Who doesn’t love dogs? They’re fun, crazy, highly entertaining, and great companions. But sometimes even the most docile critter can bite. Because some dog bite injuries may lead to significant medical problems, it’s good to know what steps you should take if you or someone you know is bitten by a dog. You definitely want to protect yourself from possible future medical or financial issues.
Here are some steps to take:
1. Seek medical care for any serious puncture wounds or injuries. Deep wounds are prone to infection, and if you’re not sure whether the dog is up to date on its rabies and other vaccines, you’ll want to have it looked at by a doctor. Take pictures of the injury before you receive any treatment, too.
2. Write down an account of the event and circumstances that led up to the bite as soon after it happened as possible, when you’re more likely to remember the details.
3. Trade information with the dog’s owner—name, address, contact information, dog license number—just like you would after a car accident, so that you can get in touch to find out about the dog’s vaccination history.
4. Collect contact information from anyone who may have witnessed the incident. Should you need to pursue greater legal action later, eye witness accounts are often critical for helping to create an accurate picture of the event.
5. Document the dog bite by taking pictures of the injuries and also keeping a journal where you record effects of the injuries. You might experience pain, decreased mobility, or an inability to do certain things. Create a file folder in which you store photos, written anecdotal evidence, and medical records. Keep records of medical bills, travel costs, lost wages, and supplies you needed that are directly connected to the dog bite.
6. If you do require extensive medical intervention, especially plastic surgery, you should take and have available photographs that include pictures of the victim before the attack; pictures taken directly after the attack that show the injury and damaged clothing or property; pictures taken by the hospital prior to initial treatment; pictures taken prior to plastic or other surgery, when required; pictures taken during the recovery process (usually the day of treatment, the next day, a week later, and several weeks later) when the time to heal is significant.
7. Consider filing a report either with the police or local animal control agency. The agency keeps a database and will investigate incidents—and that investigation may help to support your case should it progress further. It’s possible that the agency will conduct a “dangerous dog hearing” but you should not participate unless you are represented by an experienced attorney who is familiar with how to handle dog bite cases.
Know the statute of limitations
There is a statute of limitations which is the final date that a person can file a lawsuit or claim against someone – it doesn’t say when the best time is to file a claim, just the last time to do so. In New Jersey, the statute of limitations is two years.
What not to do
To protect your best interests, especially if you receive a call from the dog owner’s insurance company, avoid doing any of the following whether you’ve spoken to a lawyer or not:
- Discussing money, settlements, injury values, or anything else involving money
- Setting up an appointment to talk to someone at the insurance company
- Writing a letter or statement for the insurance company
- Allowing yourself to be tape recorded or photographed
- Discussing who is responsible
- Accepting any money
- Signing anything from the insurance company, dog’s owner, or landlord/other owner of the property where the incident occurred
A few final thoughts
Generally, dog owners are responsible if their pets hurt people by chasing them, knocking them over, or biting them. An injured person can sue for compensation that includes medical expenses and pain and suffering. There are, however, exceptions. If the victim provoked a dog, was trespassing at the time the injury occurred, voluntarily took a risk in getting hurt by the dog, or was careless in another way, compensation may be denied — but is not always denied.
If, however, the owners knew their dog was potentially dangerous or the state has strict liability dog laws (owners are held responsible even if they didn’t know the dog might be dangerous), or the owners were careless or neglectful in controlling their dog, there’s a greater possibility that you could receive a financial reward.
In New Jersey, dog owners are strictly liable when their dog bites someone. That means that the dog owner is responsible even if it was the first time the dog bit someone. There is a nuance to the law, however. If a dog knocks someone down but does not bite them, traditional negligence stands apply.