Legal Issues in Dog Bite Claims

by | Aug 2, 2022 | Injuries

Medical bill inflation and a better understanding of dog bite injuries are the two biggest reasons that the average insurance payout in these cases recently hit an all-time high. During and after the Great Recession, medical bill inflation was relatively flat. Lately, it’s steadily increased, usually faster than overall inflation. The emotional injuries in dog bite cases usually include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Youngsters, which make up most dog bite victims, are especially prone to PTSD.

A Lexington personal injury attorney is never satisfied with an “average” settlement in a personal injury case. Instead, lawyers exhaust all options to obtain maximum compensation for serious injuries. The major legal options in a dog bite case are explored below. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages are available as well, in a few extreme cases.

Scienter (Knowledge)

The so-called one bite rule, a doctrine which dates back hundreds of years, is valid in all states, including Kentucky. In a nutshell, owners are legally responsible for dog bite injuries if they knew a dog could be dangerous yet they didn’t take adequate precautions to stop an attack. Evidence on this point includes:

  • Prior attacks of people,
  • Previous judicial determination that the dog is vicious,
  • Prior attacks of other animals, and
  • Pre-bite behavior, such as sudden lunging or vicious growling.

Note that the amount of time the owner had the dog usually isn’t relevant. If Bill rescues a dog, takes the dog home, and the dog bites a visitor, Bill could be liable for damages, if the animal acted in a menacing way.

Victim/plaintiffs must only establish knowledge by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). That’s one of the lowest burdens of proof in Kentucky law.

Negligence

Ordinary negligence is basically a lack of ordinary care. In Kentucky, the duty of care usually depends on the relationship between the owner and victim, as follows:

  • Invitee (permission to be on the property and benefit to the owner),
  • Licensee (permission but no benefit), and
  • Trespasser (no permission and no benefit).

Almost all business and social guests are invitees, since the benefit in question could be economic or noneconomic. Because of this close relationship, the owner usually has a duty of reasonable care.

This responsibility kicks in if the owner knew, or should have known, about a hazard which causes injury. Evidence on this point includes the aforementioned scienter evidence. The burden of proof is the same as well.

Negligence per se is a violation of a safety law. Most area municipalities have fence laws, muzzle laws, leash laws, and various other animal restraint laws. If an owner violates such a law, and that violation substantially causes injury, the owner could be responsible for damages as a matter of law, unless a defense applies.

Strict Liability

The one-bite rule is valid in all states, but only some states, including Kentucky, have a strict liability law. Kentucky’s strict liability law is unusually broad. Quite simply, “Any owner whose dog is found to have caused damage to a person, livestock, or other property shall be responsible for that damage.” So, this law applies not only to the bite, but also to the knockdown, when a dog lunges at a victim. Frequently, the knockdown is worse than the bite, especially if the victim is a small child or elderly adult.

Ironically, this law is so broad that it sometimes works against victims. Generally, several jurors, or maybe even all of them, are pet owners. Owners sometimes view broad strict liability laws as criminal penalties. That’s especially true in situations like the one involving our friend Bill. If the owner truly didn’t know the dog was dangerous, many jurors hesitate to award maximum compensation. If the owner simply ignored this evidence, that’s different.

Provocation

This defense is available in all three categories (strict liability, scienter, and negligence). In the everyday world, provocation is usually unintentional, or at least non-malicious. For example, I might post something on Twitter that rubs people the wrong way and provokes angry reactions. 

However, in a court of law, provocation has a much narrower meaning. In fact, the P-word is almost synonymous with torturing. Victims only provoke animals if they inflict so much physical pain on them that the animals react violently in self-defense.

Therefore, provocation is almost impossible to prove if the victim was a child under eight or nine. These individuals usually don’t have the capacity to provoke a dog.

Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Fayette County and nearby jurisdictions.