When Do You Need a Dog Bite Lawyer?

A young Phoenix boy is still suffering from injuries he received more than a year ago when he was attacked by his babysitter’s dog. The boy, who was only four years old at the time of the incident, suffered severe injuries to his face. He has since undergone numerous reconstructive surgeries to repair damage to his face muscles, broken jaw and eye socket. His mother has had to quit her job in order to stay home and care for him. The case received a lot of media attention with some people claiming the boy provoked the dog. Reportedly, the dog was chained when the boy walked into its area and took its bone. Others say a four-year old child should not be expected to know that act would provoke the dog. Meanwhile, the boy is expected to need more extensive surgery and his recovery is not complete.

In a case just this summer, a 67 year-old Valley woman was viciously attacked when she was visiting a friend. The two friends were walking together across the friend’s driveway when the dog attacked her, biting a chunk out of the victim’s ankle, knocking her to the ground. She claimed it was 20 minutes before help came all the while she was writhing on the ground as the dog pulled out her hair, bit off her ear and caused other serious injuries. The injured woman now references the dog owner as her “former” friend.

Dog Bite Injuries Statistics

Dog bites are more common than you might think. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports that every year in the U.S., more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs. At least 20 percent of those need medical care. Out of those, 27,000 will be hospitalized in need of reconstructive surgery. In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 31 people died from their dog bite injuries.

The Phoenix New Times published statistics which show that between 2008 and 2012, more than 34,000 Arizonans received emergency room treatment for dog bites. Approximately 2,300 of those were hospitalized.

What to do if Bitten

Being bitten by a dog is a frightening experience, but there are some important steps you need to take after a dog bite.

  • The first thing to do is get medical treatment. Go to an emergency room for what seems to be a minor wound. Dog bites that do not even break the skin can cause damage under the skin and need to be evaluated by a physician. Puncture wounds can become infected if not treated properly.
  • Identify the owner of the dog and get all contact information. Also, obtain the dogs immunization record.
  • Report the injury to the police and animal control authorities. The animal may need to be taken into custody and quarantined to prevent any further attacks and for evaluation of whether or not it has rabies.

Arizona Dog Bite Law

According to Arizona dog bite law, owners of dogs are strictly liable for injuries inflicted by their dogs without victims needing to prove negligence.  The only caveat is that the victim must be in a public place or a private place where they have a legal right to be. A private place includes the property of the owner of the dog. It does not matter whether or not the owner knew the dog was vicious or whether or not it had ever bitten anyone else in the past.

Right to be on private property: The dog bite statute states that a person who is invited to be on the property or is a guest has a right to be on the property. Also, a law enforcement officer who is on private property to enforce the law is rightfully on the property. Individual municipalities may expand on the law and give others the right to be on private property for purposes of holding owners strictly liable for the bites their dogs inflict on others.

In our two examples, both victims were in a private place where they had a legal right to be: The young boy was at his babysitter’s house and the 67 year-old woman was visiting a friend. In both cases, they were on the property of the owner of the dog that bit them.

Owners are also liable when their dogs are in a public place and bite someone. In addition, there are laws requiring dogs to be on a leash when in a public place. The only exception is if the dog is unleashed at a public dog park.

Strict Liability for a Dog "At Large." Dog owners are strictly liable for injuries inflicted by their dogs who are “at large,” which means running free.  Recently, a 14-year old boy on a skateboard was holding the leash of his pit bull who was pulling the boy along a public sidewalk. A teenage girl across the street was walking her leashed Labrador. The Labrador broke off his leash, ran across the street and attacked the boy and his dog. The boy received multiple and serious wounds on his hands. Although it may seem clear that the dog that broke off its leash was “at large,” it may take the assistance of a personal injury lawyer to prove it.

Defense to the Strict Liability Statute

The dog bite statute allows for an owner to avoid liability if the owner can prove that the victim provoked the dog. They must also prove that the victim knew or reasonably should have known the act would provoke the dog. This is the issue some have raised in the case of the young boy attacked at his baby sitter’s home. Is it reasonable to expect a four-year old to know that his act of taking a dog’s bone would provoke an attack? A dog bite lawyer will know how to help with issues like this.

When You Need a Dog Bite Attorney

Although the dog bite statute seems straightforward, there are many ways in which a dog bite attorney can assist you in collecting and maximizing the damages to which you are entitled. Dog owners often work to find ways around the statute or to claim the dog ws provoked. Some ways attorneys may help dog bite victims include:

  • Proving the victim was either in a public place or a private place where they were legally entitled to be.
  • Refuting a claim that the victim provoked the attack.
  • Properly reviewing medical records in order to accurately determine the amount of damages to which victims can legally claim.
  • Know all the exceptions to the statute and how to fight against them.
  • Knows the statute of limitations for filing a dog bite strict liability claim is one year after the day of the bite.
  • Know how to file a claim based on negligence if the one year statute of limitations is not met.
  • Know the statute of limitations for filing a claim for negligence is two years.

Do not risk losing your right to collect damages for your dog bite injury. Contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after the day you were bitten.