About 4.5 million people report being bitten by a dog each year. Of those bites, about 20% require serious medical attention. While the percentage of those that require medical attention may seem small, both the injuries and the subsequent costs are serious. How do you know if you have a claim?
Strict Liability Laws
Whether or not you have a claim depends on what your state’s specific laws say about the liability of the dog’s owner. Many states, including Utah, have strict liability laws. Strict liability, as the name implies, is a zero-tolerance type of liability. Factors like whether the dog has a history of being aggressive, or whether it has bitten anyone else before or not do not matter. The dog owner is almost always automatically liable for the dog bite. Utah law states:
“Every person owning or keeping a dog shall be liable in damages for injury committed by such dog, and it shall not be necessary in any action brought therefore to allege or prove that such dog was of a vicious or mischievous disposition or that the owner or keeper thereof knew that it was vicious or mischievous.” (U.C.A. 18-1-1)
Dog owners can also be held responsible for being negligent, reckless or careless if their actions or inactions led to the dog bite injury. Examples of negligence may include:
- Letting his or her dog off its leash even though the area enforces a leash law
- Knowing a dog is aggressive but not taking the proper steps to protect others from the dog
- Not properly securing the area where the dog is kept
- Leaving the dog unsupervised with children
What is the value of a dog bite claim?
As with any personal injury case, there is no set formula for determining the value of a dog bite claim. With so many different factors influencing each particular claim, it is impossible to establish a guideline for predicting the compensation you will receive. However, general observations can be made pertaining to the value of certain cases. For example, most cases which involve injuries to the face or neck will receive higher compensation than those involving injuries to an extremity. In addition, injuries that leave permanent scarring or physical disfigurement will usually result in greater compensation.
The dog owner’s homeowners or renters insurance almost always covers the cost of damages. This is particularly beneficial for cases in which the dog owner is a close friend or family member, as the victim will not have to worry about financially burdening a loved one. Below you will see a table obtained from the Insurance Information Institute displays statistics from 2003 to 2011 showing the average cost per claim. As you can see, the cost has been increasing over the years.
ESTIMATED NUMBER AND COST OF DOG BITE CLAIMS, 2003-2011
Where Does the Claim Money Go?
While every case will result in different outcomes, typical damages for which dog bite victims can receive compensation include:
- Medical expenses
- Loss of Earnings
- Loss of Future Earnings
- Pain and Suffering
Many dog bite victims will have to receive some form of medical treatment. These bills can quickly add up. The dog owner may be liable to pay for any medical expenses incurred from the attack. This typically includes the basic costs for:
- Medical treatment
- Emergency room charges
- Pharmaceutical expenses
Dog bites can cause permanent scarring or disfigurement, often in very visible parts of the body. This can naturally lead to a psychological impact on a victim’s self consciousness. If a victim has suffered some form of scarring, he or she is entitled to damages for the disfigurement.
Children are more often victims of disfigurement. Because of their short height, they are often bitten in the neck or face. For safety reasons, many surgeons will refrain from performing surgical revisions until the child is more fully grown. While the victim will be able to receive plastic surgery later in life, he/she must go through the difficult years of adolescence with the scar or disfigurement, leading to embarrassment and humiliation that can severely affect the child emotionally. In many child dog bite claims, such emotional and psychological damages will be taken into consideration.
Loss of Earnings
Depending on the severity of the attack, a dog bite victim may be unable to work for a period of time. Recovery and rehabilitation after surgery can temporarily force the victim out of work. In such cases, the victim may be reimbursed for the loss of earnings incurred from the attack. This includes the victim’s:
- Normal wages
- Other fringe benefits
Loss of Future Earnings
In serious attacks, the victim may lose the ability to work and earn income in the future. In such cases, the victim is entitled to recover damages for the value of reduction in earning capacity which will occur in the future.
Pain and Suffering
Apart from the damages previously discussed, a victim has the right to claim compensation for present and future physical pain and mental anguish incurred from the dog attack.
Here at Christensen & Hymas, if the dog bite resulted in permanent scarring, we will arrange for a plastic surgeon to evaluate the need of future medical care to reduce visible scarring. We will work with you to help you obtain the money necessary to help compensate you for your injuries and suffering during this difficult time.