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Determining Liability In Dog Bite Incidents

Whiteside & Goldberg > Dog Bites  > Determining Liability In Dog Bite Incidents

Determining Liability In Dog Bite Incidents

According to the Center for Disease Control, about 4.5 million people are victim to dog bites every year, and nearly 800,000 of those result in the need in medical care. If you are bitten by a dog it is extremely important to understand who is at fault and how to proceed with legal action if necessary.

Due to “common law” owners become liable for injuries caused by their dog when they were negligent or knew that their dog could be a danger. A caretaker of the dog could also be held liable. In some states where “strict liability” is in place for dog bite statutes, the owner could be held financially responsible even if they were not aware of a violent history of the dog’s actions. If you are aware that your dog could even be a potential danger to other people, and they are not in control and on a leash, then you will be held responsible for any injury caused by your dog.

However, according to Nolo, there are a few exceptions:

  • If a person is declared to be caring for the dog, other than the owner.
  • The owner is less than 18 years old.
  • The landlord of the dog’s owner was aware that the dog was dangerous but didn’t do anything about it.

The Insurance Information Institute outlines three different types of laws that impose liability on owners depending on the circumstance.

Dog-Bite Statute
The owner of the dog is held reliable automatically for any injury caused by the dog, regardless if they knew that their dog could react violently or not.

One-Bite Rule
In this case the dog owner will only be held responsible if the victim can prove that the owner knew the dog could be a danger to others.

Negligence Laws
The dog owner will be held liable if it can be proven that they were unreasonably careless with the care and control over their dog, and that negligence was a direct cause of the injury that ensued.


If someone is watching a dog while the owners are away, or in any other circumstance, the temporary caretaker, not the owner, could be held responsible for any injury that the dog perpetrated. Responsibility of an animal may also be extended to those “harboring” an animal. However, the definition of “harboring” may vary state by state. In Illinois, courts have declared that the harboring of an animal is limited to instances where a non-owner provides the animal food and water on a semi-permanent basis.


If you are bitten by a stray dog you will most likely not be able to file a legal claim against anyone, because the dog doesn’t have an owner. However, if you are bitten by a dog that escaped from a pound, they technically have ownership over them, thus it can be argued that due to their negligence, your injury occurred.


The Insurance Information Institute states that in some cases an insurance company may decide to limit who they ensure based on if they own a dog or based on what breed of dog they own. Some insurance companies determine who to ensure based on a case-by-case basis. If an insurance company does decide to insure someone with a dog, if that dog does bite someone it then poses a risk and the insurance company may choose to charge a higher premium, not renews the policy, or exclude the dog from coverage.

Most insurance issues are dealt with on a per state basis, or locally. In states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, laws are enacted that prevent insurance companies from discriminating against specific breeds of dogs when deciding on who to insure.


If become victim to a dog bite you may be entitled to compensation. If liability can be determined, you will then be able to file a claim to get the compensation you deserve for the injuries endured. Compensation can be awarded for a number of different damages including:

Medical Bills
Any expenses caused by the injury such as, doctors and hospital service, medication, physical therapy, and any psychological treatment, will be covered by the owner of the dog.

Pain and Suffering
Being bitten by a dog can cause both physical pains, and emotional. The trauma from the attack can result in developing a phobia of dogs, anxiety, shock, sleeplessness, depression, and in some cases ongoing PTSD from the attack. There are many different ways to determine the compensation for pain and suffering as it is a very subjective ordeal. It is best to contact your lawyer to get an estimate of what you may receive.

Lost Income
In the process of recovering from your injury and missing work, that lost income will be reimbursed. If the accident is expected to also affect the ability to work in the future, the compensation will reflect that as well.

Property damage relating to the incident
If any property was damaged as a direct result of the attack the repair or replacement cost should be reimbursed.

Punitive damages – if the owner’s conduct was unreasonable
If the owner of the dog was acting especially reckless such as knowing their dog is probable to attack someone, and then allows them to run off leash, they may face extra fees as to send a message about how they should act in the future.

If you have been bitten by a dog and need help getting the compensation you deserve, contact Whiteside & Goldberg and we will assist you in taking the next steps necessary.


Whiteside & Goldberg, Ltd. has worked on many dog bite cases and will work hard to get you the settlement you deserve. They offer a free consultation and do not charge you anything until you win a settlement.

The experienced attorneys at Whiteside & Goldberg, Ltd. fight to secure your financial future. For more information on car accident lawsuits, call 312-334-6875 for the Whiteside & Goldberg Michigan Avenue location and 815-730-7535 for their Shorewood office.

The content of this blog is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute or establish an attorney-client relationship, nor constitute legal advice. If you wish to discuss any further aspect of the material contained herein, please contact an attorney at Whiteside & Goldberg, Ltd.


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