I Was Bitten By a Dog; Do I Have a Personal Injury Case?

Norman, a 55th Security Forces Squadron military working dog, waits to be unleashed and go after his target during training April 17. The Offutt K-9 unit performs regular training to maximize the dogs effectiveness in the field. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Josh Plueger)

The concept of this question is complicated to be sure, since there are certain defining factors that will make or break your case.

After a dog bite occurs you might not specifically think the implication was a big deal.  However, dog bites can be very serious and very harmful. The American Humane Society estimates that nearly 4.7 million dog bites occur in America a year, with approximately 800,000 resulting in injuries.

With insurance companies paying an estimated 1 billion in damages to dog bite victims, the issue is prevalent in our society. This article looks to outline the laws associated with dog bites, the consequences and damage dog bites can cause, and lastly when to know if you should consult a lawyer.

All of these outlines hold no legal sway, and do not in any way replace legal consultation by an attorney or legal consultation.  This article is simply a jumping off point for understanding dog bites, as well as hopefully giving you the information you  need.

Dog Bite Laws

Every state has different dog bite laws. These laws differ in their severity and prosecution.

In the state of Utah there are several clearly defined laws that guide dog bites. All information in the proceeding section has been taken partially from “The Utah Dog Bite & Attack Handbook” and the national Animal Law website.

The statue of the Utah Dog bite law says strictly: 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 there of knew that it was vicious or mischievous. Those are a lot of big words that mean a myriad of different proposals.  The best way to explain this stipulation is to use a certain scenario.

Scenario one:  A twelve-year- old paper boy is delivering newspapers on his daily route.  He is the perfect scene of a paper boy; riding his bike and diligently throwing papers at each house.  He rounds a corner and finds a small pit-bull at the next house he must deliver the paper to.  He continues on his way when the dog decides to attack.  The dog, catching up to the boy locks teeth with ankle.  The bite from the dog is so intense the boy falls off his bike and onto the ground, the dog still intact.  The owner, who was inside the house at the time, hears the commotion and rushes to stop the dog, unfortunately the damage has been done.

The boy is hurt enough such that the police and paramedics are called.   The owner of the dog gives a statement, providing information that the dog is normally sweet and kind tempered. Under Utah law, even though the dog might be kind and sweet tempered; the owner is still liable for the damages of the paper boy from the dog. This boy with consultation from a lawyer could have a very good dog bite case. The only way the dog owner could not be liable, falls under what the law world calls “comparative fault.” Comparative fault in this case is the amount the injured party or those around the injured party provoked the dog owner’s dog.  If the victim provoked the dog, the case could be null.

The other items which could damage this case is the (1) Utah Law of Limitation or proving (2) damages in court. 

The Utah Law of Limitations which states dog bite cases must be settled or have a filed claim submitted within four years of the incident. The only exception to this is when a child is implicated; they can file a claim anytime until they are eighteen, which is when the four years starts. In our scenario, the paperboy in this implication would have six years to file a case, and then another four after he turns 18.  As far as proof of damages, your lawyer must establish the amount of damage compared to the potential compensation.

Consequences of Dog Bites

The list of damages that can ensue from dog bites is lengthy and could never be properly defined in a few short paragraphs. The main parameter for the consequences of dog bites falls into two categories:  the mental and emotional damages against the physical damages of dog bites.

Mental and Emotional Consequences:  These consequences can vary within parties who have been bitten by dogs.   If children were bitten when they were quite young they could develop a fear of dogs, or its scientific term cynophobia.

This fear of dogs can penetrate the children’s psyche on dogs for many years to come and create several awkward and difficult moments whenever they approach a dog in the future. Specifically, post-traumatic stress disorder has been found in children who have been severely bitten by dogs. Dogs are very prevalent in our society and the psychological damages and heart attacks that could occur around every corner could be very difficult to live with. Adults who experience dog bites could also have mental distress associated with dogs and could also develop cynophobia.

Overall, both adults and children can experience and associate dogs in a very negative manner.  They could have distress over an animal that for most people is a source of joy.  Psychologically, their mental development could even be stunted over such a traumatic event.

Physical Consequences:  Depending on the type of dog bite you receive, your physical damages could be very extensive to hardly noticeable.  The facts show some dog bites have caused serious deformities and even death in a few specific cases.  Each dog has a different build and gene replication which causes diversity in the way their teeth are formed or set.  Large dogs have similar teeth set ups, versus small dogs that are also very similar in their teeth set ups.

Different breeds can also have teeth that are more penetrating than others. How penetrating the dog’s teeth can contribute to the extent of the injuries sustained.

When should you consult a Lawyer?

As mentioned previously, this article does not specifically say if you would or would not have a dog bite case because every case is different.   Many people are morally stretched when they consider consulting a lawyer, they feel they are just trying to swindle money from other hard working people, but this is not the case. Not all personal injury law  is frivolous, and negligence ultimately has consequences. Lawsuits should not be seen as an attack against the person’s temperament, but more a protection for yourself against large medical bills or pain and suffering.

There are several good determinants to consider if you should contact a lawyer: medical expenses, disfigurement, loss of earnings, loss of future earnings, and pain and suffering.

Medical expenses

If you have been bitten by a dog, odds are you have sustained some injuries.  If your injury forces you to go to a hospital, you are probably in the neighborhood of consulting a law firm and should rather than later.  Medical bills can add up quickly and you, as the victim do not want to be stuck with these when you are not at fault. Disfigurement:  If any scarring occurs from a dog bite, individuals should consider consulting a lawyer. Scars can create a large amount of psychological damage that can affect the victim for years to come. Children who have been bitten tend to have more extensive disfigurement than adults due to their stature. Doctors who seek to repair  injuries in children who have been disfigured are hesitant to do so due to the growth their bodies still have to perform.

Loss of earnings

If a dog bite keeps you from going to work, you should consider consulting a lawyer.  Not all cases will warrant compensation for time lost at work or a business, but if any surgery must be completed and you are out for several weeks, consider seeking legal advice.

Loss of future earnings

If your dog bite has crippled you in some way, or forced you out of work, you should consider consulting a lawyer.  Injuries such as these can last many years later than you think and could cause many problems.

Pain and suffering

If the dog bite you have sustained has created or given you significant pain and suffering that has not already been mentioned, you should consider contacting a lawyer. Pain you potentially thought would end can sometimes be sustained for years.

If you are on the fence about consulting a lawyer about your dog bite you should probably look into the matter to be safer than sorry.  There are several firms, such as us at Christensen & Hymas, who offer free consultation in a caring and confidential environment.  If you have been bitten by a dog and the liability is on behalf of the dog who bit you, you can legally pursue compensation.

Photo courtesy of United States Air Force

Ken Christensen
Partner, Founder at Christensen & Hymas
Ken Christensen is the founding partner of Christensen & Hymas. He is an avid cyclist, loves baseball, and enjoys spending time with his family in the outdoors.

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