Are laws regarding potentially dangerous animals too lax? One mother seems to think so. Her 8-year-old was viciously mauled by a neighbor’s pit bull. The owner of the dog was fined $120. Her daughter suffered a skull fracture and multiple lacerations to her head and face, resulting in four hours of surgery. Now, lawmakers weigh in on whether or not to charge negligent owners with a fifth-degree felony as opposed to a misdemeanor, a crime that could include up to a year in jail. The bill would also impose training requirements and give more authority to dog wardens.
In years past, dogs identified as pit bulls automatically fell into the category of “vicious dogs” and owners had a greater duty of legal care to protect others. That law has not been restored nor would the new legislation restore that law. In 2012, that legislation was replaced with a new classification system that did away with breed-specific designations. Today, an animal can be classified as a nuisance, dangerous, or vicious based only on its past behavior. Dogs classified as vicious have owners who must be very careful about taking the dog out or leaving it unattended in the yard.
Those who are attacked by a dog have recourse to file a lawsuit against the owner of the dog. Most of the time, these claims are covered by the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy. These lawsuits involve claims for money damages to compensate for the cost of medical coverage, lost wages, pain and suffering, and emotional trauma. Even seemingly trivial bites require immediate hospital care to prevent the wound from becoming infected.
In a dog bite lawsuit, the owner is automatically responsible for the behavior of the dog regardless of whether or not the owner was negligent. In other words, the injured party does not need to prove negligence in order to win a lawsuit against the owner. The victim only needs to prove that the dog caused injury and that the victim was not trespassing or otherwise provoking the dog.
In cases in which the owner was negligent — for instance, if the owner allowed the dog to escape the yard — the plaintiff can allege negligence. In some cases, the owner may be found grossly negligent after the dog has bitten someone else and the owner lost control of the dog, allowing it to happen again. If the owner is found grossly negligent, the plaintiff can sue for punitive damages that are meant to punish the dog owner for his or her recklessness and indifference to the safety of others.
If you or your child has been attacked by a neighbor’s dog, you are entitled to recover damages for your pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost wages. The attorneys at Lafferty, Gallagher, & Scott will help you litigate the claim against the dog’s owner or his or her homeowner’s insurance policy. Give us a call or talk to us online to set up a free consultation today.
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