Animal control records can be very important to your case. The animal control officer in the field frequently will take statements from the owner of the dog and neighbors. These might prove to be an important source of information during the handling of the claim.
Some of the most important legal issues that can be resolved or at least illuminated by animal control records are:
- Ownership of the attacking dog. A dog bite victim cannot recover any compensation if he cannot establish the ownership of the dog. Animal control records often include registration cards which provide the name and address of the dog owners. (See Ownership of a Dog.)
- Prior history of viciousness. Whether or not the accident happened in a statutory strict liability state, it is important to show that the attacking dog had a history of viciousness. (See Tips and Tricks for Plaintiff's Lawyers.)
- Dog owner's actual knowledge of prior viciousness. In a one bite state, it is not enough to prove that the dog had taken his one bite prior to the accident involving the current victim. The claimant also must convince a jury that the dog owner knew of the prior act of viciousness or biting. (See The One Bite Rule.)
- Statements by the dog owner which might provide tip-offs as to what the defenses will be, or which might support the victim's claim for damages.
There are animal control officers who are hostile to victims who have legal representation. When asked for copies of records, these officers have been heard to say, "You will have to subpena them." The officers either do not realize, or intend, that a lawsuit must be filed for an attorney to obtain a subpena for records in a civil case. To avoid this terrible waste of taxpayer resources for unnecessary litigation, Kenneth Phillips advises his clients to obtain the records themselves and to avoid mentioning that they have legal representation.
When animal control departments refuse to give records to the victim, a freedom of information act request can be made, which will force compliance with the request.