Frequently Asked Questions


Answers to common questions

It’s tough to appeal a dog bite case. There are two different kinds of appeals. There is an appeal from a “dangerous dog hearing,” by a “dog court” judge. The other is an appeal from a civil lawsuit. Either way, you have to have legal grounds.

Mr. Phillips’ book, “Defending Your Dog – Win Your Case in Dog Court,” tells how to appeal from a “dangerous dog hearing.” It’s the only practical, reasonably priced solution. It’s available instantly from the Dog Bite Law Store.

The appeal of a civil trial is far more complicated and expensive. The grounds for appeal are very technical so a lawyer has to review the the trial transcript and the evidence. It takes days or weeks to do this, and costs many thousands of dollars because lawyers charge by the hour.

If the lawyer finds grounds for appeal, the costs grow higher because you have to go through the appeal process. Briefs have to be written, there often is a hearing by the appellate judges, and then you have to wait for them to make a written decision. Unfortunately, this part of the process usually costs tens of thousands of dollars in addition to what you already paid.

In the end, it might not be worth it to appeal a civil judgment. Most appeals fail and the loser usually has to pay the other party’s costs. Even if you win, the appellate court might just order a new trial, which means more expenses.

The bottom line is this. Appealing a decision made in “dog court” can be done efficiently, as described in Mr. Phillips’ book. Appealing a judgment from a civil court, however, takes years, it’s expensive, and you’ll probably lose. That’s why appealing a civil dog bite case isn’t practical. But sometimes you have to take the risk.

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 can’t solve the dog bite problem alone. It’s a social issue requiring support from others to change laws and policies.

For guidance, read Civics for Democracy by Katherine Isaac. It’s a fantastic resource for anyone aiming to change laws at any level of government.

To connect with others who share your goals, join the Dog Bite Law Group on Facebook. You’ll find motivated individuals discussing ways to enact new, fair laws. Together, you can make a difference.

Attorney Phillips has seen how a small group can influence lawmakers to introduce new laws. Learn how it’s done in Civics for Democracy and use the Dog Bite Law Group on Facebook as your starting point.

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 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?

Don’t try to handle your own dog bite case unless no blood was drawn, no bones broken, no sprains incurred, etc. Instead, contact Mr. Phillips about what happened and get his advice. Click “Contact” on the menu. He responds for free and will tell you your options.

Dog bite law is a combination of city laws, county laws, state statutes, and state cases. You have to research all four areas.

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

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

2. 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.

3. On the Internet, search for the term “Municipal code of [your city].”

For county law, contact the county clerk instead of the city clerk, and ask for the county code instead of the municipal code. Use the library and the Internet to do the same things mentioned for the city, above.

For state statutes and cases, go to Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA. It has a complete discussion of state statutes and cases.

The answer is no, because you’ll likely just be filing an insurance claim against the homeowners insurance or renters insurance where the dog lived. Most cases settle out of court once doctors have given a solid prognosis, usually about a year after the accident.

Some worry that hiring a lawyer will strain relationships with friends, neighbors, and family. However, an experienced lawyer can handle a dog bite claim without making accusations, taking money from people, or ruining relationships.

Dog lovers often fear that the lawyer might have the attacking dog put down. But you can instruct your attorney not to take such action, and they must obey your wish.

Another fear is that legal fees will significantly reduce the victim’s settlement. However, attempting to handle it without a lawyer can leave 80-90% of the settlement in the hands of the insurance company, so the victim loses that amount. A lawyer typically charges only 25-33%, making it cheaper to hire one because the victim will “lose” only 25-33%.

Lastly, some worry about having to pay legal costs upfront. But lawyers representing dog bite victims usually don’t charge anything upfront. They’re paid out of the settlement or judgment when the case is resolved.

If you want to hear from other parents (a mom whose daughter was bitten, and a dad whose son was attacked), read From Parent to Parent.

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. It originally went after my dog and I tried to separate the dogs and I was bit in the process. Bit in three places on my index finger and I went to the hospital and the hospital reported it to animal control.

I have spoken to a couple of attorneys. But there is no renters insurance or homeowners 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 should get a lawyer. Lawyers cost money, but some work for a share of what you win. This is called “working on contingency.” If you win nothing, you owe no legal fees. The lawyer gets paid from the money won in the case. But if the dog owner has no insurance, you might not get compensated, so finding a lawyer to work on contingency might be tough.

If a lawyer won’t take your case, you can go to small claims court. You won’t get full value, but you’ll get something.

To succeed in small claims court, learn how to present your case there. It’s different from what you see on TV! Look up “small claims court” on for guidance on how to do it.

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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