock, trauma and even betrayal from suffering a dog bite. Most of us tend to think of dogs as friendly, cuddly and harmless. We see them much as we see our neighbors—even if we don’t know them, we are ready to greet them with trust and affection. The idea of “man’s best friend” is so ingrained in our minds that we often don’t even think twice about petting any dog we might see or allowing our children to approach them.
That instinctive trust is exactly what makes a dog bite so deeply traumatic. If you have been the victim of a dog bite, you know the anguish and worry that comes with stepping outside to get the mail, to go for a run in the park or even just to venture across the street. You find yourself flinching at the sound of distant barking. You take the long way around your neighborhood to avoid the homes where you know dogs live. And if you happen to see a dog approaching you—even if the dog is on a leash—you may find yourself short of breath and assailed by uncontrollable fear.
These reactions are normal, whether you suffered the dog bite yourself or even if it happened to a loved one. Other people may not understand it, and encourage you to “just get over it.” But it can be very difficult to simply forget about the injuries inflicted on your mind and body by an animal you used to trust.
It’s all the worse if the dog bite caused lasting damage to your health. Even small dogs can inflict nasty wounds or provoke traumatic accidents, while bites from large dogs can maim and even kill. These are definitely not situations that you can just “get over.”
You may feel alone after suffering from a dog bite. But it’s important to know that you are not alone. In fact, over 1000 people in the United States end up in the emergency room each day as the result of a dog bite. And yes, some of them choose to contact an attorney to find out whether they should initiate a lawsuit against the dog owner.
Filing a Dog Bite Lawsuit
If you have been the victim of a dog bite and are considering a lawsuit, there are some important things to know before you make your decision. There are established practices and rules of thumb around how to sue in the case of dog bite.
- First, the best thing you can do is contact the dog owner yourself. Write a respectful letter detailing the incident (even if the owner was present). Make sure to be as unemotional as you can, and do not make any claims, insults or threats against the dog or the owner. It is, however, a good idea to do a little research of your own on dog bite laws in your city or state and to make mention of those in the letter. Include a list of expenses you incurred as a result of the dog bite, and give the dog owner a deadline to compensate you for that amount. It can be helpful to add that homeowner’s insurance may cover the cost of this compensation; many dog owners may not realize that, and it might possibly help the dog owner to feel less defensive.
- You can either close the letter by saying that if the owner cannot work something out with you by the deadline, you’ll be contacting a lawyer, or you can follow up in the event of an unsatisfactory response from the owner with a second letter mentioning that you’ll be contacting a lawyer. In either case, make sure to keep your tone as neutral as possible. Leave the arguments to your attorney.
- If you do end up contacting an attorney, he or she will likely seek a settlement for your case rather than going to court. Settling the case has several advantages, including resolving the matter more quickly and allowing the victim to spend less money on attorney fees. Going to court may be preferable in certain cases, but the result is less predictable. By hiring an attorney experienced in cases of dog bite, you will get the best advice for your particular case.
- Your attorney will guide you through the process of itemizing damages for which you should seek compensation. This may include:
- Medical bills for treatment related to your dog bite injuries (including treatment that will be necessary in the future)
- Repair/replacement of property damaged by the dog attack
- Lost wages for time off from work during your recovery or treatment
- The cost of hiring help or caregiving following your injury
- Permanent disability and disfigurement stemming from the dog bite
- Emotional distress stemming from the dog bite
In all of this, you should be aware that every state has a statute of limitations that defines how much time a victim of dog bite has following the incident to file their case. In other words, if you are just now feeling the effects of a dog bite that happened several years ago, it is not likely that a lawsuit would be successful.
Finally, it’s important to remember that every person’s situation is different. The outcome of one case may not apply to yours. When deciding whether or not to pursue legal action after suffering a dog bite, the main question to answer is whether your injury is grave enough to merit the time and money you are likely to spend pursuing the case. If the answer is yes, or if you are not sure, your best option is to contact an attorney experienced in cases of dog bite.
If you would like to speak to someone about your case of dog bite, call our New York and New Jersey personal injury team now. There is no obligation or cost—we are here to talk with you and help you understand your rights.