“Ask The Hammer” – Exploring the Legal Matters That Matter Most
Welcome to the podcast radio show with dog bite lawyer Darryl Isaacs, “The Hammer.” Do you have a legal question for The Hammer? Send your questions via Facebook or Twitter using #askthehammer or use the contact form on this page. You can also give the offices of Isaacs & Isaacs a call at 800-800-8888. We’d love to use your questions on the show!
Episode 9: How Do Dog Bite Cases Work?
Questions answered in this episode:
- What are your next steps after you’ve gone through a dog bite incident?
- And how about a situation where you can’t actually find the owner of the dog?
- Can I file a lawsuit and can I sue if a dog bites me?
- Who specifically would a person sue in a dog bite case?
- What about dog bites on commercial properties like a pet store?
- Can you explain dog bite liability and the “One Bite Rule?”
- How does trespassing work in dog bite cases? If I am trespassing, do there have to be signs?
- What is the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit in dog bite cases in the states you cover?
Favorite quote from this episode:
“I don’t know that I’ve ever run across a civil action, a dog bite case, that resulted in the dog being put down. Dogs being put down is generally an animal control issue and that’s usually when the dog has bit numerous people over the course of time.” – Attorney John Hester
Episode 9 Transcription:
Host: [00:00:05] Welcome to Ask the Hammer – the podcast exploring the legal matters that matter most. I’m your host Jeremy Kocal and as always we are here with attorney Darryl Isaacs — The Hammer — ready to tackle the most popular questions about law. Today’s episode: How do dog bite lawsuits work? We’ll not only hear from The Hammer, but we’ll also get insight from Isaacs & Isaacs attorney John Hester about the latest in dog bite cases. Let’s dive in.
Host: [00:00:33] And what are your next steps after you’ve gone through a dog bite incident and you’re the victim?
The Hammer:[00:00:38] Well first thing you do go maybe to the emergency room, get it treated, get the injury taken care of, contact an attorney, and then the attorney will try to find the owner of the dog. The attorney also might notify animal control or the dog pound to see if the dog is licensed. Because every dog is supposed to be licensed.
Host: [00:00:58] And how about a situation where you can’t actually find the owner of the dog?
The Hammer: [00:01:02] Every person, whether they have rental insurance or homeowner, should have full coverage in case something like this happens — they get bit by a stray dog, get bit by the dog. Usually, If you get bit by a dog and you don’t know who it is, you have to start looking at your homeowners coverage. You hope you have some kind of coverage like that. Not necessarily. That’s the problem. Dog bites are complicated cases in a nutshell. That’s why you want to always be with your insurance agent and have full coverage on everything.
Host:[00:01:32] All right we go more in-depth right now for dog bite cases with Indiana and Kentucky Attorney for Isaacs Isaacs, John Hester.
Host: [00:01:40] According to the Insurance Liability Institute, the costs associated with dog bite treatment has risen dramatically each year. Do you have any thoughts on why that might be?
John Hester: [00:01:52] Dog bites ultimately result in scars. Any dog bite is going to leave a mark and most people scar up pretty well. Depending on the location of the scar and the severity of it, a lot of people will probably forego any kind of scar revision, if it’s some place that’s not seen or a pant leg covers it or something like that. Bites to the forearms, the face things like that, I think with the progress in plastic surgery and scar revision, that also adds to the damages. That a compensable component of not only the medical bills and the pain and suffering, but trying to get you back to 100 percent where you were before you got bit.
Host: [00:02:30] Can I file a lawsuit and can I sue if a dog bites me?
John Hester: [00:02:34] There is absolutely a liability for dog owners and it varies from state state based on State Law. The primary step in any dog bite situation is to identify any and all insurance policies that provide coverage for it for the liability, and to attempt a settlement before actually filing a lawsuit. Lawsuits are, end of the day, necessary in many cases. A lot of cases, depending on whether it’s strict liability or it’s a negligence case, on a dog bite, there is a good probability that the case will settle before a lawsuit needs to be filed.
John Hester: [00:03:03] On the strict liability, in Kentucky it doesn’t even have to be a bite. Kentucky statute — any damage caused by your dog, for example, grandpa’s over at the house, dog gets excited and knocks him over, and he falls to the ground and breaks his hip. That’s compensable. It doesn’t have to be a bite in Kentucky.
Host: [00:03:19] So then who specifically would a person sue in a dog bite case? Obviously you’re not suing the dog, the owner’s involved. Is there more to it than that?
John Hester: [00:03:28] The responsible parties for dog cases is the dog owner generally. If it happens people’s property it would be the homeowner. There can be landlord liability if it’s a rental property, although that’s a much harder case to make in most situations. Landlords can have some liability if they have any negligence in the matter. Usually it’s the homeowner and the coverages for these are usually homeowners’ policies. Some folks do have renters’ insurance, that seems to be pretty rare. But homeowners’ policies are the general source of recovery.
Host: [00:04:00] Ok how about in a situation where it might be a commercial entity like a pet store that is doing kind of an adoption, or maybe a non-profit shelter. Do you see those kinds of cases and how would those work for a lawsuit?
John Hester: [00:04:14] Occasionally you’ll get like an animal shelter type situation, dog pound or adoption shelter, or something like that — ends up biting somebody. And that tends to, in my experience to be people who are employed there. So it ends up a worker’s compensation situation rather than personal injury. But if it were for instance a pet store, they would absolutely have to have insurance coverage for that. They would have, I would think, substantial coverage to make sure that whoever gets bitten in their store is taken care of.
Host:[00:04:41] So in the States we’re dealing with here — Kentucky, Indiana, sometimes Ohio for the other attorneys — we see strict liability laws for dog bites. That seems in contrast to the. “One Bite Rule.” Can you tell us what clients and dog bite victims would really need to know about this?
John Hester: [00:04:56] In Kentucky, for the homeowner, for the Dog Owner rather, there is a strict liability for any damage caused by the dog, whether it knocks someone over it bites them. Doesn’t matter. Dog doesn’t need to be vicious. It could have never bitten anybody before. Even if, say the dog gets excited and knocks somebody over and causes them to fall and hurt themselves, that’s compensable in Kentucky. Indiana — their statute actually reads strict liability that “when a dog without provocation bites a person who is acting peaceably and in an area where they’re allowed to be that dog owner has liability for that.” Again there’s a couple conditions in there. You’re not supposed to be provoking the dog. You’re not supposed to be trespassing or things like that. But if you’re where you’re allowed to be and you don’t provoke the dog and it bites you, then there’s going to be strict liability in Indiana for that.
Host: [00:05:41] How would you define that the “One Bite Rule” for states that might fall under that. Is their general definition you are working with?
John Hester:[00:05:48] The “One Bite Rule” generally applies more to negligence cases and whether the dog owner or perhaps a landlord knew of a dog’s propensity to bite people. When there is a dog who is known to bite people, that creates liability more under a negligence theory where the owners knew or should have known that this dog was going to act this way. And again with the strict liability, negligence isn’t so much of a question. If you have issues of trespassing, things like that, where you’re looking more to the negligent standard to proceed under rather than strict liability, The One Bite Rule, the dog having a propensity, gives you an area under negligence to show that they knew that this dog was prone to do this sort of thing.
Host: [00:06:25] When you are saying that, are you talking about a specific dog or are you actually, you know, broadening that to specific kinds of dogs that have maybe a propensity or a reputation?
John Hester:[00:06:35] Some counties and cities have proposed or enacted ordinances where they list specific breeds of dogs, and there’s been a good strong backlash against that by lover of those types of dogs. The One Bite Rule generally applies to the specific dog. You can categorize you know, Pitbulls or German shepherds or whatever else as the most vicious dogs — Rottweilers come to mind — but small dogs like chihuahuas can be just as nasty in a lot of times. The One Bite Rule generally applies to that specific dog, not to a breed, although there have been some ordinances that try to provide greater legal basis on claims against breeds of dogs.
Host: [00:07:11] And what are the typical areas of negligence a dog owner is at fault for in dog bite cases?
John Hester:[00:07:16] When you’re dealing with a negligence standard, it’s “What did the dog owner do that caused this or allowed this to happen?” Example that comes to mind, a case I had years ago: Dog owner had dog leashed on porch right next to the mailbox. There were bushes around the porch. A postal carrier delivers mail, as she’s coming off the porch, dog comes after and gets a hold of her. She had a legal right to go to that mailbox and deliver that mail. Actually her job to do that. Although the owner had the dog on a leash, it was a retractable leash and he was right next to the mailbox where could you know, have easily gotten to her. That would be a negligence issue if you got beyond the strict liability part of it.
Host: [00:07:52] How does trespassing work in dog bite cases? If I am trespassing, do there have to be signs?
John Hester: [00:07:58] In Kentucky, you’re responsible for any damage caused by your dog. However Kentucky is pure comparative. So if you’re trespassing, although there’s going to be liability on the dog owner, they’ll be an apportionment of fault, some of it can go towards the trespasser for being where they’re not supposed to be. Whether you jump a privacy fence and you’re 100 percent at fault because there are no warning dangerous dogs signs up everywhere, or it’s just a small picket fence and you’re cutting through a yard or something, the degree of apportionment of liability can change based on trespassing. But in Kentucky the dog owner is liable for any injuries but the defense to that is where you were… You jumped a very tall fence to get into my yard. So, you may get most of the fault put on you for doing that. Indiana’s a similar one. Again there is without provocation, being or supposed to be for strict liability. On negligence standards, it’s all fact based. So if for instance there’s an ordinance that says you have to keep your dog on a leash, a chain or in a fenced yard and you have your dog out in the yard, you don’t have a fence, a child cuts across your yard — Child is trespassing. However you didn’t comply with the fence law or the chain or the leash, your dog bites that kid, you’re going to have liability there as well. Even though the child was trespassing.
Host: [00:09:03] Maybe not necessarily on someone’s property, but if you are out in public with your dog, what would be the difference between I guess how the case would be pursued when a dog is on a leash and when a dog is not on a leash, is off leash and bites someone?
John Hester: [00:09:18] That’s not so much of a distinction. If the dog is off the leash, and if there are ordinances that require your dog to be on a leash — for example there are some dog parks where you’re allowed to let your dog run free. Most of the larger cities they do have ordinances. So you have to keep your dog on a leash or things like that in public. But if your dog is on a leash and still bites somebody, obviously there’s going to be some liability there. If your dog is supposed to be on a leash and is not, is running free and bites somebody there will be liability there as well.
Host: [00:09:43] How do you go about gathering evidence in a dog bite case?
John Hester: [00:09:46] Very first most important – identify an address, identify the dog by name if you can and who the owner is. Animal control reports are very helpful for that. And then pictures of the bites from the minute, well not the minute they happen, but as soon thereafter as possible — all the way through the healing process to the resulting scar. That if there’s going to be scar revision necessary, if that actually takes place before the claim is finished, how that worked out as well. Taking pictures of injuries in any case, but dog by cases especially, is very very important. Pictures of injuries, you just, it’s hard to explain an Injury in words. When you look at a picture of it, the pictures are just so much more graphic and better at presenting what happened.
Host: [00:10:25] What categories of damages typically exist in dog bite cases?
John Hester: [00:10:30] Your elements of damage are going to be your medical bills, first and foremost. Those have to be accounted for. I mean, you’ve got physical pain and mental suffering, those are compensable. If you’re forced to miss work, lost wages are an aspect. If you need a scar revision in the future, you can have future medical needs as well. If you go ahead and have those done beforehand, those are part of your medical bills – but they can be claimed as future medicals.
Host: [00:10:52] There are some folks out there that wrestle with the idea of bringing a lawsuit against a dog owner because they really love animals, maybe they’re nervous that the dog will be put down. What would be your recommendation or your thoughts about filing a lawsuit and what you would tell folks that fit into that category of kind of wrestling with this issue?
John Hester: [00:11:13] I don’t know that I’ve ever run across a civil action, a dog bite case, that resulted in the dog being put down. Dogs being put down is generally an animal control issue and that’s usually when the dog has bitten numerous people over the course of time. You go back to One Bite Rule, generally dogs aren’t put down as part of this process. They really have to be bad actors and have a history I think for animal control to step in to try to put a dog down.
Host: [00:11:37] You’ve seen a lot of these dog bite cases, what would be your input for dog owners?
John Hester:[00:11:41] To dog owners — make sure your fences are secure. Dogs will find a way out if there is any at all. Keep in mind the character and nature of your dog. If you know your dog can be aggressive, make sure the dog is put up and the gate is latched securely before you let the neighborhood kids in your yard, things like that. To be hyper aware of what could happen.
Host: [00:12:01] Do you have any information on the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit in dog bite cases in the states you cover?
John Hester: [00:12:07] In Kentucky, you have a one year statute limitation on dog bites. You have one year from the date of the bite to either settle the case with an insurance company or to file a lawsuit to get compensated for that. Contrarily, Indiana has a two year statute of limitations from the date. You have twice as long in Indiana. If you’re not aware and you just randomly Google “statute of limitations” you might get the wrong one. The State law controls these, it’s very important that your attorneys are on top of the law of that particular state.
Host:[00:12:33] If you’re contemplating calling a dog bite attorney vs. maybe trying to figure this out for yourself, I guess in the investigation process — what kind of special permission do you need to investigate a private location where a dog bite attack may have occurred? You know, can you go in and take photos of somebody, getting access to their backyard?
John Hester: [00:12:52] I might be biased as an attorney, but in my opinion, anytime you have any sort of injury caused by somebody else, whatever, dog bite, whatever kind of case it is, it’s worthwhile to contact an attorney. All personal injury attorneys pretty much work on a contingency basis, you don’t owe anything unless we find something for you. So there’s no upfront cost generally to consult with an attorney. As far as documenting the residents, the dogs, of course you can do that from the sidewalk or the street. If you’re trying to get into a backyard and there’s no alley or something like that, there’s a good chance you’d get bit again. Nobody wants that. You can document things if the dogs are kept in the front yard, you can get pictures from there, and you recognize, you can pinpoint which dog it was or if there are multiple ones. If it was all of them whoever. Again my advice to anybody, in any situation — car wreck, dog bite, whatever it may be, contact an attorney. They’ll take a look at it for you and let you know what your next best step will be.
Host:[00:13:48] If you have a legal question you’d like to Ask the Hammer, reach out to was on Twitter, on Facebook, or the website isaacsandisaacs.com. We’d love to tackle your question on our next show.
And here’s our legal disclaimer: this podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever. If you have specific legal questions, contact an attorney to discuss specific legal matters about your case. The attorneys of Isaacs and Isaacs operate nationally with their primary office in Louisville Kentucky. Listeners should note that legal services may be performed by others.
Host: Join us next time with Darryl Isaacs on Ask the hammer. Thanks for listening.
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