Have you been bitten by a dog?  If so, you’re not alone- each year over 500,000 people in the US get bit by dogs, and 12 of them die. Not surprisingly, the majority of dog bite victims are children. So what happens if you (or your child) are bitten by your neighbor’s dog, and you’re stuck with over $1500 in doctor bills?

Obviously, the first thing you’ll want to do is to present your neighbor with the bill and ask him to pay it. If he refuses, he may do so on the grounds that you (or your child) somehow provoked the dog into aggressive action. In that case, you’ll probably want to take him to court.  Here are four simple steps to help ensure success.

STEP ONE: Do Your Research

Dog bites are so common that every state has enacted a statute on how to handle them (and animal attacks in general). Before you file suit, make certain to research your state’s dog bite statute.

Most states have adopted a strict liability standard in their dog bite statute, which holds the dog’s owner responsible for any harm they may cause, regardless of whether the dog is or isn’t normally aggressive, and whether the owner was somehow negligent. Depending upon your state, the dog bite statute might apply to non-bite injuries as well as bites.  CLICK HERE for a complete list of state dog bite statutes.

Some states have adopted the “One Bite” rule (also known as the “First Bite Free” rule), which shields a dog owner from liability for injuries resulting from the dog’s first attack, but doesn’t protect him from any liability for subsequent attacks. However, if the dog in question is a breed generally perceived as aggressive (i.e., a Pit Bull), the owner may not be able to take advantage of the One Bite rule.

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Step Two: Gather Evidence

If your state has adopted a One Bite rule, determine the breed of the dog and research it thoroughly to determine whether it has violent tendencies. If you have personal knowledge of this, great, but if you don’t, ask the dog owner’s neighbors. Other facts that may be relevant to the case is if the dog was meant to be a guard dog, or was mistreated or left alone for extended periods of time. These circumstances make dogs more aggressive, and these facts would help your case.

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Step Three: Prepare for the Defendant’s Argument

Depending on the circumstances, the dog’s owner may argue that you somehow provoked the attack, or was trespassing on his or her property. Be prepared to counter those arguments as best as you can.

Step Four: Prove Your Damages

Proving damages in a dog-bite case is relatively straightforward. Summarize your medical bills, and bring copies for the court and the defendant.

Some plaintiffs try to push the envelope by claiming consequential damages such as pain and suffering. After all, dog attacks can be extremely traumatic, especially for small children, and the long-term affects (phobias, etc.) can be far worse than the out-of-pocket medical expenses. If you want to include pain and suffering as an element of your damages, consider bringing the case in superior court.

Click here to read an article on pain and suffering damages.

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