What to Do After a Dog Bite and When to Hire a Lawyer

It can be difficult to know what to do after a dog bite and when to hire a lawyer. Approximately 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs on an annual basis, and while most dog bites do not require medical attention, thousands of dog bite injuries are treated in emergency rooms and hospitals each year. In fact, about 1,000 U.S. citizens receive emergency care for serious dog bite injuries every day. Dog bites can result in severe injuries, especially when the victim is a child. Here’s a guide.

What is considered a dog bite?

Any bite wound inflicted by a dog is considered a dog bite. Dogs’ jaws can create a tremendous amount of pressure when biting, which can cause substantial damage to bones, muscles, tendons, blood vessels, and nerves. The main medical issues caused by dog bites are:

  • Skin damage.
  • Injuries to body tissues under the skin.
  • The significant potential for infection of the wound.
  • Permanent impairment.
  • Permanent disfigurement.

While many states have specific statutes addressing dog bite liability.  Texas generally goes by the “one bite” rule, which means a dog owner may not be liable if this was the first time their dog has bitten someone.  However, there are exceptions to that rule.  A skilled and experienced dog bite injury lawyer can gather evidence to prove the dog had vicious propensities and was a dangerous dog prior to the dog bite, which some courts have allowed to show the dog owner’s may be liable for the first bite.

Do I have to pay my own hospital or medical bills from a dog bite?

Hospital bills from a vicious dog bite can be into the thousands.  And the costs of surgery, even sometimes plastic surgery, can be in the tens of thousands.   A dog bite victim can sometimes recover full compensation from the dog owner’s home owner’s insurance or renter’s insurance policy. If the dog owner is insured, most policies will provide $100,000 to $300,000 in liability coverage. However, some companies refuse to insure pit bulls, rottweilers, or other known dangerous dog breeds, so it’s possible that injuries from an attack by one of these breeds may not be covered by the owner’s insurance policy.  Contact an experienced dog bite injury lawyer to discuss filing a lawsuit to pursue the proper compensation.

Over half the states in the country impose strict liability on a dog’s owner, which means owners are legally liable to anyone their dog bites. Texas, however, follows the “One Bite rule”, which requires dog bite victims to establish liability by proving that the dog’s owner knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous. If the dog has bitten before, this is usually considered satisfactory evidence that the dog’s owner knew the dog was capable of biting again.

What do I do if I know who owns the dog?

Regardless of if you know who owns the dog or not, the first thing you should do is seek emergency medical treatment if you need it. However, in non-emergency situations where you know who owns the dog that bites you and the owner is present, you should exchange names and contact information as soon as possible. You should also obtain the names and contact information of any witnesses to the incident.

If the dog bite requires non-emergency medical attention, you should still see a doctor immediately. The biggest concern after a dog bite is the risk of infection, as about half of dog bites introduce infection-causing bacteria. There is also the concern of rabies. You should always ask the owner for proof that the dog has an up-to-date rabies vaccination. If they cannot show you proof, it’s best to get a rabies shot just in case. 

After you receive any medical treatment that you need, you should contact your local animal control department and police department to notify them of the incident. These steps will make certain there is documentation of the incident. You should then contact a lawyer who has experience with personal injury cases to help you pursue your right to be compensated for your dog bite injuries.

What do I do if I don’t know who owns the dog?

If you don’t know who owns the dog, you should call 911 right away, and then either you or the dispatcher can contact animal control. You should then clean the injured area to avoid transmitting infection-causing bacteria that could cause an infection, and get proper medical attention and a rabies vaccination as soon as possible. Since you won’t be able to confirm if the dog has vaccinations, you’ll want to seek immediate medical attention to protect yourself.

Once you have received the medical treatment that you need, you should ask around the neighborhood to see if anyone knows the dog or who it belongs to.  Write down the address where the bite occurred and go back with a friend (witness) to ask that homeowner if it was their dog,  If it is not theirs they may know who the dog belongs to in the neighborhood. If that is unsuccessful, contact an experienced dog bite injury lawyer to help investigate and find the dog owner.  You can check with animal control officers, the local police department, or workers at the Humane Society or other local shelters. These individuals are often aware of dogs in the area that have been reported for vicious behavior.

If you’ve been bitten by an unknown dog, you should also contact an experienced dog bite attorney near you. An experienced attorney can assist you in investigating the facts of your case and locating the dog that bit you in order for you to receive compensation.

When should I sue the dog owner because of a dog bite?

If your injuries are significant, you should consider suing the dog owner to ensure you are fully reimbursed for your injuries. The types of dog bite injuries that are typically expensive and serious include:

  • Bites to the face or genitals.
  • Bites that become infected.
  • Bites that do not break the skin but cause a permanent bruise.
  • Bites that cause a visible, significant scar.
  • Bites that require stitches.
  • Bites that cause a broken bone or a significant soft tissue injury.
  • Injuries that cause brain trauma or loss of consciousness.
  • Injuries that require an overnight stay in the hospital.

Retaining an attorney early in the process will keep the insurance company from playing games with you and help you receive the compensation you deserve for your injury. Having an attorney can make the claim easier to settle (for you, not the insurance company) because experienced dog bite lawyers have a wealth of knowledge about these kinds of cases.

What type of settlement should I expect for a dog bite?

For the year 2019, the average settlement for dog bite claims in the United States was $43,653. In Texas, the average settlement was a little lower than the average, at $40,853.70. The national average cost per claim has risen 134% between 2003 to 2019, due to the increased cost of medical care, as well as the size of settlements and jury awards given to victims, which are both trending upwards.

How long does it take to get paid by a dog bite settlement?

If the dog owner is insured and a lawsuit needs to be filed, it can take a year or more before your case may be settled or get to a jury trial. Case resolution in dog bite injury cases depends on the facts of how the bite occurred, how severe the bite injuries are, and how hard the dog owner and their insurance company want to fight your case.  We also factor in that dog bite injuries take time to fully heal. With dog bite cases, settlement negotiations with the insurance company will usually not start until the victim is completely healed.

Most dog bite claims are resolved through a settlement without taking the case to court. However, if the insurance company refuses to cover your expenses and fully pay for your damages, a dog bite lawsuit gives you the opportunity to fully explore your injury damages. 

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