Each year, thousands of New Yorkers find themselves on the receiving end of a vicious set of canines usually painfully clamped to the unsuspecting victim’s arm or leg. The culprit — as a dog lover I’m sorry to have to site this statistic — but the culprit in the vast majority of these animal-bites-man cases is a dog. Some breeds are worse offenders than others.
The shock of being bitten by a fellow creature, on who many bestow the moniker “mans best friend,” can happen so suddenly, and without warning, that it leaves the often bleeding victim in a state of shock and unable to think clearly.
If A Dog Bites You
According to top New York dog bite lawyer Mitchel Ashley, the first thing you should do if you are bitten by a dog is to seek medical attention immediately. Untreated, a dog bite can cause serious injury, infection, and even death if, for instance, the dog had a potentially deadly disease like rabies.
“After you have been medically evaluated,” Ashley advised, “you should consider speaking to a lawyer with experience in handling dog bite cases.”
Ashley said an experienced dog bite attorney will conduct an investigation and then be able to tell the victim whether he, or she, has a legal claim. Such a lawyer may also be able to tell the victim what damages may be recoverable in a civil case.
Liability for Dog Bites
Typically, the first step a top dog bite lawyer would take on behalf of his/her client is to determine the name and address of the owner of the dog. In an earlier blogpost (see TheAshleyLaw Firm.com) we discussed what is known as a “strict liability” statute. Under this statute, an owner is legally responsible for a dog bite, regardless of whether the owner did anything wrong with respect to protecting the victim from attack, and even if the owner had no reason to suspect that his or her dog was dangerous.
Conversely, in some states, the dog owner may only be held liable for the injuries the dog bite inflicts, if the owner knew (or had reason to know) that the dog had “dangerous propensities.”
Possible Defenses in Dog Bite Cases
There are instances where an owner of a dog with known vicious propensities might not be held liable for an attack on a person.
“For example,” Ashley said, “if the dog owner adequately warned the victim that the dog was dangerous. Second: if the owner took measures to keep the dog away from people. Third: if the victim ignored the owner’s warnings. In legal terms, this kind of behavior on the part of the victim is known as “contributory negligence.”
For example, if a person climbs over a fence and is bitten by a dog on the other side, a jury could decide not to hold the dog owner liable. Or if the owner posts a “Beware of Dog” sign, and a person ignores this sign and gets bitten by the dog, the owner might not be responsible for that person’s injury.
“A dog owner,” Ashley added, “also can argue that the injured person provoked the dog – made a threatening gesture toward the dog, for example – and the dog attacked. This behavior on the part of the victim could negate the owner’s liability.
Other Responsible Parties
Dog owners are not the only ones who can be held responsible if a dog bites someone. Ashley laid out a few common scenarios where someone other than the dog’s owner could be held liable for a dog bite:
• Dog Keepers: Anyone who is responsible for the care or custody of a dog may be considered an owner or keeper and can be held responsible for a dog bite. Examples include kennels, a pound, or an animal sitter.
• Parents of Minors: If a person under 18 years of age owns the dog that did the biting, in many states the victim can bring a legal claim against the minor’s parents.
• Property Owners: A property owner can be liable for injuries caused by a dog that the owner allowed onto his or her property.
• Landlords: If an apartment landlord knew (or should have known) that a tenant owned a dangerous dog, the landlord may also be liable for dog bite injuries.
What Damages Can The Victim of a Dog Bite Recover?
According to Ashley, it depends on the seriousness of the injuries resulting from the dog’s attack.
Depending on the circumstances, a victim of a dog bite may be entitled to compensation for:
• Medical expenses
• Lost wages
• Pain and suffering
• Property damage
“In some instances,” Ashley said, “the victim may also be entitled to punitive damages, which are awarded to punish the owner for his or her behavior.
“To justify an award for punitive damages,” Ashley added, “the dog owner’s conduct usually must be more than negligent. It must be considered reckless or intentional conduct. For example, if a dog owner knew his or her dog was very dangerous, yet repeatedly allowed the dog to run free near a school, and the dog eventually attacked a child, a jury could conclude that punitive damages were appropriate.”