Can You Sue for a Dog Bite?

Dog bites are no laughing matter. The inside of a dog’s mouth is full of germs; and when a dog bites, both the bite itself, and the possible infection, can inflict serious damage. As a general rule, a dog’s owner is responsible for any damage caused, although you may be at fault if you trespassed on the owner’s property, or if you provoked the dog. So can you sue for a dog bite? The short answer, of course, is yes.

Who bears responsibility for a dog bite?

Unlike most personal injury lawsuits, the defendant in a dog bite lawsuit won’t be the “perpetrator.” Most state laws consider the dog’s owner to be the responsible party, but others may specify the dog’s “harborer” or “keeper.” If the suit is for a significant amount, you’ll want to hire an attorney to handle it, and he or she will know how to determine the responsible party.

If the amount you wish to sue for is modest, you may be able to pursue your claim in small claims court. Normally, you can’t be represented by a lawyer in small claims court, i.e. during the hearing or trial. But you are free to pay an attorney for advice if you so choose.

(By the way: states also vary on the degree to which you can sue if it is not you, but your dog or another pet, which has been bitten.)

Dog biting person

Here are the things you can do if you, a loved one, or one of your pets are bitten by a dog.

1. If there are any witnesses to the incident, get their names and phone numbers. Also, of course, determine who owns the dog, and collect this information as well.

2. Seek treatment for the dog bite. But first, take photos. And of course, save the bills.

3. File an official report of the incident with the police department, which may have a special animal control department. Ask what is to be done about the dog. If prior incidents have been reported, depending on local statutes, the owner may be required to take additional steps to contain the dog, or perhaps even destroy it.

4. Discuss the case with a lawyer. Bring all the information you have collected. Depending on the severity of the case, you may wish to first contact the owner and seek restitution informally; to sue in small claims court; or to sue in regular civil court.

5. Where applicable, proceed with the lawsuit. While you generally cannot be represented directly by a lawyer in small claims court, you can receive advice. Review local and state statutes. Sometimes, courthouses provide free brochures on how to use small claims court.

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