Dog owners have a responsibility to control their dogs. If someone’s dog bites your dog, you will often have the right to sue that dog owner.
How much can you sue a dog owner for after a dog attack?
When another dog attacks your dog, you can generally sue for the money that you lost as a result of the attack. This will usually include vet bills and related costs, such as boarding while under vet observation.
If your dog doesn’t survive a dog attack, many states will limit your lawsuit to the value of your dog plus any vet bills you paid trying to save your dog. Most states consider dogs to be property and don’t give additional damages for the loss of a companion animal.
You generally can’t sue for infliction of emotional distress unless you can prove the other dog owner encouraged the dog attack as a way of harming you physically or mentally. You also generally can’t sue for pain and suffering on behalf of your dog.
However, it’s always worth talking to a lawyer to see what you might be able to sue for. Some places are giving greater recognition to the fact that dogs aren’t just personal property, and you may be able to seek more damages.
When can you sue a dog owner for their dog attacking your dog?
Most dog attacks fall under strict liability. That means that a dog owner will often be automatically liable just because of the fact that his or her dog attacked your dog.
Of course, it can harm your case if your dog started the situation. This can include trespassing on the other owner’s property, charging the other dog, or starting a fight.
However, you may still be able to recover even if your dog instigated the situation. For example, a judge may find that the other dog is a vicious dog and overreacted.
It’s also important to note that there’s often no legal distinction between random attacks and play that got out of hand. Dog owners are generally expected to have properly trained their dogs and to be able to recall their dogs before things get out of hand.
What if my dog is partially responsible for the situation?
If your dog is partially responsible for the situation, the court may assign partial fault, similar to a car accident case. For example, your smaller dog might pick a fight with a much larger dog in a dog park.
If you live in a contributory negligence state, you may not be able to recover anything if your dog is found to be partially at fault.
If you live in a comparative negligence state, you may be able to sue for a portion of the damages. For example, if your dog was 1/3 at-fault, you might be able to recover 2/3 of your expenses from the other dog owner.
What if I don’t know who the dog’s owner is?
After a dog attack, it’s usually a good idea to notify the police or animal control. In addition to helping you identify the dog’s owner, they can also make sure the attacking dog has a current rabies vaccination.
If law enforcement is able to identify the dog’s owner, they’ll usually either provide you with the information right away or ask you to have your lawyer send a subpoena.
If there’s no owner present, and you’re able to safely lock the other dog in a yard or put a leash on it, it’s usually legally OK to do so as long as you notify law enforcement right away. Don’t take the dog somewhere else, even to animal control, without talking to law enforcement or it could be considered dog theft.
If it’s a stray dog and you’re not able to locate the owner, you usually won’t be able to sue. Check to see if your pet health insurance company will cover the medical expenses.
What if I don’t think the dog’s owner will be able to pay me?
Dog attacks are often covered by the liability portion of a homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. So if the dog owner is found liable for the attack, the owner’s insurance company will usually pay you.
You may also be able to obtain a court judgment or wage garnishment that allows you to collect in the future.