"I only want to make an insurance claim, so do I need to follow these rules?"

Even if you just want to make an insurance claim, you still have to follow these rules. Specifically, you are required to file your case in court before it reaches the deadline. If you do not do so, the insurance company usually has the right to refuse to give you any money at all. This can be true even if you are in the process of talking to them about a settlement.

Some states have laws requiring insurance companies to notify you about the statute of limitations if you do not have an attorney. If you receive a notice of that kind, do not let the insurance company representative convince you that it does not mean what it says! You will be getting the notice for the plain and simple reason that the insurance company has every intention of using the statute of limitations as their legal ground to refuse to pay you anything.

"What can I do if I blew it?"

If a great deal of time has elapsed since an attack, the victim should not assume that the statute of limitations has expired. There are exceptions to the statute of limitations. They can be very technical, so it is of utmost importance to contact a lawyer immediately. 

"Do I really need a lawyer to file a lawsuit?"

Except for the small claims courts, the laws of civil procedure are too complicated for a non-attorney to apply. Cases that cannot be handled in the small claims court therefore must be handled by a lawyer who is experienced in litigation matters. You are absolutely advised to retain an attorney to bring a case or defend against a case that is other than a small claims court matter.

If a dog bite does not draw blood, small claims court might be appropriate. Most jurisdictions have small claims procedures that make filing relatively easy. However, choosing small claims court means limiting the amount of damages that can be recovered. For example, in California the small claims courts can decide cases that have a dollar value of up to $7,500.00 per defendant.

Any dog attack that draws blood should be referred to an experienced attorney because there is a possibility of scars, and therefore a possibility that the legal damages might exceed what a small claims court is authorized to handle.

There is a tricky set of rules that covers claims against the government and its employees, and sometimes humane societies and SPCAs. Basically, before any court filings, a claim must be made in writing to the entity as follows:

  • The claim must be made very soon after the attack. Do it within 60 days!
  • The claim must be very specific in its presentation of the facts and injuries.
  • The claim has to be handed to the correct person in the correct office.

A court case cannot be filed unless and until:

  • The governmental claim is made, AND,
  • The entity has either denied the claim, or has failed to deny it within a specific amount of time.

You may have heard that there are circumstances wherein the usual statute of limitations is "tolled" or "extended," such as when the victim is a child. Those rules do not necessarily apply to governmental claims!

Even if a governmental claim is for a small amount of money, and might be heard in the small claims court, the victim still has to comply with the governmental claim procedures.

Government offices readily hand out the claim forms. If any mistake is made on the form, however, the victim will lose all rights. The ease of getting these forms is in complete contrast to the technical knowledge required to fill them out.

Another trick is determining exactly who to give the filled-out form to. If it is sent to the wrong person or wrong office, the victim once again can lose all rights for that reason alone.

A humane society or SPCA can have governmental immunity in certain states. Therefore this type of defendant must be treated as if it actually were a governmental entity until an attorney determines otherwise.

Because of these complexities, victims are absolutely advised to consult with an attorney if there is reason to suspect that a defendant might be a governmental agency or employee. "Absolutely advised" means that there is no exception whatsoever to this advice. 

With the exception of medical bills and other out of pocket costs and losses, and claims against governmental agencies, governmental employees, and humane societies, all states allow some extra time for making a claim on behalf of a person who is under the age of 18. However, at the risk of repeating what was written above, it is very complicated, there are exceptions to the rules and exceptions to the exceptions, and by "make a claim" the law means file a lawsuit, not just a report or an insurance claim.

In most states, a minor and his parents can wait a period of time after the child turns 18. In these states, the period described in the statute of limitations does not begin running until the victim's 18th birthday. For example, a California victim who was injured at age three could wait until he turned 20, because the statute would not begin ticking down until he turned 18, at which time he would have two years (see the table, above). Georgia, Tennessee and a number of other states follow this rule (i.e., the minor must attain the age of majority, at which point he would have the amount of time specified in the statute of limitations; do not assume it is two years, but check the chart, above). In some of these states, however, the minor does not get the full period of limitations when he turns 18 (for example, in South Carolina the statute tolls during minority but upon attaining legal age the minor has only one year to file suit).

In some states, parents and children have different periods of limitations for the same incident. For example, in Ohio a child can bring an injury claim at any time until he or she attains the age of 20. However, Ohio law also says that the claim or suit for the medical bills and other costs has to be brought by the child's parents within 2 years from the date of the injury. That is because the obligation to pay medical bills and costs is an obligation of the parents and not the child. In an Ohio case, therefore, a child can recover for pain, suffering, scars, emotional distress and other similarly intangible losses until she turns 20, but the parent can recover the medical costs only if the lawsuit for those costs is brought within the 2 years. (Minnesota, Texas and a number of other states follow this rule.)

A few states have a period of limitations that might require both the child and his parents to file a lawsuit before the minor turns 18. For example, in Kansas a minor can bring an action until one year after he or she turns eighteen, but never more than eight years after the accident. (Kansas Statutes 60-515(a).) So a three-year-old would have to file suit by age 11 in Kansas.

Statutes of limitations are drastic laws because their intention is to prevent an injured person from obtaining a remedy if the person waits "too long." Because these laws are drastic, the courts have to dictate what should happen under specific circumstances. In other words, the statute that you read isn't necessarily the law you get.

That can be a good thing or a bad thing. Here are some examples of anomolies that could hurt you:

  • In Oklahoma, there is a dog bite statute that creates strict liability for a first bite. The statute of limitations for statutory liabilities is 3 years. A person without experience naturally would conclude that he has 3 years to file a case in court. However, he doesn't! Since the general statute of limitations for personal injuries of all sorts is only two years, it has been held that a dog bite victim has only two years to file a case.
  • In Arizona, the general statute of limitations for personal injuries is two years. A dog bite victim would assume that he could file his case within two years, but he would be wrong. Since statutory actions have to be filed within one year in Arizona, a dog bite victim is granted only one year.

As you can see, the same principle leads to different conclusions in different states. For that reason, a lawyer must be consulted for the purpose of determining the correct period of limitations in any particular case.

Statutes of Limitations for the 50 States 
(and the District of Columbia)

Not applicable to suits against government entities and some humane societies / SPCAs!

Minors usually get some extra time against non-governmental dog owners and handlers!

STATE STATUTE CITATIONS YEARS
ALABAMA Ala. Code § 6-2-2 et. seq. * 2
ALASKA Alaska Stat. § 09.10.010 et. seq. 2
ARIZONA Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 12-541 et. seq. Dogbites: 1
Other torts: 2
ARKANSAS Ark. Code Ann. § 16-56-101 et. seq. 3
CALIFORNIA Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 335.1 2
COLORADO Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-102 et. seq.  2**
CONNECTICUT Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 52-576 et. seq. 2
DELAWARE Del. Code Ann. tit. 10, § 8101 et. seq. 2
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA D.C. Code § 12-301 et. seq. 3
FLORIDA Fla. Stat. Ann. § 95.011 et. seq. (95.011(3)(a) for bodily injuries; see Title VII) 4
GEORGIA Ga. Code Ann. § 9-3-20 et. seq. 2
HAWAII Haw. Rev. Stat. § 657-1 et. seq. 2
IDAHO Idaho Code § 5-201 et. seq. 2
ILLINOIS 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/13-201 et. seq. 2
INDIANA Ind. Code Ann. § 34-11-2-1 et. seq. 2
IOWA Iowa Code Ann. § 614.1 et. seq. 2
KANSAS Kan. Stat. Ann. § 60-501 et. seq. 2
KENTUCKY Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 413.080 et. seq. 1
LOUISIANA La. Civil Code § 3492 et. seq. 1
MAINE Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 14, § 751 et. seq. 6
MARYLAND Md. Courts & Jud. Proc. Code Ann. § 5-101 et. seq. 3
MASSACHUSETTS Mass. Ann. Laws ch. 260, § 1 et. seq. 3
MICHIGAN Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.5801 et. seq. 3
MINNESOTA Minn. Stat. Ann. § 541.01 et. seq. 6
MISSISSIPPI Miss. Code. Ann. § 15-1-1 et. seq. 3
MISSOURI Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.097 et. seq. 5
MONTANA Mont. Code Ann. § 27-2-2021 et. seq. 3
NEBRASKA Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-201 et. seq.  4
NEVADA Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 11.010 et. seq. 2
NEW HAMPSHIRE N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 508:1 et. seq. 3
NEW JERSEY N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2a:14-2 et. seq. 2
NEW MEXICO N.M. Stat. Ann. § 37-1-1 et. seq. 3
NEW YORK N.Y. Civ. Prac. Laws & Rules § 201 et. seq. 3
NORTH CAROLINA N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-46 et. seq.  3
NORTH DAKOTA N.D. Cent. Code § 28-01-01 et. seq. 6
OHIO Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2305.03 et. seq. 2
OKLAHOMA Okla. Stat. Ann. 12-95(A)(3) 2
OREGON Or. Rev. Stat. § 12.010 et. seq. 2
PENNSYLVANIA 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5501 et. seq. 2
RHODE ISLAND R. I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-12 et. seq. 3
SOUTH CAROLINA S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-510 et. seq. 3
SOUTH DAKOTA S.D. Codified Laws Ann. § 15-2-1 et. seq.  3
TENNESSEE Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1-101 et. seq., 28-3-101 et. seq. 1
TEXAS Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.001 et. seq. 2
UTAH Utah Code Ann. § 78-12-22 et. seq. 4
VERMONT Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 12, § 506 et. seq. 3
VIRGINIA Va. Code Ann. § 8.01-228 et. seq. 2
WASHINGTON Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 4.16.005 et. seq. 3
WEST VIRGINIA W. Va. Code § 55-2-6 et. seq. 2
WISCONSIN Wis. Stat. Ann. § 893.01 et. seq. 3
WYOMING Wyo. Stat. § 1-3-102 et. seq.  4
* et. seq. means "and the next sections following in sequence"

** Colorado: 3 years if motor vehicle injury