It can take anywhere from a few weeks to several years to settle a dog bite case. There are lots of factors that can make the case go quickly or slowly. The extent of the victim’s injuries is an important factor. So is whether the dog owner would be held strictly liable, or liable through negligence.
How long does it generally take to settle a dog bite case?
Dog bite cases can take as little as a few weeks or as long as several years to settle. In some cases, the dog owner or the insurance company is quick to make a fair settlement offer. In other cases, the case goes all the way to trial – and even an appeal after that. Many factors will influence how long it takes to settle the case. Some of the most important are:
- the extent of the victim’s injuries,
- whether the dog owner would be held strictly liable or not,
- how clearly the owner was negligent,
- whether the victim was partially to blame for the attack,
- whether the dog has a documented history of biting people,
- whether there is adequate insurance to cover the victim’s injuries, and
- which insurance companies are involved.
One of the most important factors is the extent of the victim’s injuries and the medical care that they require. With regards to medical expenses, victims in dog bites are entitled to financial compensation that covers their:
- ambulance fees,
- emergency medical attention,
- diagnostic testing, like MRIs or blood work,
- surgical procedures,
- post-operative care,
- prescription drugs,
- follow-up appointments to monitor the victim’s progress,
- occupational therapy,
- physical therapy, and
- mental health care for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety caused by the attack.
Some of these expenses happen right away. Others only begin to occur months or even years after the dog attack. Until the victim is fully healed – or until it becomes clear that the victim will always have a disability – it is impossible to tell for sure how much his or her medical expenses will be. In many cases, personal injury attorneys may recommend waiting to file a dog bite lawsuit until the statute of limitations is approaching. This way, the extent of the victim’s injuries may be clearer. However, this can delay a settlement.
Another big factor is whether the dog owner will be held strictly liable or not. Some states have dog bite laws that hold owners strictly liable for the injuries caused by their animals. Other states make victims prove that the owner acted negligently in some way.
If strict liability would apply, it can speed up the settlement process. In these cases, there is little question about whether the dog owner was responsible for the victim’s injuries.
If the victim would have to prove the owner’s negligence, the owner’s conduct can speed up or slow down the settlement process. If the owner of the dog was very clearly negligent, it can speed up the settlement negotiations. This can happen if the dog has a documented history of biting people. If the evidence is less clear, it can prolong the negotiation as both sides try to find and present stronger evidence of responsibility.
Similarly, if the victim shared responsibility for the attack, it can slow down the settlement. If there are any signs that the victim was trespassing or was provoking the dog, the dog owner will claim that the state’s shared fault laws would reduce the victim’s recovery. This can lengthen the negotiation and could even make the case go all the way to trial.
Finally, the insurers involved and the adequacy of coverage can speed up or slow down the settlement process. Some insurance companies are known for making fair settlement offers quickly, in order to avoid spending that same money in a protracted legal battle. Other insurance companies are infamous for lowballing victims, delaying the case to increase the pressure to settle, and fighting every detail, no matter how trivial. However, if it is clear that the settlement will be for more than the insurance policy limit, a settlement can happen more quickly.
By establishing an attorney-client relationship with a personal injury lawyer from a reputable law firm, victims may be able to reduce the amount of time between the dog bite incident and the payout from a settled personal injury claim.
What are some common dog bite injuries?
Some common dog bite injuries include:
- broken bones,
- lacerations, some of them causing a life-threatening loss of blood,
- serious diseases, like rabies,
- nerve damage,
- concussions and other traumatic brain injuries,
- dismemberment, and
- disfigurement, like scarring.
Additionally, dog bites often cause non-physical injuries, as well. Some of the most common include:
- chronic pain, and
- a fear of dogs.
All of these injuries from an animal attack can lead to staggering medical bills. Recovering compensation for the medical treatment, as well as for the pain and suffering, lost wages, and emotional trauma from the attack, is essential. An experienced attorney can help victims file a personal injury lawsuit before the statute of limitations has expired.
Will my dog bite claim be based on negligence or strict liability?
Whether a dog bite case will be based on negligence or on strict liability will depend on the state and the circumstances of the dog attack. If strict liability would apply, it would speed up the settlement process.
Each state has its own dog bite law. Generally, they fall into 2 categories:
- strict liability, and
- the so-called “one bite rule.”
In states that use strict liability, like California,1 the dog owner will be held responsible even if he or she did nothing wrong. Owners in these states are liable for injuries caused by their dog, even if they did all that they could to prevent it from happening.
In states that use the one bite rule, dog bite victims have to show that the owner knew or should have known that their dog was a danger.2 This is usually done with evidence that the dog has bitten someone, before. This is why it is called the “one bite rule.” Dogs get one bite before their owner will be held liable. However, dogs who have not bitten anyone before, but who are known by animal control to be dangerous, can also make their owner liable.
However, even in states that have strict liability statutes, some victims may not be able to use it. Many states carve out exceptions for trespassers. These victims may still have to show that it was the dog owner’s negligence that caused their injuries.
Cases that would be based on strict liability generally settle faster than those that would not. Strict liability is easier for the victim to prove. The defendants have less to say on their behalf because the owner’s conduct is not at issue. This means that the time frame for settling the case may be shorter.
How big of a dog bite settlement can I expect?
Dog bite settlements are aimed to compensate the victim for his or her legal damages. These can vary widely, depending largely on the severity of the victim’s injuries. They can be as low as a few hundred dollars, and as high as several hundred thousand dollars. The average dog bite settlement, though, is between $35,000 and $50,000.3 See our related pages on How much can I sue for a dog bite? and The average time it takes to settle a personal injury case.
Victims can maximize this amount by hiring a dog bite lawyer. With the legal advice of a dog bite attorney, victims can better understand the compensation that they deserve. This lets them better see whether the settlement offer being made by the insurance adjuster is a fair one or not. If it is not, the lawyer’s law office can help file a dog bite injury claim or personal injury case against the dog owner and his or her homeowner’s insurance coverage.
- California Civil Code 3342 CC.
- See, e.g., Borns v. Voss, 70 P.3d 262 (Wyo. 2003).
- Insurance Information Institute – “Dog Bite Liability Claims By State – Interactive Map.”