Severe dog bites can leave you with lasting, and sometimes debilitating, injuries and emotional trauma. The costs for medical care, damaged property and lost work may require you to settle the case with the dog’s owner or your insurance company, sometimes even in court. A dog bite case can be daunting, but the Costello Law Firm is prepared to help. We’ll work with you to investigate the incident and gather evidence, act as a liaison with your insurance representatives, and talk with doctors about medical costs. Ultimately, our attorneys endeavor to ensure that you’re properly compensated, and we’ll even fight in court on your behalf.
If you’ve been bitten by a dog and believe you have the right to a claim, here are some things you should know and consider in making your case.
Dog Bite Liabilities
State laws vary on the liabilities dog owners face if their dog attacks someone. Many states, including New Jersey, have “strict liability” laws for incidents when a dog bites someone. This means that, in a civil lawsuit, the dog owner can potentially be held liable regardless of whether fault on their part is established. Strict liability holds as long as the victim was on public property or legally on private property at the time and that he or she did not provoke the dog to attack, intentionally or otherwise. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 4:19-16).
Other states abide by a “one bite” negligence rule; here, the focus of the case resides on whether the owner knew, or reasonably should have known, that the dog might bite someone and if they had taken precautions in light of this knowledge. This also applies to injuries that aren’t bite-related but are still caused by a reckless or unruly dog’s actions. If the victim is able to prove that his or her injuries resulted from the owner’s negligence, he or she potentially can receive compensation.
Animal control laws, such as those regarding the acceptable use of a leash and the prohibition of dogs running at large, are also relevant in determining liability. These laws can exist at a state or municipal level and should be consulted as well. Like most laws, any of these may be subject to change, so make sure that you’re up to date on the current legislation.
Should You Sue?
Establishing liability is a factor in deciding if you can sue for your dog bite claim, but you must also assess whether or not you should sue. Even if the dog owner is liable for your injury, pursuing compensation may not be a practical response.
First, decide whether making the claim is worth the compensation. Legal action takes considerable time, money and effort even with professional attorneys assisting you. If the losses are minor, there may not be a good reason to seek compensation; a nip on the hand and a few stitches aren’t insignificant, but they might not be significant enough. Contrast this with, say, a crippling leg injury or the loss of thousands in property.
On the other hand, you must decide if the dog owner in question can actually provide the desired compensation. Damages numbering in the tens of thousands may simply be impossible to cover by having the defendant pay for them. Also, if the dog is owned by a friend, family member or neighbor, it’s unlikely that it would benefit you to pursue a case at their expense because of the personal connection. However, if the dog owner holds a relevant insurance policy, it can cover the damages inflicted.
Even then, settling the case outside of court is often a wise decision when possible — you can still get compensation this way. However, if a settlement cannot be reached, the court may be your only option in order to legally obligate the defendant and/or his or her insurance company to pay for damages.
Approaching the Insurance Company
Homeowners insurance is often relevant in obtaining compensation in the case of dog-related injury; dog bites insurance policies represent one of the most common claims that homeowners insurance is bought for. However, it’s critical to remember that insurance companies are for-profit businesses and, for them, claims are ultimately losses. The company will likely seek to reduce, delay or deny compensation, with a legal team backing it up. It’s vital that you have your own attorneys to represent your side of the case, whether you intend to sue or settle outside of court.
Through filing a dog bite claim, one hopes to receive compensations for a number of damages depending on the circumstances. Compiling an account of damages resulting from the bite is a smart move, ideally early in the case. Potential damages to be covered include the following:
- Medical bills related to the injuries sustained, possibly including expected future bills
- Lasting disability or emotional trauma caused by the dog bite, and the physical or psychological therapy involved
- Repair and replacement of damaged property
- Lost wages for the period when the victim cannot work
When seeking compensations, you will negotiate with the dog owner and his or her insurance company on the damages owed to you. Having certified attorneys on your side will move the odds in your favor, as their professional knowledge and expertise provide an edge in interpreting the relevant legislation. Ideally, you should gather tangible evidence to establish your claim — for example, medical bills, witness reports, and photographs of the scene or incident.
Choosing Your Attorney
The best attorneys to represent your dog bite case are those who have years of experience, not just in general but specifically in personal injury cases. Speak with attorneys and ask them what their prior experience, if any, is with dog bite lawsuits. Choose attorneys who operate on contingency fee policies — this means they only receive payment if you win your case, so they are more strongly motivated to assist you fully. Additionally, make sure they are easy to get in touch with so that you remain informed throughout the case.
Costello Law Firm is a strong fit for helping you negotiate your claim for these reasons. We specialize in personal injury cases such as dog bites, and we’re ready and willing to speak with dog bites insurance companies, medical providers and other parties to ensure you get your right compensation.
Chris Costello, ESQ.Chris handles matters in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania and is an active member of the New Jersey Association for Justice as well as the Burlington County Bar Association. As a Burlington County personal injury lawyer, Mr. Costello has served as chairman of the Burlington County Bar Association Personal Injury Committee and lectured on topics related to auto accidents and insurance law.
Been bit by a dog? We can help!