Millions of Americans own dogs, and many of those dogs go their entire lives without biting someone. Regrettably, this is not always the case. The Insurance Information Institute reports that about 4.5 Americans suffer dog bites every year, and that about half of those injured are children. If you are bitten by a dog, or if your dog bites someone else, it is important that you understand who may be held accountable for damages.
Dog bites and liability
In many cases, dog bite claims are handled by homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Not all policies cover these types of injuries, however, and some will not cover incidents involving certain types of breeds, such as pit bulls. If you are a dog owner, it is wise to take a good, hard look at your coverage, even if your dog is not necessarily prone to biting. Dogs are unpredictable, and even the most docile animals may attack if they feel provoked or threatened. The amount paid out per dog bite claim, too, appears to be rising nationally, even though the actual number of related claims has fallen in recent years. This may be attributed, at least in part, to the rising costs of medical care and the growing size of related jury awards and settlements.
Demonstrating negligence in a dog bite claim
Most states have their own laws regarding dog and animal bites, and in North Carolina, you generally have to prove that a dog owner’s negligence was a contributing factor to your injuries. Your attorney may reference the “one bite standard” or “one bite rule,” which essentially says that if the dog has ever bitten or injured someone before, the owner should have taken due care to ensure the animal would not do so again. This might mean they should have kept the dog properly confined, muzzled or restrained.
While laws pertaining to dogs and pets are often referred to using the umbrella term “dog bite laws,” owners may be held liable for any injuries their dogs cause to another, even if the injury was not caused by a bite. For example, you may be found liable if you fail to control your leashed dog and he or she darts in front of a bicyclist, causing a serious accident. Another example might be if your large dog jumps up on a child, causing the child to fall down the stairs and suffer a head or other injury.
As a dog owner, there are steps you can take to reduce the chances of your dog biting someone, but there is only so much you can do to protect yourself from unfamiliar dogs. If you are injured by another’s dog or pet, or if your dog or pet injures someone else, you may find it beneficial to consult an attorney.