Dog bite lawsuits are often worth around $50,000. That amount can increase or decrease drastically, given the victim’s injuries and share of fault. State law can influence the value of a case by applying the one bite rule or strict liability. There are also some people who face obstacles in proving a case; they may see a smaller settlement.
What is the average dog bite settlement amount?
The average settlement for a dog bite case is around $50,000 in many states. In some other states, it can be around $35,000.1
These amounts are increasing, every year. In 2019, the average dog bite insurance claim was for $44,760. In 2020, it was for $50,425.2
However, every particular case is unique. Some are worth fairly little. Some are worth far more than average. Some key factors that determine how much a case will be worth are the:
- injuries suffered by the victim, especially if the bite proved to be fatal,
- victim’s share of responsibility for the dog attack,
- dog’s bite history,
- dog owner’s conduct,
- state where the attack occurred, and
- characteristics of the dog or victim, like if the dog was a law enforcement animal, or if the victim was a veterinarian.
Because there are so many factors, there is no such thing as an average dog bite payout. A dog bite attorney can advocate on behalf of victims who want to make sure they get fully compensated.
What are some common dog bite injuries?
The injuries that the victim suffers will drive the value of the case. They are the major factor that will determine how much compensation the victim deserves. Some common dog bite injuries include:
- cuts and lacerations, some of which can be life-threatening,
- nerve damage,
- scarring or disfigurement,
- infections, including rabies,
- broken bones,
- strains and sprains,
- concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBI),
- emotional distress,
- anxiety around dogs, and
- posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Victims who suffered these injuries deserve to be compensated for them. A dog bite lawyer from a reputable law firm can provide the legal advice necessary to make that happen.
In some cases, dog bite incidents prove to be fatal. In these cases, a family member or a loved one of the dog bite victim can establish an attorney-client relationship with an experienced attorney to file a wrongful death claim against the owner of the dog.
What types of compensation are available?
Contrary to what insurance companies will say, the compensation available to victims of a dog bite is not confined to their medical bills. Instead, personal injury law entitles victims to compensation for:
- emergency room medical attention,
- past medical treatment,
- reasonably anticipated future medical expenses, like physical therapy,
- lost wages,
- reduced earning capacity, if their injuries are severe enough to alter their professional success,
- pain and suffering,
- emotional trauma,
- property damage, and
- loved ones’ loss of consortium and companionship.
In rare cases where the dog owner acted maliciously, victims in dog bite cases can recover punitive damages, as well.
Because all of these losses stem from the animal attack, victims deserve to recover all of them. Because victims can get these legal damages in a verdict, settlements generally reflect a prediction of the amount of compensation that the victim can expect, if he or she took their case to trial.
How do state dog bite laws influence the value of a case?
Different states have different dog bite statutes. How these laws hold dog owners liable for injuries caused by their pet can alter how much certain cases are worth. The most important legal issues are:
- whether the state will use strict liability or the negligence standard to hold the owner responsible, and
- how the state’s personal injury laws handle shared fault.
State liability laws
Generally, there are 2 different types of dog bite liability statutes:
- strict liability laws, and
- the “one bite rule.”
Many states use the kind of strict liability laws found in California’s dog bite statute.3 These hold the dog owner responsible and liable for injuries caused by their dogs, even if the owner was without fault. The owner can be held liable if he or she was unaware of the dog attack, or even if they did everything they could to prevent it from happening.
Some states, however, follow the one-bite rule. In these states, dog owners will only be held liable if they knew or should have known of their dog’s dangerous tendencies.4 It is called the “one bite rule” because the strongest and most common piece of evidence in a case will be whether the dog has bitten anyone, before. If the dog has bitten someone, or there are records at animal control detailing its aggressive behavior, then the owner will likely be on notice of the dog’s viciousness.
Identical dog bite cases may be worth more in states that have strict liability laws. In those states, the owner’s awareness of their dog’s danger to the public is not a factor. The dog owner cannot raise it to avoid liability. Without this defense, the case will be easier to win. This can reflect itself in the value of the settlement offers.
Shared fault rules
Many accidents are not entirely one person’s fault. When the victim was partially to blame for the incident that led to his or her injuries, it takes some of the responsibility away from the defendant. Personal injury laws handle these shared fault situations in 1 of 3 ways:
- contributory negligence,
- pure comparative negligence, or
- modified comparative negligence.
If the dog bite happened in a state that uses contributory negligence, like Virginia,5 the victim will be barred from recovering any compensation if he or she contributed any fault for the bite.
Victims of dog bites that happen in states that use pure comparative negligence, like California6 and Florida,7 will see their verdict reduced by the percentage of fault they brought.
In states that use modified comparative negligence, like Illinois8 and Texas,9 dog bite verdicts are reduced by the victim’s percentage of fault. However, victims are also barred from recovering anything if they are more than half at fault.
If there is evidence that the victim provoked the dog in some way, it can reduce the potential settlement. The insurer will use that evidence of shared fault to pressure the victim into taking a smaller payout.
Will certain people struggle to prove their personal injury claim?
Yes, there are 4 situations where a victim may face additional obstacles in proving their claim:
- the victim was a trespasser at the time of the bite,
- the dog was a law enforcement or military dog,
- the negligent person was not the dog’s owner, and
- the victim had assumed the risk of getting bitten.
In these situations, the victim will generally not be able to hold the owner strictly liable. They can still pursue compensation for the losses that stemmed from the dog attack. However, the victim will have to show that the owner was negligent.
This increased evidentiary standard will likely be reflected with a lower settlement offer.
Do insurance companies pay in a dog bite case?
Homeowners’ insurance and renters’ insurance policies can cover the costs of a dog bite settlement or verdict. However, not all dog owners have these types of insurance coverage. Additionally, many insurance companies let people opt in to coverage. Because this increases the costs of the insurance premiums, lots of dog owners refuse to opt-in.
If the dog owner does not have insurance coverage, the victim will have to hold the owner personally liable. Any settlement or verdict will come out of the owner’s pocket. This drastically increases the likelihood that the victim will be undercompensated.
When do settlements happen in a dog bite claim?
Like other personal injury cases, the vast majority of dog bite claims are settled out of court. These settlements can happen at any time between the bite and the jury’s verdict at trial.
If the dog owner is insured, an adjuster for the insurance company will likely make an initial settlement offer soon after the dog attack, right when the victim’s medical costs begin to accumulate. This offer is made to seem enticing by covering the medical care that has been provided. However, it is also designed to drastically undercompensate the victim. This is done to protect the insurance company’s profits.
By hiring a personal injury attorney, victims can better understand what compensation they should receive. This lets them judge the settlement offers with experienced eyes. Insurers know this, and often increase their offer when the victim hires a lawyer.
If the settlement negotiations are not fruitful and the statute of limitations is approaching, a personal injury lawyer can file a dog bite claim in court for the victim.
- Insurance Information Institute – “Dog Bite Liability Claims By State – Interactive Map.”
- Insurance Information Institute – “Spotlight on Dog Bite Liability.”
- California Civil Code 3342 CC.
- See, e.g., Borns v. Voss, 70 P.3d 262 (Wyo. 2003).
- See, e.g., Coutlakis v. CSX Transportation, Inc., 796 S.E.2d 556 (2017).
- Li v. Yellow Cab Co., 13 Cal.3d 804 (1975).
- Florida Statutes 768.81.
- 735 ILCS 5/2-1116.
- Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 33.001.