The dog bite victim is entitled to recover fair and adequate compensation for his losses and damages. The losses and damages may include a wide variety of harms suffered by the victim. The two main categories of harm are economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages include medical costs, expenses of transportation for medical reasons (i.e., ambulance, airlift, miles driven to the doctor), future medical costs for operations or the cosmetic treatment of scars, loss of income in the past, loss of income or opportunity in the future, defensive measures such as putting up a fence, loss of the value of a home because of the proximity of dangerous dogs, past counseling expenses, future psychological costs, funds expended on a vacation that could not be taken because of the accident, and torn clothing. This long list is not exclusive.
Non-economic damages include the pain of the injury and the treatment, mental suffering when confronted by dogs or when remembering the attack, humiliation caused by scars, loss of quality of life because of disability, and many other things.
In addition to an award of compensatory damages for economic and non-economic losses, a dog bite victim sometimes can recover statutory penalties or punitive damages. For example, Wisconsin makes a dog owner liable for double damages if he had reason to know that the attacking dog previously injured a person, domestic animal or property. (See Wisconsin Dog Bite Law.) Also, court decisions in many states have subjected dog owners to punitive damages for harboring vicious dogs. Such damages are intended to punish and make an example of the wrongdoer. (For example, see Beckett v. Warren (2008) 124 Ohio St.3d 256.
There are states where a dog bite victim cannot, however, recover his full measure of damages. For example, if the defendant is a governmental entity, the victim's recovery may be arbitrarily limited to $250,000.00. Also, in a state that embraces "tort reform," the recovery also may be limited to $250,000.00. (See, i.e., the limitations discussed in Colorado Jury Instruction 6:1.)
Because the main goal of a dog bite claim is to compensate the victim, the principal task of his representative is to adequately establish the full measure of his damages. Unfortunately there is no simple method of doing so. Medical bills, medical records, written opinion letters by the principal physicians, and letters from employers are only the starting point for evaluating a case. A highly experienced, private attorney is the only person who can advise a dog bite victim as to what evidence is needed in any particular case, which experts need to be retained to present their opinions about the extent of the losses, and how much a victim should receive because of pain, suffering, humiliation, loss of income, and all of the other items of possible loss mentioned above. Additional information about this subject is provided in Does an Adult Need a Lawyer for a Dog Bite Claim? and Should Parents Get a Lawyer for Their Injured Child?