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Dog Bites

Washington, D.C. Attorney Representing Animal Attack Victims

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over 4 million people suffer dog bite injuries yearly across the United States. Many of those injured are children, and often, in addition to requiring medical care, dog bite victims endure lifelong disfigurement. Some animal attacks are even fatal. A personal injury case provides a method to hold the dog owner or other resposible party accountable. The laws vary between states regarding liability for dog bites, and at Gelb & Gelb, Washington, D.C. dog bite lawyer Roger Gelb is familiar with the relevant statutes in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. Attorney Gelb fights to recover compensation for those hurt by the negligence or wrongdoing of others. Having successfully recovered over one hundred million dollars in settlements and verdicts for thousands of clients, our firm is prepared to help you assert your rights. Attorney Gelb is recognized as a top personal injury advocate, and personally handles every case in the office.

Establishing Liability for a Dog Bite

Many states maintain a strict liability dog bite law, holding owners liable when their dogs bite regardless of circumstances. Other states allow dog owners to have “one free bite,” which means a dog owner is liable only once they are aware of the dog’s propensity to bite. The laws governing dog bites vary between the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.

Washington, D.C. Dog Bite Law

The District of Columbia requires that victims prove negligence on the part of a dog owner, except for a specific situation in which the dog that bites was “at large” due to the owner’s negligence. Dog owners are required to control dogs on leashes in public, and keep them confined on personal property. A dog owner will not escape liability for harm caused by their dog under these circumstances by stating that they did not know the dog would cause injury.

Most dog bite personal injury claims filed within the District of Columbia are governed by negligence. In these cases, the injured individual shows that the dog owner failed to exhibit reasonable care in controlling their dog. If this failure to use reasonable care caused their injury, they may have a strong claim for compensation. Simply demonstrating that a dog owner let their dog run at large may be evidence of negligent conduct, but it will not automatically prove negligence. Another example of potentially negligent conduct includes letting a stray dog wander into a daycare center, resulting in an attack on a child.

For all negligence claims, causation is essential. A dog that bites someone due to the owner’s carelessness lends itself to a fairly straightforward assessment of causation. However, when someone runs from a scary dog and then trips or is struck by a vehicle, it is more challenging to establish causation. Factors such as whether the dog owner violated a leash law, or had a known propensity to bite, must be assessed. A dog bite lawyer serving the Washington, D.C. area can help you assess the facts of your case and determine whether you have a claim.

Virginia Dog Bite Law

Virginia does not maintain a strict liability dog bite statute. Instead, a dog owner may be liable for a bite if their negligence caused the bite to occur. An example of negligent conduct might be failing to secure a gate when a dog who is usually confined behind that gate has been known to bite people. Virignia law also requires that dog owners know their dog’s propensities, and prevent foreseeable harm.

In some cases, claiming negligence per se may be appropriate. This doctrine holds that violating a statute or ordinance intended to protect a certain sector of the population, thereby harming a member of that group, creates liability for the defendant. An example of this may be a dog owner violating a leash law designed to protect the public from injuries related to dog bites. If a young child is attacked and bitten by an unleashed dog, the owner, by violating the leash law, may be deemed liable on the grounds of negligence per se.

Maryland Dog Bite Law

Maryland applies a strict liability rule if the attacking dog was at large and the owner cannot prove he did not know his dog was dangerous. Similar to plaintiffs in D.C. and Virginia, negligence is the legal principle that Maryland victims can rely on to recover compensation after a dog bite injury. Again, negligence requires a showing that the dog owner failed to meet the required level of care, and as a result, the victim was injured.

Following a dog bite, an injury claim is typically made against the dog owner. Often, a judgment or settlement obtained will be paid by a homeowner's insurance policy or a renter’s policy if the dog is owned by a private person. In some cases, business insurance may cover the loss if a dog bite occurs on the premises of a business. Insurance policies must be carefully analyzed, as certain dog breeds are specifically excluded from coverage. A seasoned Washington, D.C. dog bite attorney can help assess whether a particular loss requires litigation, in addition to determining liability.

Dog Bite Injuries and Damages Available in an Injury Claim

After establishing liability for a dog bite, victims will set forth their damages. In either a strict liability case or a negligence claim, the injured party is entitled to recover for their physical and emotional harm resulting from the attack. Medical care and hospital bills, as well as prescriptions and physical therapy, are costs that may be included. Due to the nature of a dog bite injury, scarring is common and it is necessary to allow for the wounds to heal in order to assess the extent of harm. Permanent scarring may entitle the victim to seek a larger damages award.

Wages missed from work due to injuries should also be calculated and set forth. Additionally, injured victims may recover emotional distress damages, and mental anguish can be inferred when bodily injury is severe. This may particularly be the case when the victim suffers disfigurement or permanent facial or body scars. Psychological harm may result after a dog bite, as victims can suffer post traumatic stress from the animal attack. Costs for psychological therapy may be included in a damages claim.

Contributory Negligence and Trespassing

The District of Columbia and Maryland have a contributory negligence rule, which is a complete bar to collecting damages when the injured person contributed to their own injuries. Contributory negligence arguments may be based on the defendant dog owner’s allegation that the injured person provoked the dog. A dog owner may allege that the victim abused the dog, or taunted the dog until it bit. If the dog owner is deemed 90% responsible for the attack, and the victim is 10% responsible, the victim will nevertheless be barred from recovering compensation.

Trespassing is another argument that a defendant dog owner or business may set forth in order to minimize or escape liability. Unauthorized or uninvited visitors may face challenges in asserting their right to recover damages if were not lawfully on the defendant’s property, which would mean that they were not owed a duty of care. However, exceptions to this trespassing rule exist for mail carriers, law enforcement, and in some cases, neighborhood children. A skilled attorney can help assess this type of defense, which may limit the dog owner’s liability in an injury case.

Discuss Your Dog Bite Claim with a Skilled Washington, D.C. Attorney

The aftermath of a dog bite can leave victims feeling overwhelmed and angry. Pursuing compensation from a negligent pet owner or other party is a method to recover compensation and a sense of justice. As a seasoned dog bite injury lawyer, Attorney Roger Gelb is available to help people throughout MD, VA, and Washington D.C. as they set forth their legal rights following an animal attack. To learn more about the specifics of your case, contact our office by calling (202) 331-7227 or completing our online form.

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