Can I Sue a Homeowner For a Dog Bite?
The short answer is “yes,” you can bring a dog bite lawsuit against a homeowner for a dog bite. However, as with all legal matters, there are caveats. Even if a dog bites you, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll recover compensation from the dog owner, or the animal will be destroyed.
The precise rules around dog bite claims depend on your state. This article will discuss the law as it pertains to Ohio specifically. Laws in other states, such as California and New York, are different.
The Ohio Dog Bite Statute
According to Ohio’s Dog Bite Statute, dog owners are legally and financially held responsible for any injuries their dog causes. Specifically, the dog bite laws state that “the owner, keeper, or harborer of a dog is liable in damages for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the dog.”
Ohio is a strict liability state regarding fault and liability related to dog bite cases. Strict liability means that dog owners are liable for dog attacks even if the dog has never bitten anyone before, which is referred to as the one bite rule.
However, there are exceptions. You cannot sue a homeowner for a dog bite if you are:
- Trespassing unlawfully on their private property
- Attempting to commit a crime (such as burglary)
- Deliberately causing the dog to get angry by “teasing, tormenting, or abusing” it
Some state’s dog bite laws are ambiguous concerning door-to-door salespeople and mail delivery professionals, but not in Ohio. According to the statute, homeowners are still held liable for injuries sustained by these individuals, even if they do not invite them onto their property.
How Do You Prove A Dog Bite Case?
As the law states, in order to recover compensation following a dog bite incident you need to prove that the homeowner is the harborer, owner, or keeper of the dog, and that the dog caused your injuries, and you sustained real damages.
Proof of ownership is relatively straightforward. If the owner of the dog bought the animal from a local breeder or adopted it from a shelter, these third parties should have paperwork confirming the purchase and the dog owner’s identity.
Proving that someone is the keeper of a dog is a little more complex. Courts require tangible evidence that the homeowner in question has been taking care of a dog for some time. Usually, a combination of veterinary records, receipts for dog food, signs on their property (such as “beware of dog”), and neighbor witness testimony is sufficient.
Most states’ dog bite laws equate “harboring” a dog with owning one. However, in general, harboring lacks the proprietary aspect, referring to people who are sheltering them, or providing them with food. Therefore, a homeowner who takes in stray dogs is said to be a harborer.
Once you prove that the homeowner is in fact the dog owner, keeper, or harborer of the dog, you then have to demonstrate that their specific dog is the cause of your injuries. In doing so, you, as the injured person, must show that you did not provoke the animal in any way and prove to the court that you acted innocently, unintentionally, and were not unreasonably careless.
How To Prove That A Specific Dog Bit You
To prove a dog bit you, collect the names, addresses, and phone numbers of nearby eyewitnesses who saw the attack. The court will accept their testimony and supporting evidence when making your claim. If eye-witnesses know that the dog in question has bitten before causing serious dog bites or other injuries and the owner knew the animal was dangerous, this could strongly indicate the dog owner’s liability and may increase the likelihood of you receiving compensation.
You should seek immediate medical attention if you are bitten by a dog. The animal could have rabies or cause a strep infection in wounded tissues. When doing this, ensure that you collect paperwork from your doctor or emergency room staff, detailing the time, date, and nature of your case to later use in your dog bite claim.
If you sustain a serious injury caused from a dog attack, take pictures of the injuries immediately. Ensure that you retain all unedited footage of the dog attack if you wear a bodycam.
Once you are safe, report the incident to local authorities. Tell both the police and animal control about what happened.
Lastly, seek legal advice from an experienced dog bite attorney, like Erney Law, who can counsel you on what to do next.
Avoid getting angry with the dog, the dog owners, or starting a fight. Aggression can lead to further injuries.
Does Your Homeowner’s Insurance Policy Cover Dog Bites?
Most homeowners insurance policies and renters insurance cover both economic and non-economic damages from dog bites. Insurance coverage protects homeowners against paying medical expenses, lost wages, and rehabilitation expenses out of pocket.
In most cases, you will receive adequate compensation from the dog owner’s insurance company. However, some third-party policies may not provide the dog bite victim with “full and fair” payouts proportionate to the emotional distress and disablement brought about as a result of your dog bite injuries. In these situations, it may be better to pursue a formal civil lawsuit against the owner of the dog.
Why Are Dog Bites Potentially Dangerous?
Dog bites are not trivial injuries. Injuries caused by the animal can be serious and even life-threatening. Common complications include nerve damage, meningitis, rabies, and a host of other infections. Recovery may take years and in some cases, may not occur at all leaving the dog bite victim with a permanent disability.
The mental and emotional distress brought on as a consequence of a dog attack can also damage your quality of life. Going forward, you may worry that every dog you see is about to bite you. Some victims experience a version of post-traumatic stress disorder which causes yet another level of pain and suffering for dog bite victims.
Can You File For Dog Bite Compensation Under Common Law?
If you are unsuccessful in filing for dog bite compensation under Ohio’s dog bite law, you may be able to do so under common law. To do this, you need to prove that the dog’s owner behaved negligently in some way, and that’s why the animal injured you.
Interestingly, the common law route lets you claim punitive damages in addition to regular compensation. Punitive damages are a type of punishment the court inflicts on the dog owner for failing in their duty to protect the public from their dog. Payments of this nature are in addition to compensatory damages.
Keep in mind as well that in cases of personal injury, which a dog bite case is, there is a two-year statute of limitations on how long you have to seek legal action for injuries caused by a dog bite.
For more clarification, seek the legal representation of an experienced personal injury attorney in Ohio with expertise in dog bite cases such as the knowledgeable attorneys at Erney Law.
Why Should You Use An Ohio Dog Bite Lawyer?
Resolving a dog bite case requires the help of an experienced dog bite attorney at Erney Law. Our professionals can handle all communications with insurers and the opposing party’s legal team on your behalf when you have been injured by a dog. Your personal injury lawyer can also ensure that you get a fair settlement offer, proportionate to your injuries and medical bills. Attorneys know the law inside out, and can maximize the chances of winning your dog bite lawsuit.