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Who is at fault in a dog bite case?

On Behalf of | May 15, 2020 | Personal Injury

If a dog bites or attacks you in Indiana, what is your recourse? You can take legal action against the dog’s owner or the person responsible for the dog, and you can be compensated for your pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages, and related losses with help from an Indiana personal injury attorney.

In the United States, more than four million dog bites are reported each year. In 2018, dog bites caused 38 reported fatalities. Children between ages five and nine are the most common bite victims, while the elderly constitute the second largest group of victims.

Dogs use their jaws and teeth to tear flesh and food apart. Without swift medical attention, a dog bite can cause muscle and nerve damage, disfigurement, lacerations, substantial blood loss, injuries that require amputations, lasting psychological scars, and dangerous diseases like rabies.

Bite victims often require physical therapy, skin grafting, and/or reconstructive surgery. Some dog bite victims require years for healing. Others are never really fully healed.

What are the Signs That a Dog is About to Bite?

However, some dogs exhibit warning signals before biting. Knowing what these signals are can reduce the risk of a dog bite. Before biting anyone, many dogs bark threateningly, growl, and then lift their lips. Hackles may rise on the dog’s back and neck, and the dog may freeze rigidly.

Other dogs may show no signs that they are about to bite. It’s important to know these rules for encountering dogs that you don’t know and that are not accompanied by their owner or caretaker:

1. Always have an owner’s consent to pet or even approach a dog you don’t know. 2. Do not look an unknown dog in the eye. Avoid eye contact. 3. Don’t run, yell, or scream. Staying silent and motionless is the best thing you can do.

Can You be Compensated for a Dog Bite Injury?

Dog bite victims in Indiana have the legal right to be compensated, but that compensation doesn’t come automatically. You’ll have to prove that you’ve been bitten by a dog and injured, and you’ll have to prove that the dog owner is liable for one of these three legal reasons:

1. strict liability (which applies only in certain cases as explained below) 2. the one-bite rule 3. negligence

What is “Strict Liability” in a Dog Bite Case?

In Indiana, whenever a dog bites a postal employee, a law enforcement officer, or anyone else who is performing duties required by federal or state law, the dog’s owner may have “strict liability.”

This means that the owner may be liable for injuries, provided that the dog wasn’t provoked and provided that the bite victim had a legal obligation to be where the incident occurred. In strict liability cases, the dog bite victim doesn’t need to prove that the owner acted negligently.

However, if a dog bites you in Indiana, unless you are a postal worker, a police officer, or someone else performing official duties required by the law, you are left with proving a dog owner’s liability by using either the one-bite rule or the negligence argument.

How Does the One-Bite Rule Work?

Here’s what the one-bite rule means. If the dog that bites you has bitten anyone in the past, and if the owner is aware of that incident, he or she may be found liable in Indiana for your injury and losses.

Dog bite victims who do not qualify to file a personal injury claim using strict negligence and who cannot prove that the dog’s owner had knowledge of a previous dog bite may still be able to claim that the dog’s owner was negligent.

When Are Dog Owners Negligent?

Bite victims may sue a dog’s owner or the person responsible for the dog by claiming negligence – that is, by claiming that the person was obligated by a “duty of care” to others to make sure that the animal did not bite anyone or cause an injury, and that the person breached that duty of care with negligent behavior.

If an owner was aware that his or her dog could be aggressive, or if that owner negligently failed to keep the dog from biting someone, a bite victim may bring a negligence claim against the owner.

What Are Indiana’s Dog Leash Laws?

Indiana has no dog leash statute at the state level. Instead, many counties and municipalities enforce their own leash ordinances. Violating a local leash ordinance is strong evidence of negligence when the violation is an element in a dog bite case.

Most Indiana counties and municipalities require owners to restrain their dogs whenever the dog is outdoors, even when the dog is on the dog owner’s business or residential premises. But if no leash ordinance violation occurred, it may be difficult to prove that a dog’s owner was negligent.

That determination can only be made after a careful consideration of the facts in the case. Basically, a negligence claim depends on whether a dog’s owner acted or failed to act legally, responsibly, and sensibly.

Are Landlords Responsible for Dogs Owned by Tenants?

Landlords in this state have only a limited obligation to protect third parties from dogs owned by tenants. A landlord may be found liable for injuries caused by a tenant’s aggressive dog if that landlord had specific knowledge of the risk posed by the animal.

How Do Injury Lawyers Help Dog Bite Victims?

A northwest Indiana dog bite lawyer can review your dog bite claim, discuss your rights, and begin out-of-court negotiations with the dog’s owner – or with the owner’s homeowner’s insurance company – for your compensation.

But, if no reasonable settlement offer is made in the private negotiations, your Indiana personal injury lawyer can take your case to court, tell your side of the story to the jurors, and ask the jurors to order payment of the compensation you are entitled to by Indiana law.

What Steps Should You Take If a Dog Bites You?

If a dog bites you, obtain medical treatment first, and then promptly schedule a meeting with an Indiana personal injury attorney. It’s essential to put your attorney on the case as quickly as possible. Memories fade over time, and evidence can disappear or deteriorate.

Indiana’s injury attorneys do not collect an attorney’s fee unless and until they win the compensation – and the justice – that a dog bite victim needs and deserves.