Do Personal Injury Lawyers Help in a Dog Bite Claim?
There are very good reasons why dogs are known as “man’s best friend.” We’ve had a close relationship with them for thousands of years and while for most of us they are a beloved pet, they also continue their role as working animals around the globe, as sheepdogs, rescue dogs, guard dogs, and military or law enforcement dogs.
But there are times when a dog’s primal and vicious nature can be unleashed. This can happen because of poor training, or because the dog is ill, or even, in many cases, because someone provokes the dog. It is not always the owners or the dogs’ fault, but there are laws in place that we must observe or that come into play if a dog bites someone.
CDC figures state that an average of around five million dog bites happen in the U.S. every year. Of that number, 800,000 need some level of medical treatment. But around 80% of dog bites need either no medical attention or very minor treatment. And you have approximately a 1 in 112,400 chance of dying from a dog attack. While that statistic may lessen any fear or worry, it is not much consolation to those 800,000 who do need medical care.
Michigan ranks sixth in terms of number of dog bite cases with 167 injury claims resulting and $4.4 million paid out in 2016. On a lighter note, the dog most likely to bite you is a chihuahua.
Why Do Dogs Attack?
There can be many reasons why a dog will attack and if you own a dog, having some understanding of canine behavior can go a long way to reducing the chances of it ever biting. Some of the most common reasons are:
- Protection. If a dog feels its pups, owner, or even property is under threat, then it may turn aggressive.
- Provocation. Just as we cannot fully understand all aspects of canine psychology, dogs cannot always understand human behavior. Deliberate or accidental provocation may result in an attack by the dog.
- Play. When someone – and this is especially true of children who are the biggest group to experience dog bites and attacks – is playing with a dog, then it can often get rough and the dog may bite the person, though from the dog’s perspective, this is still play.
What Does the Law Say?
Every state has strict liability laws that cover dog bite injuries. While the wording and terms may vary slightly, they all recognize and state that the owner must take responsibility if their dog bites a person or another animal. There are, however, some caveats to this before you can pursue a claim.
- You must be able to prove you were the victim of a dog bite and that any injuries were caused by the bite(s).
- There must be proof that you in no way provoked the dog into attacking you.
- The question of the location of the attack is a crucial one. Did the attack occur on public property? Or, if it happened on private property, did you have a legitimate right to be there? If you had such a reason, for example, a delivery man, then you can pursue a claim. If you were trespassing on private property for any reason, then you have no right to a claim.
Michigan used to be what is called a “one bite state” which gave owners a free pass on an initial bite. This law is no longer valid.
Michigan also has strict leashing laws which state that dogs older than six months must be properly registered, should wear a collar, and have to be on a leash when not on the owner’s property.
Is the Owner the Only Liable Party?
In the vast majority of cases, yes, the owner is the only person who can be held liable, The exception to this is where the dog and owner live in a rented property with other tenants. If the landlord of that property was aware that the dog had a propensity to bite, then they too could be held liable. If the situation is complicated, a competent dog bite lawyer from Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. can help.
Could I Face Criminal Charges?
If a severe injury or wrongful death happened as a result of the dog bite, then the owner may also face criminal charges and the following penalties:
- If the victim received serious injuries, then it is a felony offence punishable by up to years prison time, up to $2,000 fine, and a minimum 500 hours of community service. The court can also combine any of those punishments as it sees fit.
- If wrongful death was caused, then the owner may be charged with involuntary manslaughter which can result in prison time of up to 15 years in prison, a maximum fine of $7,500, and possibly an order to pay restitution to the victim’s family.
What Happens to My Dog?
If a dog bites someone in Michigan, it will be taken into the custody of Animal Control who will take it to a shelter for 10 days quarantine. The owner pays for these quarantine costs. Unless your dog has a previous history of bites, it is unlikely to be euthanized. A first offender will only likely be euthanized if the injuries were severe or resulted in death.
Any claim for injuries or pain and suffering caused by a dog bite must be filed within three years from the date of the incident. Your insurance company will cover any claim if you do not have reduced coverage or if there is not a dog bite waiver listed in your policy. Your premiums will likely rise dramatically if your insurance company has to pay out.
Awards for a dog bite claim can vary according to the seriousness of any injuries. The usual factors of a personal injury case will be considered such as medical expenses, loss of income and pain and suffering. In 2017, the average award of dog bite claims was $39,017.
Even a normally placid and well-trained dog can bite someone under certain circumstances. While as a dog owner you have certain responsibilities to keep your pet under control, there are times when that control is not enough. Taking as many precautions as possible and ensuring your insurance covers such eventualities can mean you have some protection against any repercussions.
But in the event your dog does bite someone, or if you have been the victim of a dog bite attack, then it is going to be of huge benefit to engage the services of a law firm who has experience with these types of cases.