"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.