Legal Issues in Kentucky Dog Bite Claims

On Behalf of | Feb 10, 2021 | Injuries

Animal attacks account for over a third of all homeowners’ insurance claims in Kentucky. These policies usually apply even if the dog bite occurred at a dog park or another location away from home. These claims are quite high. Mostly because of the severe injuries involved, as outlined below, the average settlement is well over $30,000. Because of the volume and amount, many insurance companies fight these claims tenaciously. They do not want to set an unfavorable precedent, and they do not want to pay damages to victims.

So, if you or a loved one was seriously hurt by a dog bite, you need a tenacious Lexington personal injury lawyer. Only a highly-experienced attorney can properly evaluate your claim. Kentucky’s dog bite laws are rather complex. Furthermore, your lawyer must diligently prepare your claim and be ready to go the distance for you. A lawyer should never look for the easy way out in a dog bite claim against a large insurance company.

Dog Bite Injuries

Most dog bites cause visible and invisible injuries. Typically, these injuries are permanent, at least to an extent.

Many dog bite injuries are not bite injuries at all. When aggressive dogs lunge at victims, the knockdown often causes wounds like broken bones and head injuries. In many states, these victims only have limited legal options. But as outlined below, Kentucky’s strict liability law is very broad.

Once dogs bite, their teeth normally cause severe tearing lacerations as well as deep puncture wounds. The lacerations normally require reconstructive surgery at specialized trauma centers. The puncture wounds normally cause excessive internal bleeding, which is hard to detect and hard to stop.

Especially if the victim is a small child, dog bites often trigger Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-types symptoms. Examples include nightmares, heightened awareness, flashbacks, and depression. These effects make it very difficult, or even impossible, to function at home, school, or anywhere else.

Liability Theories

As mentioned, Kentucky has one of the broadest strict liability laws in the country. Owners are liable for all injuries and damage to “a person, livestock, or other property.” These damages usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

The elements of a strict liability claim are rather easy to prove in court, especially since the burden of proof (a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not) is rather low. However, many Kentuckians have a negative view of such strict liability laws. They view these provisions as dog ownership financial penalties.

As a result, a negligence claim might be a better alternative. Even pet owner jurors are usually willing to award damages if the owner displayed a lack of care. There are basically three kinds of negligence actions in this context:

  • Negligence Per Se: Lexington and other municipalities usually have stiff animal restraint rules, like fence laws and leash laws. If the owner violates one of these rules, and that violation substantially causes injury, the owner could be liable for damages as a matter of law.
  • Scienter (Knowledge): Liability could also attach if the owner knew the animal was potentially vicious. Evidence of knowledge includes prior attacks against people, and possibly prior attacks against animals, as well as pre-bite behavior, like baring of teeth and vicious growling.
  • Ordinary Negligence: Pet owners and non-owners alike have a duty of reasonable care. If they violate that duty of care, perhaps by allowing a child to play with a strange dog, they could be responsible for damages. 

Negligence claims also raise the specter of third party liability. For example, if the negligent non-owner was a daycare teacher, the daycare might be financially responsible for damages. Landlords could also be vicariously liable for damages, if they allowed tenants to keep dangerous dogs in violation of a lease agreement.

Possible Defenses

The provocation defense almost always comes up in these claims. This defense is available in both strict liability and negligence matters. Provocation is basically an offshoot of comparative fault. This defense shifts part or all of the blame for the injury from the owner or other negligent party to the victim.

This defense is only available in limited situations. Victims cannot unintentionally provoke dogs by making loud noises or sudden movements. Furthermore, young children cannot provoke animals, as a matter of law.

Assumption of the risk is a common negligence defense. It excuses negligence if the victim voluntarily assumed a known risk. As a practical matter, this defense is usually available if the owner displayed a “Beware of Dog” or other warning sign. A sign is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. The insurance company must prove the victim saw the sign, could read it, and could understand its meaning.

Dog bite victims have several legal options. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Home and hospital visits are available. #goodelawyers