For Dog Bite Victims

Your State’s Dog Bite Laws

Here are Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips’ in-depth legal briefs for every U.S. state:

The 9 Issues that Determine Your Legal Rights as a Dog Bite Victim

Did the dog tend to bite people without legal justification before this accident? Did the owner know about it? If yes, the owner is liable in every state. (See The One Bite Rule.)

Did the person controlling the dog at the time of the accident know the dog tended to bite? If yes, that person is liable in every state. (See The One Bite Rule.)

Did the property owner or controller know the dog had this tendency? If yes, that person is liable in most states. (See Landlord Liability for Dog Bites.)

Did the bite occur in a state with a dog bite statute? If yes, the dog owner is liable. The harborer or keeper of the dog might also be liable, depending on the statute. A “harborer” gives food, water, and shelter to the dog. A “keeper” had temporary custody or control of the dog at the time of the accident. (See Statutory Strict Liability States.)

Was there a violation of an animal control law, like a leash law? If yes, the person with custody of the dog is liable if the violation caused the accident. (See Negligence Per Se for Violating a Leash Law or Other Animal Control Law.)

Did the person with custody of the dog do something negligent that caused the accident? If yes, that person is liable. Negligence means acting unreasonably under the circumstances. (See Negligence.)

Do you have good witnesses, graphic photographs, and other admissible evidence? If yes, you can prove your case in court. (See Proving Your Case.)

Can you beat common defenses like trespassing, provoking the dog, ignoring warnings, or acting negligently? If yes, you win.

Can you follow proper procedures? There are many rules, like notifying the government before making a claim and starting a lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires. Follow the rules to avoid losing your case.

If your injuries are substantial, talk to a lawyer like Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips, the author of Dog Bite Law. He has won difficult and unusual cases against various defendants. See His Greatest Cases.

The 3 Things a Dog Bite Victim Can Receive Money For

Economic damages cover medical costs, transportation expenses for medical reasons, and future medical costs for cosmetic treatment or surgery. They include loss of past income and future earning capacity. Other costs include defensive measures, loss of home value, torn clothing, past counseling, future psychological costs, and any other necessary out-of-pocket expenses due to the incident.

Non-economic damages include compensation for pain from the injury and treatment. They cover mental suffering, humiliation from scars, loss of quality of life, anxiety about future work, loss of future earning capacity, and the indignity of being handicapped.

Punitive damages can include statutory penalties or punitive damages. For example, a Wisconsin statute makes a dog owner liable for double damages if the owner knew the dog had previously injured a person, domestic animal, or property. Punitive damages apply when dog owners knew their dog was vicious but kept it and let it interact with people.

The exact amount of money depends on many factors. These include the victim’s age, gender, relationship to the defendants, injury nature and extent, scar appearance, and disability degree. Other factors include the laws where the incident happened, potential jurors’ attitudes, evidence strength, and the victim’s lawyer’s reputation.

To find out more:

There’s a video about this, called How Much Will I Get? by Attorney Kenneth Phillips.

How Long a Dog Bite Case Will Take If the Liable Party Has Insurance

If there’s insurance, reimbursement is available right away under the medical payments section of the liable party’s insurance policy. The usual limit is $1,000, but some policies provide more.

Full compensation is possible two or three months after the victim fully heals. The doctor must write a final medical report. A settlement is final, so waiting for full healing is necessary.

Having a lawyer does not delay the process. An experienced attorney knows what evidence is most convincing and how to get it quickly.

Sometimes, the other side refuses to settle or offers an unfairly low amount. When that happens, the victim must sue. Lawsuits against insured defendants usually settle after a while. It can take a few months to a year or two, depending on the attorney’s skills and courthouse workload.

To find out more:

There’s a video about this called “How Long Will It Take?” by Attorney Kenneth Phillips.

How Long a Dog Bite Case Will Take If the Liable Party Does Not Have Insurance

The time to be compensated depends on the method used to make the uninsured defendant pay.

Settlement: Some defendants agree to settle to avoid the costs and risks of a lawsuit. The paragraph above, starting with “Full compensation is possible,” applies to this type of settlement. The defendant will require the victim to sign a proper Release to prevent future lawsuits.

Restitution: A victim can receive reimbursement for medical costs, property damage, and lost income through criminal restitution. The defendant must be convicted of a related crime. The sentence must include restitution to the victim. A criminal case usually takes less than a year, but the defendant’s monthly payments are often very low.

Lawsuit: A victim can receive full or partial compensation through a lawsuit. Depending on the injuries, the lawsuit can be filed in small claims court or “regular” court. An attorney is usually not required in small claims court, but the recovery amount is limited to the court’s jurisdiction — $1,000 in some states, up to $25,000 in others. Parents often cannot sue on behalf of their children in small claims court but can do so through a lawyer in “regular” court. A case in this type of court usually takes several months. The victim receives only a “judgment” from the court. If the defendant does not pay the judgment, the victim must contact the sheriff to garnish wages, take money from the bank account, and seize property, which takes extra time.

If the injuries are moderate to serious, or the victim is a child, the lawsuit should be filed in “regular” court. This requires retaining a lawyer and paying legal costs and attorney fees every month. “Contingency fee” arrangements are rare when defendants have no insurance. A case in “regular” court takes from one year to several years.

The 7 Things to Do After a Dog Bite Victim Gets Bitten

  1. Obtain the names and addresses of witnesses, the dog owner, and the people who had custody of the dog when it bit you.
  2. Demand that the dog owner give you copies of his dog’s rabies vaccination records and his homeowners or renters insurance policy booklet and declarations page.
  3. Take photographs of the wounds and the area where the bite happened, including any “beware of dog” signs or the lack of signs.
  4. See a doctor to document your dog bite incident and obtain treatment. At the hospital, insist on a plastic surgeon for wounds on the face.
  5. Go to the animal control agency in your jurisdiction and make a report. Cooperate fully with the investigating officers. The report made at the hospital usually will not trigger a full investigation by the authorities.
  6. Retain an experienced lawyer like Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips unless the injuries are insignificant.
  7. If the dog owner’s insurance company calls you, get the following information: Name of insurance company, address of the adjuster’s office, telephone number, claim number, name of the insured, and monetary limits of the “liability coverage” and “medical expense coverage.”

The 8 Things to NOT Do After a Dog Bite Victim Gets Bitten

  1. Do not discuss money, payment, settlement, injury value, or anything else involving money.
  2. Do not accept any money.
  3. Do not set up an appointment.
  4. Do not write a letter or a memo.
  5. Do not mention the breed of the dog.
  6. Do not permit yourself to be tape-recorded.
  7. Do not allow the victim to be photographed.
  8. Do not discuss who is responsible for what happened.

The 9 Dog Bite Injuries Injuries that Always Require the Help of an Experienced Lawyer

You need a lawyer if the injuries are significant. Attorneys like Kenneth M. Phillips charge nothing unless they win your case. Attorney Phillips handles only dog attack cases and has been doing so since 1991. He represents families of people killed by dogs and victims with significant and moderate injuries across the USA. Mr. Phillips charges nothing until money comes in. Contact him or another attorney while the facts are fresh. Significant injuries include:

  1. Bite to the face.
  2. Bite to the genital area.
  3. Bite requiring stitches.
  4. Bite causing a broken bone.
  5. Bite that did not break the skin but pulled the victim to the ground, causing a broken bone or significant soft tissue injury.
  6. Bite that did not break the skin but forced the victim to take defensive actions, resulting in a broken bone or significant soft tissue injury.
  7. Bite that became infected and required an overnight hospital stay.
  8. Injuries causing unconsciousness or brain trauma.
  9. Injuries requiring an overnight hospital stay or causing death.

The 2 Dog Bite Injuries that Seem Minor but Require a Free Consultation Because They Might Be Significant

These two kinds of injuries usually appear minor at first but often turn out to be significant. Discuss them with an experienced lawyer as soon as possible:

  1. Bite that did not break the skin but caused a permanent bruise.
  2. Bite or scratch that caused a visible, significant scar (other than to the face, as any bite to the face produces a significant injury).

The One Letter to Read if the Dog Bite Victim is a Child

Fathers, read An Open Letter from a Dad about His Son’s Dog Bite Case.

Mothers, read A Mom’s Letter to Other Moms about Her Daughter’s Dog Bite Case.

The 15 Reasons Why Kids and Adults Need a Lawyer for a Dog Bite Case

Insurance companies try not to pay anything. Insurance companies pay only 15,000 to 17,000 of the 4.7 million Americans bitten each year. Without a lawyer, a victim has less than a 1% chance of getting justice.

Victims without lawyers are treated unfairly. An insurance adjuster will offer a victim 10% to 20% of what he would offer an attorney. The insurance company keeps the other 80% to 90%. If the victim has a lawyer, they receive 60% or more because the attorney’s fee is 33-1/3% to 40%.

Dog bite law is complicated. It is based on state statutes, county ordinances, municipal codes, and prior court cases. The legal doctrines include negligence, negligence per se, and comparative negligence. Other relevant laws include trespass, provocation, damages, evidence, and insurance. This combination makes dog bite law intricate and multifaceted.

Experienced lawyers know how much money you deserve. It is based on what was paid to similar dog bite victims in the past 10 years. You have no idea how much, and there is no book or website that will tell you.

Lawyers don’t charge money up front. So there is no downside to having a contingency fee lawyer handle the case. The initial consultation is free, and there won’t be a bill if you don’t have a good case.

The dog owners won’t be hurt if you hire a lawyer. Homeowners or renters insurance policies cover the costs without co-payments or deductibles. The dog owners won’t owe anything from their own pockets.

The lawyer won’t confront or harass the dog owners — won’t make them feel guilty or put them in a bad light. They won’t write threatening letters, embarrass them, foreclose on their home, drive them into bankruptcy, or have their dogs euthanized.

Getting a lawyer doesn’t mean you have to sue in court. A good attorney knows how to present a case to an insurance company in a way that probably will get it resolved without going to court.

It costs more than $1,000 to get the evidence, and your lawyer will pay it. A lawyer uses their own money to get official, reliable copies of medical evidence, professional photos, a private investigator to find out whether the dog ever acted viciously in the past, and at least one doctor to summarize all the medical evidence. This usually costs $1,000 to $2,000.

Your attorney will get you the right amount of money and help you keep it. When your health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid pays your medical bills, they will make a reimbursement claim against your case. Your attorney will negotiate with them to reduce their demands. If you owe your doctors, your lawyer will negotiate with them too.

Getting a lawyer early will help your case. Retaining an attorney early in the process means the insurance company will make a better estimate of how much money you should receive. This makes the claim easier to settle. If you try to represent yourself, you risk passing along the wrong information and insufficient evidence.

Having a lawyer won’t slow things down. Your case will get resolved after you heal because the dog owners’ insurance company will need to know how badly you were hurt. Your doctor will not write a final report until your injuries are healed or “permanent and stationary.” So how long it takes depends on how fast you heal, not whether you have a lawyer.

The money has to be protected and invested if the victim is a child. By law, you won’t be allowed to touch your child’s settlement money. It will be deposited into a special bank account, special annuity for accident victims, or both. If done correctly, all the interest will be tax-free. This requires a lawyer.

Your attorney will have a judge review the settlement if the victim is a child. This means going to court even if no lawsuit is filed. You should have a lawyer for this court hearing. Otherwise, you won’t have anyone to turn to when the judge asks questions.

Your lawyer will make a claim for you too if possible if the victim is a child. Sometimes a parent is also entitled to compensation because of a son or daughter’s accident. Most parents find it difficult to assert their own rights when fighting for their kids. An attorney helps parents get what they deserve too.


You can learn the basics about dog bite law by watching Dog Bite Law in 2 Minutes.

In-Depth Articles

Liability for Dog Bites to Human Beings

“Plain English” overview of dog bite law
Legal rights of dog bite victims in the USA
Legal rights of rescuers who incur dog bites
Legal rights of bystanders and family members
The “one bite rule”
What is a “bite”?
Vicious dogs
Protection dogs
Criminal penalties for dog bites
Dog parks and liability for dog bites
Electronic pet containment and liability for dog bites
Landlord liability for dog bites
Homeowner association liability for dog bites
Animal control liability for dog bites
Humane society liability for dog bites
Adoption organization liability for dog bites
Police liability for dog bites
Seller liability for dog bites
Liability for rabies
Medical malpractice and dog bite injuries
Model dog bite laws

Liability for Injuries to Dogs or by Means Other Than Bites

Liability for non-bite injuries
Liability when a dog is injured or killed

Proving Liability

What to do after a dog bite
Investigating the attacking dog
Bite reports
Ownership of a dog
Photography in dog bite cases
Beware of the “statute of limitations”
Does an adult need a lawyer for a dog bite claim?
Should parents get a lawyer for their injured child?
From parent to parent – an open letter about using a lawyer for your child
Do we have to file a lawsuit?
Dog bite victims need an attorney for “dog court”
Forms and templates for attorneys who represent dog bite victims
Tactics and strategies in dog bite lawsuits
Trespass by the victim as a defense
Meet Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips

What the Dog Bite Victim Can Receive

Compensation for the dog bite victim
Bodily and emotional injuries in dog bite cases
Finding the insurance that will cover a dog attack
What to do when there is no insurance
Bankruptcy and dog bites
Senior citizens and dog bites
Structured settlements in dog bite cases
How to know if you have a good case