Dog bite cases may seem uncommon but the Centers for Disease reports that there are around 4.5 million cases per year in the U.S. resulting in approximately 800,000 injuries requiring medical treatment. But unlike having to prove negligence in a motor vehicle accident claim, Massachusetts law imposes strict liability on dog owners for any injuries their animal causes.
Also, clients who have dog bite claims often ask their personal injury attorney just how much their case is worth. The average recovery for a dog bite claim in the U.S. is between $35,000 and $50,000. Of course, each case is unique and any recovery you may receive or even ask for is dependent on a variety of factors.
Strict Liability For Dog Bite Claims
Strict liability in a dog bite or attack case is simply demonstrated by showing that the dog belonged to someone and that the victim was injured as a result of the dog’s conduct. The only obstacle to presenting a claim is if you were trespassing on the dog owner’s property, or you had provoked the dog in some manner such as by throwing rocks or kicking it, teasing or taunting the animal. Otherwise, the dog’s owner has no other defense such as claiming that he did all he reasonably could to restrain the dog or that the dog was just being overly friendly and meant no harm. There is also no requirement that the owner must have been previously aware of the dog’s viciousness or propensity toward attacking or biting people.
Also, in Massachusetts you do not necessarily have to show that you were bitten by the dog. If the animal jumped on you or chased you that led to your falling and sustaining an injury, that is sufficient for strict liability purposes. At this point, all you need to do is to prove your damages that can include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Loss of earnings
- Loss of earning capacity
- Emotional distress
- Permanent disability
- Diminished quality of life
- Pain and suffering
- Separate claim for loss of consortium claim by a spouse
- Punitive damages only if a fatal injury occurred and the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent or exhibited a wanton and reckless disregard for your safety or life
Proving damages is an art by itself that only be shown by an experienced personal injury attorney. Failure to prove any aspect of your damages can result in a greatly diminished award.
Factors in Determining Compensation in Dog Bite Claims
The main factor in any injury case is the nature and extent of your injuries. A simple bite from a small dog that just breaks the skin or even leaves a minor but permanent scar on your hand will likely result in a small settlement. Other factors to consider are:
- Amount of homeowner’s or rental insurance of the dog’s owner. Many policies are at least $100,000 for injuries occurring on the policy owner’s property or residence.
- Did your injuries necessitate medical treatment?
- What are your medical expenses? Can you reasonably expect future medical treatment and if so, for how much and for how long?
- Did you need stitches, surgery, or extended medical care?
- Did the injury leave a prominent and permanent scar? Scars on your face, neck, or head are valued more than on your hand or non-exposed area although significant scarring on your arms and legs may be taken just as seriously.
- Did the scarring result in emotional distress such as embarrassment, humiliation, and anxiety? Women are usually more sensitive to scars than males and may experience greater degrees of anxiety and embarrassment though this should not be assumed in every case.
- Was there other emotional damage from the attack such as post-traumatic stress disorder that can result in disturbed sleep, fear of all dogs or even all animals, flashbacks, and changes in mood.
- Did the attack result in traumatic brain injury or impairment of a vital bodily function?
- What ways has your injury affected or diminished your enjoyment or quality of life?
There is no standard calculation for pain and suffering or emotional distress, which is an element of damages that usually generates the majority of an award. To demonstrate how much your injury has affected you, your personal injury attorney should:
- Obtain all medical bills and expenses.
- Obtain reports from your treating physician and other medical professionals such as physical therapists, psychologists, economists, and vocational rehabilitation experts regarding treatment rendered, pain you experienced, income and employment benefits lost, and having to find other employment if you have physical restrictions preventing you from engaging in the job you had, and the emotional trauma you are having.
- Display photographs of your injuries—it is recommended that you take photos of your injuries as soon as possible after the injury as well as your bandages, stitches, etc.
- Guide you on how to express the fear you experienced during the attack, the pain you endured immediately after and in the days, weeks, and months that followed, and the emotional trauma you are continuing to have.
- Testimony from family or friends over how devastating your injuries have been to your well-being and activities.
If a loved one suffered fatal injuries in a dog bite or attack, there is no compensation that can make up for your loss, but your personal injury attorney will likely ask for the policy limits of the dog owner’s homeowner’s or rental policy.
An experienced personal injury attorney may also look at other entities whose conduct or omissions may have contributed to the attack. For example, if the dog had attacked someone before or there were complaints to the city or town about the animal and the municipality did nothing, then you may have a claim against it.
Retain the Law Office of Burns and Jain
Although strict liability may be easily shown, proving damages should be left to a seasoned personal injury attorney with dog bite experience. The attorneys at Burns and Jain have decades of experience in dog bite cases and have obtained significant compensation for their injured clients and families. Call us at (617) 227-7423 for a free consultation about your dog bite claim.