The law protects your right, and the rights of your children, to be safe from dog attacks when on or off your property. Additionally, a dog owner has responsibilities when his dog causes injuries. Following a dog attack, there are 3 broad directions for you to take:
- Report the incident to the authorities who handle animal control issues in your jurisdiction, such as the animal control department, humane society, dog warden, or police department. Do not assume that the hospital's report has anything to do with your right to be safe. The hospital is reporting for a different purpose: health statistics, not animal control enforcement.
- Cooperate with the animal control authorities and ask them to conduct a "dangerous dog hearing." It could result in penalties imposed on the dog owner and the dog itself.
- Talk to an attorney about making a civil claim against the dog owner. A claim will alert his or her insurance company and landlord (if any), and also could result in penalties of a sort on him and his dog. More important, a claim may result in substantial compensation to you or your child, including not only medical treatment past and future, but also counseling if needed, and additional money that could give you or your child a great, new start. To learn more about getting an attorney, see Does an Adult Need a Lawyer for a Dog Bite Claim? or Should Parents Get a Lawyer for Their Injured Child?
To vindicate your rights, however, you need to take the proper steps. A dog bite victim needs to do the following things to protect his or her rights:
- Identify the dog. In an extremely serious case, this might entail obtaining and analyzing a DNA sample, which would require an attorney's immediate involvement.
- Get the name and address of the owner of the dog, if possible. If you can, obtain the dog license information.
- Get the name, address and telephone number of any potential witnesses. You may have to return to the accident scene, and knock on the doors of nearby homes and businesses. You also should revisit the scene of the accident several times at the same time at which the accident took place, because people may have a habit of going to the same places as part of their daily routine.
- Take photos of all of your wounds, bruises and bloody clothing. (See Photography in dog bite cases.) If possible, obtain insurance information from the dog owner. (See How to find out whether the other person is insured.)
- Get your lawyer started while the facts are fresh! The facts of your claim have to be proved; the extent of your injuries have to be established. As obvious as the facts and injuries might be to you, they will not be obvious to an insurance adjuster sitting at a desk in an office building a few weeks or months after the attack. Furthermore, doctors are more interested in healing you than proving the nature and extent of your injuries to an insurance company, so the proper documentation must be requested from them at the proper times. Your attorney will get the necessary evidence and monitor your medical treatment, so that the insurance adjuster will understand exactly what happened, and will give you an adequate sum of money, if possible.
- Retain your attorney prior to participating in any proceeding involving the dog! The laws of most cities, counties and states permit local authorities to determine whether a dog is dangerous and, if so, the fate of the dog. Often this is referred to as a "dangerous dog hearing," but it goes by other names as well. Because "dog court" procedures may unintentionally compromise the victim's rights, she should not communicate with animal control authorities until her lawyer reviews the city and county ordinances, obtains the department's commitment as to which laws and procedures they will be following, and is satisfied that the issues addressed below will be resolved fairly. If the victim receives a subpoena, her testimony is required, making it even more important to immediately consult with an attorney -- because a subpoena must be obeyed, to its letter. (See Dog bite victims need an attorney for "dog court.")
The victim must never do the following:
- Do not sign anything! Yes, you normally can sign the hospital admission paperwork (provided that you were not bitten in the hospital itself). However, sign nothing presented by any insurance company, the owner of the dog, or the landlord or other owner of the property where the attack took place. Do not write to, or make a report for, any insurance company, dog owner, landlord or other property owner.
- Do not hesitate to consult an attorney! There are laws called "statutes of limitations." They say that you lose all of your rights unless you file a court case within a certain amount of time after sustaining a bodily injury. Therefore, call a lawyer as soon as possible. (See Beware of the statute of limitations!)