In general, an animal attack can be described as an attack by an animal that causes injuries and sometimes death to a human being. Laws related to animal attacks will define when an owner may be liable for resulting injuries. As such, the definition and legal consequences related to such actions will vary by state.
For example, a dog owner may face criminal assault charges in some states if their dog assaults another person. This can occur when a dog’s traits meet the definition of “vicious” or “dangerous” provided in a state statute and their owner fails to reasonably restrain (e.g., put a leash on) their dog despite knowing that it is dangerous.
Another example of when a legal action may be brought for an animal attack is when a state has enacted strict liability measures for people who raise wild or illegal animals. For instance, suppose a person keeps a wild tiger in their apartment in a jurisdiction that recognizes strict liability laws and the tiger severely injures or attacks a neighbor. That person will immediately become responsible for damages regardless of whether the neighbor instigated the attack.
In addition, many states also have statutes about domesticated animal liability, especially laws specifically created for dog bites or attacks. There are also instances where there may be exceptions that act as defense to the dog attack like if they were stopping a criminal.
Finally, a person can be sued for their animal’s actions if they failed to keep a victim reasonably safe from harm. These actions are based on the theory of negligence and can arise in a variety of situations, such as if the owner failed to warn victims of the animal’s potentially dangerous trait. In such cases, the owner will still be responsible even if the owner wasn’t aware of any prior incidents.
For instance, failing to add a warning sign to your fence if you own a specific type of dog breed that is notoriously known for having certain dangerous traits.
Who is Liable for Animal Attacks?
As discussed above, there are many legal consequences that an owner can face if their animal causes harm or injury to another human being. An owner may also be responsible for property damage caused by their pet.
For instance, a victim’s immediate family members may bring a wrongful death suit against an owner whose animal caused death to a loved one. Damages for these cases typically involve some kind of monetary or compensatory damages award if successful.
Other parties that may be held responsible include:
- Animal keepers who are not the owners;
- People in possession of the animal who are not the owners (e.g., pet sitters);
- Employers whose businesses involve animals (e.g., pet shop owners, animal shelters, zoos, kennels. etc.), or allow animals on the property (e.g., cafes that permit dogs);
- Individuals who sell animals;
- Stable keepers; and
- Animal instructors or trainers.
Depending on state statutes and the facts surrounding a specific matter, different rules will apply if the attack was carried out by a pet or domestic animal versus a dangerous or wild animal. As briefly mentioned above, people who own wild animals will automatically become liable for any resulting injuries caused by their animal. Possessors or keepers of wild animals can be held liable as well.
As for owners of domestic animals or pet owners, the type of claim filed and state statutes will dictate who can be held liable. For instance, both an owner or keeper who knew of a domestic animal’s dangerous traits can be held responsible. However, if a state has a “dog bite” statute like the one enacted by California legislatures, then such statutes will only apply to the owner under a theory of strict liability.
In general, the most common way that other persons aside from an owner can be held responsible for a pet or domestic animal’s actions will be based on a theory of negligence.
What Should the Victims of Dog Bites or Animal Attacks Do?
In the event that a person is bitten or attacked by an animal, they should consider taking some of the following steps, which can help them to preserve a claim for damages, including:
- Identifying the animal that caused the injury;
- Seeking medical attention when necessary;
- Keeping track of medical records, treatments, and related costs;
- Obtaining the name, address, telephone number, and other contact information of the animal’s owner, as well as the contact information of any people who witnessed the attack occur;
- Recording or taking pictures of the wound if possible; and/or
- Gathering any other relevant evidence that may seem potentially helpful in proving the attack.
Retaining a dog attack lawyer can be a valuable resource in such cases since they will be able to determine what type of claim the individual should file, can explain how local and state statutes may affect the case, and can assist the person in gathering evidence to support a claim.
What Recovery is Possible for Victims of Dog Bites or Animal Attacks?
The most common type of damages that a victim will recover in these types of cases are compensatory or monetary damage awards. The amount received after collecting such an award connected to an animal bite or attack may be used to cover the following items, such as:
- Related medical costs (e.g., treatments, procedures, and medications);
- Future medical treatment;
- Expenses for psychological counseling;
- Loss wages or loss of earnings; and/or
- Punitive damages in extreme cases.
Can I Purchase Insurance to Protect against a Dog Bite or Animal Attack Liability?
Obtaining an insurance policy can be helpful in protecting against an owner’s liability for a dog bite or animal attack. For instance, some homeowner or renters insurance policies will cover damages for injuries caused by an animal. Other policies may not offer such coverage or it may depend on the type of animal that caused the harm. As such, it is important that an owner review the terms of a policy before choosing which insurance to purchase.
In some instances, having car insurance may also reduce the amount that an owner has to pay for their animal’s conduct. For instance, in cases where a motor vehicle is involved in the incident, a person’s car insurance will limit how much a plaintiff can collect regardless of how serious of an injury they received.
As the Victim of an Animal Attack, Should You Hire a Lawyer?
A victim of an animal attack should consult a dangerous animal lawyer if they wish to sue for damages. The lawyer can help the victim to collect evidence, identify the state laws that will either aid them or prevent them from filing a claim, and will also know what type of action they should bring.
In addition, a dangerous animal lawyer can also assess whether bringing a lawsuit would be in the victim’s best interest, or if they should pursue another legal option.
Lastly, victims who receive a serious injury from an animal attack should also consider hiring a lawyer to help ensure that they receive the maximum amount of damages for their suffering.
What Is the Animal Owner’s Legal Responsibility for A Dog Attack?
As discussed above, an animal owner can be held liable for the consequences if their animal or dog attacks someone. This is true for the majority of animal attack cases. Depending on the action, this may mean that they have to pay damages to a victim, will have to give up their animal if it is illegal to possess such a pet, and in extreme cases, they can even be sent to jail.
In addition, a commercial animal owner can also be held legally responsible for injuries. This will normally happen in a scenario where the business owner or one of their employees does not take proper precautions in warning customers or restraining the animals (e.g., if a zookeeper did not lock the cages).
One primary difference between commercial owners and the average pet owner is that if properly proven, pet owners can usually be held responsible for the actions of their pet no matter what. On the other hand, some state statutes will require that the commercial owner is a privately owned establishment before certain types of lawsuits can be brought against them.
For instance, California does not allow patrons to sue in-state zoos that are funded by the government if the basis of their claim involves the theory of strict liability. However, they may be able to sue for general negligence if they can prove that the public zoo did not properly restrain their animals.
How Can Animal Owner Liability Be Mitigated?
There are certain factors that may mitigate (i.e., lessen) the animal owner’s liability, such as:
- If the injured person assumed the risk of and/or provoked the attack;
- Whether the animal owner provided adequate warning about the animal’s traits or potential risks of being near the animal;
- How foreseeable the attack was (e.g., a person who intentionally trespasses on the owner’s property despite ample warnings may receive reduced or no damages if attacked);
- If the incident in question took place and is being heard by a court in a state that recognizes contributory negligence theory; and
- If the owner has an insurance policy that will pay for some of the damages.
It should be noted, however, that some of these factors will depend on state laws and the individual facts of a case.
What Do You Do If Your Animal Bites or Attacks Someone?
In the event that an individual’s animal bites or attacks someone, there are a number of steps they can take that may help to diffuse the situation, such as:
- Remaining calm and collected;
- Being as kind and accommodating as the situation will allow;
- Ensuring that the victim seeks medical attention if the incident calls for it;
- Obtaining the names, addresses, and phone numbers of any witnesses;
- Refraining from making statements or posting on social media about the matter; and
- Locating and preserving copies of the animal’s medical records, including those that show proper care of the animal (e.g., proof of rabies shots, other relevant vaccinations, etc.).
Do I Need an Injury Lawyer for Help with an Animal Attack?
Animal attacks can lead to serious consequences for both the owners of the animals and the people injured by them. Thus, whether you are the victim of an animal attack or your animal is responsible for injuring another individual, you should consider contacting a local personal injury lawyer for further legal guidance.
An experienced personal injury lawyer can discuss the state laws that apply to your case, assist you with preparing and filing a lawsuit, and will be able to represent you in court if necessary.