Obtaining Compensation Following a Dog Bite

by | May 12, 2021 | Injuries

Animal attacks account for about a third of the homeowners insurance claims in Kentucky. Mostly because doctors better understand the nature of these injuries, the average amount of medical bills has increased substantially since 2010.

Most victims suffer three layers of injury. The physical injuries, from both the knockdown and the bite, are just the most obvious injuries. They’re also often the most serious injuries. These wounds are usually permanent, at least to an extent. Emotionally, many victims, especially children, must deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type effects. Symptoms like flashbacks and nightmares make it difficult or impossible to function at school, home, or pretty much anywhere else.

Finally, dog bites have very high infection rates. That’s especially true if the animal attacks the victim in a rural area. The extra few minutes to the hospital can often make a great deal of difference. Sometimes, a Lexington personal injury attorney must file a separate claim to obtain compensation for these injuries.

This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages are sometimes available as well, in some extreme cases.

Liability Theories

Victims in Kentucky have several legal options. The best one usually depends on the facts of the case.

Strict Liability

Section 258.235 is one of the broadest strict liability laws in the country. It essentially presumes that if a dog attacks someone, it is vicious. That presumption sometimes makes it easier to obtain the additional punitive damages mentioned above.

The law doesn’t just apply to owners. It applies to a “keeper” or “anyone acting on behalf of that [owner].” This category includes people like dog walkers, pet sitters, or veterinarians. This provision is often significant. If a dog bites someone while under a vet’s care, the hospital or clinic which employed the vet could be financially responsible for damages.

Ironically, the board nature of this law turns some people, especially pet owners, off. They view its provisions as a pet ownership financial penalty. That’s particularly true if the owner only recently acquired the dog or the animal was a rescue pet. In previous cases, people who owned dogs for only a few minutes were liable for damages. Furthermore, many shelters and prior owners aren’t entirely upfront when it comes to things like a dog’s vicious tendencies.

Strict liability claims are not absolute. They’re subject to the provocation defense, which is discussed below.

Scienter (Knowledge)

This doctrine is an offshoot of the common law one-bite rule. Owners could be liable for damages if they knew the animal was potentially dangerous and failed to properly control it. Evidence of viciousness includes:

  • Menacing growling,

  • Aggressive barking,

  • Sudden lunging,

  • Baring of teeth, and

  • Previous attacks of other people or animals.

Many pet owners are decidedly un-sympathetic to these owners. They often feel that such careless owners give other owners a bad name. Therefore, most jurors are willing to award maximum compensation in scienter claims.

The obvious drawback is that scienter is not available in all cases. Most owners know whether the animal is dangerous or not, and most take proper precautions.

Negligence Per Se

Most municipalities and counties have leash laws, fence laws, and other animal restraint laws. If the owner violated such a law and that violation caused injury, the owner could be liable for damages as a matter of law. Even the provocation defense might not save such an owner.

The problem is that it’s hard to connect an injury to a leash law violation. The dog bit the victim. The fact that the dog wasn’t wearing a leash hurt no one. At best, the legal violation contributes to the injury. Some judges buy this analysis and some do not.

The Provocation Defense

This defense, or a variation of it, is one of the most common defenses in dog bite claims. As mentioned, it even applies in strict liability cases.

In the everyday world, provocation is usually accidental or at least not malicious. One spouse sometimes provokes the other one not out of malice, but out of a desire to start a fight. Furthermore, some people consider things like sudden moves or loud noises as provocative actions.

But a court of law is different. Provocation is an intentional act which is also usually physical. You cannot accidentally provoke a dog. Furthermore, mere teasing sometimes isn’t enough. In most cases, the victim must inflict so much physical pain on the animal that it had to respond violently to defend itself.

Usually, if this defense applies, the jury divides fault between the two parties on a percentage basis. Kentucky is a pure comparative fault state. So, even if the victim was 99 percent responsible for the attack, the owner is liable for a proportionate share of damages.

Dog bite victims are entitled to significant compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money. #goodelawyers