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The short answer is that it is impractical to appeal the loss of a dog bite case. This answer assumes that the case involved a human who was bitten by a dog, there was a claim for monetary compensation, there was no settlement, the case went to trial, and the verdict was something that favored the defendant who allegedly was responsible for the damages to the victim. In other cases, the general analysis provided in the following paragraphs might not apply. For example, if the case was a so-called “dangerous dog hearing,” then it was heard by a “dog court” judge, and the appeal process is entirely different.

To appeal a case that ended in a judgment favoring the defendant, there have to be grounds. The grounds are found in the court records. An attorney must be retained to review the court records, the transcript of the trial, and the content of the evidence admitted and excluded from the trial. The attorneys who do this type of work charge by the hour. This work is not done on a contingency fee basis. It is, to put it bluntly, expensive. Just the review of the record is usually thousands of dollars.

After that, the attorney who handles the appeal also will charge by the hour. A complicated appeal can take weeks of work. Again, this part is expensive, meaning in the thousands. By time the appeal is concluded, it probably would cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Appeals usually are lost. The vast majority of the time, the lower court did not make a mistake and therefore the appeal is fruitless. But this too can cost you, because you might be ordered to pay the opposing party’s costs.

Even if an appeal is won, the higher court might be simply ordering a new trial. Whatever the former trial cost, the new trial could cost.

Additionally, the new trial will require a trial attorney. The former attorney fully performed his or her obligation and therefore is entitled to a fee. The new attorney likewise will want a fee. Even if it is the same attorney, the work is being done twice and therefore a higher fee of some sort is required.

All of this takes years. It is expensive. It probably will result in losing. For that reason, appealing a dog bite case is not a practical option.

If you were bitten by a dog:

  • Chat with Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips. It’s done by email to protect your privacy. Hit “Contact” above. Tell him about your dog bite and he will discuss your options without charging you anything.

If you are a lawyer:

  • Tell Attorney Phillips about your case and he will suggest solutions. Send him an email message (hit “Contact” above).
  • Get a set of the same Dog Bite Litigation Forms that he uses for dog bite cases all over the USA.
  • Watch Anatomy of a Dog Bite Case, his “tips and tricks” seminar for plaintiffs’ lawyers. It’s an instant download you view on your computer.

If your dog was injured or killed:

If you are a dog professional:

You don’t personally have the resources to rid your community of irresponsible dog owners and vicious dogs. But you still can make it happen.

It is not possible to do so on your own, because the dog bite problem presents social issues, and therefore you need the backing of a few other people to change not only the laws but also the policies that are involved in enforcing the laws.

The best guide to changing the law is Civics for Democracy by Katherine Isaac. It is a thoroughly great book that should be studied by anyone who wants to change local, state or national laws. The insights and strategies contained in this book are sound and helpful.

To reach like-minded and motivated people, join the Dog Bite Law Group on Facebook. You will be startled to read what is being discussed there, and will find others who are interested in doing what you want to do: enact new, adequate and reasonable laws. Together you can accomplish this goal.

Attorney Phillips has said, “When I have been involved in the legislative process pertaining to the passing of new and improved dog laws, I have seen how just a few people — just 3 or 4 people — can prompt a lawmaker to introduce a new law.” Civics for Democracy by Katherine Isaac will show you how it is done, and the Dog Bite Law Group can be your launching pad.

flag gavel“My son was bitten in a one bite state. I contacted the homeowner’s insurance company of the dog owner. They told me that there is a ‘first free bite’ rule, and said they will not pay anything over $1,000. Is there nothing that I can do?”

In your state, you have to produce evidence of one (not all, but just one) of the following causes of action:

The one bite rule. You need proof that (a) the dog previously behaved viciously toward people, and (b) the dog owner knew about that previous vicious behavior.

Negligence per se. You have to prove that the other party violated an animal control ordinance at the time of the accident in question. To do so, you have to show (a) the existence of a city, county or state law that regulated the confinement or control of the dog, and (b) proof that there was a violation of that law at the time of the accident. Typical examples are a leash law, a law that prohibits dogs from be at large, and a law that prohibits dogs from trespassing on private property or being present in certain public places. An important and often overlooked example is a prior order from the animal control authorities, requiring special confinement or control of that particular dog. Be sure to read the note below.

Negligence. The negligence can be on the part of almost anyone whose unreasonable behavior caused or contributed toward the accident. See the note, below.

Note: Before you use any negligence theory, check to see whether your state recognizes the cause of action for negligence. Type the name of your state in the Google search box, above. Then click on the link to the law of your state on the dogbitelaw.com website.

For more information, see Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA and be sure to read Should Parents Get a Lawyer for Their Injured Child?

law booksFirst, if you are a dog bite victim, you should not attempt to handle your case yourself unless no blood was drawn, bones broken, sprains incurred, etc. Instead, send Mr. Phillips a message and start a discussion with him about your incident. If you have other reasons for researching the law, keep reading.

There are four equally important sources of dog bite law. You have to research all of them. They are the city laws, county laws, state statutes, and state cases.

For city law, do one or more of the following:

Contact your city clerk and ask for a written copy of the dog laws of your city.

Go to the nearest library or law library, and ask the reference librarian to (a) show you the municipal code of your city, and (b) help you find the dog laws.

On the Internet, the best resources for city law are listed on the Links page of this web site. Another Internet source would be your city’s website, if there is one. You also can contact your city clerk and ask whether the municipal code is online; if so, get the URL (i.e., the online address).

For county law, contact the county clerk instead of the city clerk, and ask the clerk or librarian for the county code instead of the municipal code. Counties frequently have websites, which are good sources of all kinds of practical information. The link page of this website also leads to county codes.

For state statutes, go to Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA. It has a complete discussion of state statutes and cases. If your state has a dog bite statute, you will find a link to it. There are also links to some jurisdictions that do not have dog bite statutes.

For state laws that are not mentioned on this website, use Findlaw . First click on the name of your state. Then select “Primary materials – Cases, Codes and Regulations.” Then click on “Statutes” or “Revised Statutes” to find the statutory laws (the best place to start). Search for the word “dog” and read everything that comes up.

For state cases, follow the directions for state statutes on this website. If you want to find a case that is not on Dog Bite law, first you need to be warned about something. It takes a legal education to understand the meaning of court decisions, and to know how to apply court decisions to specific incidents. If you want to try, find the cases on Findlaw or on FastSearch. However, it is highly recommended that you try to find on Dog Bite Law the analysis that you need.

No, because you will probably just be making an insurance claim. 99 out of 100 of these cases are settled out of court just as soon as the doctors are ready to make a solid “prognosis.” That is usually about one year from the date of the accident. So this is not going to be like what you see in movies and on TV.

Some fear that getting an attorney will make people angry and lead to bad relationships with friends, neighbors and family members. That also is not true; an experienced lawyer knows how to press a dog bite claim without even making accusations in most cases, without taking money out of anyone’s pocket, and without destroying relationships.

Dog lovers sometimes fear that their attorney will have the attacking dog put down. That is not true; you are entitled to tell the lawyer to take no such action, and he or she is required to obey your wish.

parents kidsAnother fear is that the legal fees will make the victim’s net settlement a lot smaller. That also is not true. A person who tries to act like a lawyer will end up leaving 80-90% of the settlement “on the table.” This will “cost” the victim that 80-90%. A “real” lawyer will cost only 25-33% of the settlement. So getting a lawyer is actually cheaper than trying to do it yourself.

Finally, people fear having to pay legal costs out of their own pockets. That doesn’t ever happen. Lawyers who represent dog bite victims do not charge the victims anything up front. When the case is over, the lawyer is paid out of the settlement or judgment.

Want to read a letter from a father who made a dog bite claim for his son? He addresses all of these issues from the standpoint of a concerned parent. If so, click here.

You are right to be concerned. Not only are your children in danger, but if they are regarded as “residents” of your ex’s household, they are barred from making a claim under the homeowners or renters insurance policy. To solve this problem, you need to talk to your divorce lawyer. You and that attorney might decide that a custody order modification would be beneficial. To assist in proving the dog is vicious, the divorce lawyer could seek input from an animal behaviorist or attorney who has experience in dog bite cases.

There are good reasons to take action if you are bitten by a dog or if your dog was attacked by another dog.

Reasons to report the incident to Animal Control

  • Animal control needs to know. They can’t fix a situation that they don’t know is broken.
  • The dog owner needs a reality check. He likes to think that his dog is an asset. He needs to learn it is a danger and a liability.
  • The dog might need confining. The dog owner might be ordered to muzzle it, keep it in a pen, take it out of the jurisdiction, or put it down.

Reasons to make an insurance claim

  • Medical bills that are piling up.
  • Medical bills for future treatment. Remember, your health insurance is not going to cover cosmetic treatment. Why should you have to pay for this out of your own pocket?
  • Loss of income.
  • Loss of future earning capacity, if the victim ends up with a disability or a bad scar on the face.
  • Pain. Even if your bills are paid, how is a settlement fair if the victim isn’t compensated for all the pain?
  • Suffering. This refers to mental suffering, anxiety about being around dogs, humiliation at being scarred.
  • Doing something about that dog. If the dog that bit you is vicious, the dog owner’s insurance company might put pressure on the dog owners to get rid of it.

Reasons an attorney will represent you better than you can

  • Settle for a fair and adequate amount of money. Asking an insurance company for money is, well, just asking. Demanding what’s fair is something that an attorney can do, because only an attorney can file a lawsuit.
  • Reduce the medical bills and health insurance liens. Yes, your health insurance and doctors are going to claim part of the settlement, so you need a lawyer to deal with them.
  • Invest the “parked” money so it is safe and tax free. When the victim is a child, you need to plan ahead. Do you really think it will help him, or her, to receive tens of thousands of dollars the day of turning 18 years of age? With a lawyer, there will be a tax-sheltered annuity which will dole out the necessary money at a schedule that you yourself will set.
  • Represent the family at the confirmation hearing. When a child is injured, there is no settlement without a confirmation hearing at court. It doesn’t matter whether you get a lawyer or not: there still will be this hearing (but don’t worry: the dog owners are not invited to it). Now, you either will be represented at this hearing, or only the insurance company will be represented. In other words, either you will know what is going to happen to your child’s money, or you will be leaving it in the hands of the lawyer for the dog owners. The choice is obvious.
  • Take the pressure off you. Why should you have to research everything, read laws, fight the insurance adjuster, fight the insurance company’s attorney, etc.? You might say the wrong thing and hurt the case. Why not just concentrate on healing and let someone else handle the claim? Especially because it’s done on a contingency fee basis — in other words, at no up-front cost to you.
  • Eliminate any questions or resentments in the future.
  • Advance all of the costs of proving the loss. It takes money to put together evidence that an insurance company will accept. Why spend it when the attorney is willing to advance it?

A person wrote this message to Mr. Phillips:

I was bit by a dog at a dog park by this ladies dog cause it originally went after my dog and I tried to separate the dogs and I was bit in the process in three places on my index finger and I went to the hospital and the hops reported it to animal control… I have spoke to a couple of attorneys.
But there is no renters insurance or home owners insurance.
she does have car insurance
and a husband too
I have her husbands name too.
I was wondering how I would go about all this.
my hospital bill is 3,000 right now and I saw a hand specialist for I think 207.00
Not sure about what to do?
can you help me figure things out here?


Mr. Phillips replied:

You need to retain a lawyer. However, if there is no insurance then there probably won’t be a monetary recovery, and so you cannot actually offer anything to a contingency fee lawyer for his or her services. (“Contingency fee lawyer” means one who works on a “no recovery, no fee” basis.)

If you can’t retain an attorney, then you have to bring an action in the small claims court for whatever the court can provide for you. It won’t be full value but at least you can do something.

Sometimes a person who claims he doesn’t have insurance will get a small claims court summons and say, “that’s it, I’m turning this in to my insurance company!” In that event, you will hear from that company or from an attorney. If that happens, don’t go any further on your own; start looking for a lawyer again, because only a lawyer will be able to get you full value for your injuries.

To make an effective presentation to the small claims court judge, review the materials provided online that pertain to presenting a case in small claims court. Don’t assume that small claims court is like anything you see on television, because it just isn’t!

one bite statesThe one bite states are those which follow the English rule for determining the civil liability of owners of domestic animals (including but not limited to dogs) that injure a person.

A minority of American states continue to follow the one bite rule. For a diagram showing those states, look to the right of this paragraph.

The one bite states have seen the greatest number of fatal dog attacks in recent years. There is no state-by-state study of dog bites, so it is not possible to compare the number of bites in one bite states to the number in strict liability states.

To read more about the one bite rule, see the home page of Dog Bite Law and also The One Bite Rule.

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