What To Do Legally, If A Dog Bites You?

What To Do Legally, If A Dog Bites You?

Dog bites are more common than you might think. According to research, the U.S. sees 4.5 million dog bites annually, some resulting in serious injury. Even smaller dogs can cause severe damage, as their jaws and teeth evolved to kill prey. If you sustain a dog bite injury, you must act quickly to avoid further harm and secure evidence for a legal claim.

Seek Medical Attention

The most important step is getting medical attention. Even shallow bites can become infected if not properly treated, so it’s a good idea to see a doctor as soon as possible. Immediate treatment may also reduce scarring.

Deep lacerations may require stitches to heal properly. Your physician may also check for the following:

  • Tendon damage
  • Nerve damage
  • Bone fractures

If there’s a risk of the dog having rabies, you’ll also need a rabies vaccine.

Immediately visiting a medical professional can also provide useful evidence for civil suits, as health care facilities document injuries and treatment. This documentation may not cover the full extent of your injuries if you wait, as the wound may heal slightly.

Get Owner’s Information

You must know the defendant’s identity if you want to sue. Therefore, it’s important to get the dog owner’s information. If someone other than the owner had custody of the dog at the time of the attack, you’d need that individual’s information as well. This may be simple to do if you know them personally, but what happens if they’re strangers?

If possible, get the owner’s information before leaving the scene, including name, phone number, address and liability insurance info. You’ll need it to file an insurance claim and a report with animal control. Additionally, get as much information about the dog as possible, including its rabies vaccination status and breed.

What if you can’t get this information immediately after the bite because the owner fled? While it’s more challenging to identify the owner in this instance, it’s not impossible. Witnesses may know the individual or dog, particularly if the attack occurred in a dog park or other area with regular visitors. There may also be security camera footage of the individual, dog and the owner’s vehicle.

Call Animal Control

Reporting a dog bite to the appropriate authorities contributes to public safety, as the animal may bite someone else. In the state of New York, that authority is the Health Department. You can either call 311 to speak with a Health Department representative or visit the official website to submit a report.

Owners can face criminal charges for their pets’ actions, and a report creates a written record of the animal’s behavior. This record can then become evidence should the matter go to court.

Find Legal Counsel

Suing someone can be a complex and lengthy process. Professional assistance is invaluable, especially if you’ve sustained serious injuries. A dog bite lawyer can represent you in court, manage the legal paperwork and negotiate with insurance companies on your behalf. Most importantly, an experienced attorney can advise whether or not you have a case.

Dog Bite Statute

Every state has different laws dictating who is liable for a dog bite. New York adheres to a limited strict liability rule, which means owners are liable for harm caused by their pets if they know the animals are “dangerous.” Dangerous animals have a history of aggression, such as an injury report filed with the Health Department. The law may also consider an animal that suddenly snaps at or otherwise threatens people without warning to be dangerous.

If owners don’t take proper precautions to prevent a dog from attacking, such as leashing their animals in public spaces, they may be liable for injuries. However, plaintiffs don’t necessarily have to prove negligence if the case meets other criteria, such as the dog causing the loss of body parts, death, impairment or permanent disfigurement.

Owners found liable must cover medical bills stemming from attack injuries. The insurer will cover the payout if the owners have appropriate insurance coverage. As a result, you may not have to go to court; in fact, many dog bite cases get settled before trial, as it’s in insurance companies’ interests. Settling involves both parties agreeing on an appropriate compensation amount. The insurance company will have a lawyer to negotiate on their behalf, so it’s crucial to have your own legal counsel.

Under New York’s dog bite statute, owners can face criminal prosecution as well as lawsuits. If found guilty, defendants can face up to 90 days in prison or a $3,000 fine. The court may also order euthanasia, permanent confinement, spaying or neutering, muzzling in public or leashing in public if it determines the dog is dangerous.


New York recognizes some exceptions to the dog bite statute, as there are circumstances where animals may reasonably attack. For example, if the attack occurred as a direct result of the injured party committing a crime, the state recognizes that the dog acted to defend its owner or the owner’s property.

The legal system also recognizes that animals naturally defend themselves, their companions and their offspring from perceived threats. As a result, dogs that attack due to provocation, such as the injured party exhibiting cruelty toward the animal, don’t meet the “dangerous” criteria because their behavior doesn’t threaten the public.

New York also observes the “one bite rule.” This law absolves owners of liability upon the first instance of biting. Owners may not realize their dogs are dangerous before the first attack, and this law recognizes that individuals can’t take precautions to avoid what they cannot anticipate.

Gather Evidence

If you want to bring a civil suit against the dog’s owner, you must prove that the dog caused your injuries. Anything beyond compensation for treatment costs (such as emotional distress) also requires proving owner negligence.

The aftermath of a dog attack can be incredibly chaotic, so it’s essential to preserve evidence. Obtain contact information from witnesses, as their statements can be invaluable. It’s also a good idea to ask witnesses if they caught the attack on film, as many bystanders record incidents on their phones.

Photographs are strong evidence, so take pictures of your wounds before and after medical treatment to document their severity. If possible, take photos of the scene as well. Preserve all physical evidence, including clothing or belongings damaged in the attack.

If you plan to sue for emotional damage, consider writing down your experience and feelings in a journal. If you struggle with ongoing mental health issues as a result of the attack, such as anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, document related experiences, such as panic attacks and nightmares.

Talking to a therapist can help you process the experience and manage anxiety and PTSD symptoms. Records of these appointments can also be helpful in court.

Keep all hospital bills and prescription receipts. Since New York law obligates owners to pay medical expenses, you’ll need to present a total cost supported by proof. Insurance companies will also want this documentation before providing compensation.

Finally, be mindful when discussing the incident online. Posts on public platforms, including social media, are accessible to defendants and insurance companies, who may use your words against you.

Contact Cellino Law

Cellion Law has helped clients claim their rightful compensation for over 65 years. If you’ve sustained an injury from an animal attack, contact us today at 888-888-8888.



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