You were simply going about your day when out of nowhere, a dog lunged at you and sank its teeth into your arm. The pain was intense, and now you're left with an ugly wound and medical bills to pay. As if that wasn't bad enough, you later discover this wasn't the first time that dog has attacked someone. The owner was well aware their dog had a biting problem, yet failed to take proper precautions to prevent another incident. An Austin dog bite lawyer can help give you an idea of what to expect with your claim.
If you've been the victim of a repeat offender dog, you have rights and options for pursuing compensation. The dog owner can be held liable for damages through a personal injury lawsuit. Their homeowner's insurance may also provide coverage for your medical expenses and other costs. Don't suffer in silence - speak to an attorney about your legal rights after a repeat dog attack. Justice and fair compensation can be achieved.
Establishing Strict Liability: The “One Bite” Rule
If a dog has bitten someone before you, the owner may be found strictly liable for your injuries. The “one bite” rule originally meant that an owner would not be liable for injuries from the first bite, since the dog had no known dangerous propensities. However, most states have now enacted dangerous dog laws imposing strict liability on owners of dogs with aggressive tendencies.
Establishing a History of Aggression
To hold an owner strictly liable under these laws, you must prove the dog had a history of aggression or dangerous behavior prior to biting you. Evidence of prior bites, threatening behavior, or a reputation for aggression can establish this history. Witness statements from neighbors, animal control reports, and medical records of previous bite victims are useful for this purpose.
The more similar the prior incidents are to your bite, the stronger the case for strict liability. For example, if the same dog bit a neighbor under similar circumstances a month before biting you, this is compelling evidence. However, a single vague report of barking at night may not be enough to prove dangerous propensities.
Putting Owners on Notice
In some states, owners can only be held strictly liable if they knew or should have known about the dog's dangerous tendencies. This is known as "putting the owner on notice." An owner who made reasonable efforts to restrain an aggressive dog may avoid strict liability, whereas an owner who ignored multiple warnings about a dangerous dog may be found liable.
The specific requirements to establish an owner's notice vary significantly between states. Speaking with a personal injury attorney in your area is the best way to determine if the owner of the dog that bit you may be strictly liable due to the animal's history of aggression. They can also advise you on collecting evidence and help you pursue appropriate compensation.
Proving the Owner Knew the Dog Was Dangerous
To prove the owner knew the dog was dangerous, you will need evidence that the dog had a history of aggression or had previously bitten someone. This could include:
- Records of previous bites or attacks. Check with animal control, police, and hospitals for reports of bites by the same dog. These records can show the owner was aware of the dog's vicious propensities.
- Witness statements from previous victims or neighbors. Written or recorded statements from those with firsthand knowledge of the dog's aggressive behavior can be compelling evidence. Ask witnesses to provide as much detail as possible about dates, times, and the dog's specific actions.
- Photos or videos of scars or injuries from previous bites. Visual evidence of damage caused by the dog in the past clearly indicates the owner should have known the dog was dangerous. Obtain permission to use these records from previous victims.
- Records of complaints about the dog's aggression. Check with animal control, police, homeowners associations, and neighborhood groups for any records of complaints, warnings, or citations issued to the dog's owner regarding aggressive or threatening behavior. These demonstrate the owner was well aware of the issue.
- Evidence the owner took steps to contain a dangerous dog. Things like "Beware of Dog" signs, heavy chains, multiple locks, or enclosure of the dog in a pen or cage signal the owner realized the dog posed a threat. Their failure to properly contain the dog can strengthen your case.
By gathering evidence from multiple sources that conclusively prove the owner's prior knowledge of the dog's vicious propensities, you stand the best chance of success in a lawsuit against the owner's negligence and liability for your injuries. Thorough documentation and diligent records research are key.
Pursuing Punitive Damages Against the Owner
If a dog has attacked someone else before you, the owner may be liable for punitive damages in addition to compensation for your injuries. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for reckless or malicious behavior to deter similar conduct in the future.
\n\n###Establishing a Pattern of Negligence
To pursue punitive damages, you must be able to show that the owner knew or should have known the dog was dangerous, yet made no reasonable effort to prevent attacks. Evidence of prior biting incidents, aggressive behavior, or a vicious breed can help establish this pattern of negligence. The more serious the previous attacks and the more the owner ignored the risk, the stronger the case for punitive damages.
\n\n### Proving Reckless Disregard
The owner's actions (or inaction) must demonstrate a reckless disregard for the likelihood of harm. For example, if the owner made no changes after a prior biting incident or continued to let the dog run loose, this behavior exhibits a reckless indifference to public safety. Failing to properly contain, restrain or muzzle an aggressive breed with a known propensity for violence could also qualify as reckless disregard.
\n\n### Punitive Damage Awards
If successful, punitive damage awards can be significant, often far exceeding the amount of compensatory damages. The purpose is to financially punish the owner in a way that will force changes in behavior to prevent future harm. The specific amount depends on factors like the severity of harm, the owner's financial standing, and the jurisdiction of the case.
\n\nWhile no amount of money can undo the trauma of a dog attack, punitive damages can at least bring some sense of justice and closure. They also give dog owners a strong incentive to properly handle aggressive or dangerous animals before any harm is done. For victims of repeat offenders, the possibility of punitive damages makes it worthwhile to pursue legal action to help prevent future attacks.
Filing Criminal Charges for Reckless Endangerment
Filing criminal charges against the owner for reckless endangerment is an option if the dog has a history of aggressive behavior and attacks. Reckless endangerment refers to conduct that places or may place another person in danger of death or serious bodily injury.
If the dog has attacked other individuals in the past and the owner was aware of this aggressive behavior but failed to take proper precautions to prevent further attacks, this demonstrates a reckless disregard for others' safety. You should gather evidence of these prior incidents, such as:
- Police or animal control reports of previous attacks
- Witness statements from individuals involved in past attacks
- Records of complaints filed against the owner regarding the dog
- News reports or social media posts referencing earlier attacks
- Photographs of injuries sustained from previous attacks
Failure to Take Action
The owner had a responsibility to take measures to contain a dog with known vicious propensities, such as:
- Keeping the dog securely confined indoors or in a proper enclosure
- Walking the dog on a strong leash by a person able to restrain it
- Putting up "Beware of Dog" signs as a warning
- Muzzling the dog when outside
- Having the dog spayed or neutered (intact male dogs are more likely to show aggression)
If the owner disregarded these responsibilities and the dog was free to attack again, the owner may face criminal charges for reckless endangerment. You should contact the police and animal control to report that you intend to press charges against the owner. Be prepared to provide evidence to show that the owner knew the dog was dangerous but took no action to prevent further harm.
While money damages in a civil lawsuit can provide compensation, pursuing criminal charges against an irresponsible owner can help prevent future attacks and make the community safer. Reckless endangerment is a misdemeanor, punishable by fines and potential jail time.
FAQ: Dog Bites and the Law
If a dog has bitten someone in the past, the owner is considered to have prior knowledge of the animal’s dangerous propensities. This means the owner can be held strictly liable for any future attacks. As a victim of a repeat offender, you have several options for pursuing legal action.
Sue the Owner
You can file a lawsuit against the dog owner to recover damages related to your injuries. Given the owner’s prior knowledge of aggression, you have a strong case to argue for strict liability. You would not need to prove negligence or fault on the part of the owner. Damages may include medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and any permanent disabilities.
Report to Animal Control
Report the incident to your local animal control agency or humane society. They may investigate the situation, question any witnesses, and review the dog’s history. The dog could face consequences like mandatory training, muzzling, or euthanasia. The owner may also receive citations or fines. Reporting the attack establishes an official record, which can support any legal claims you may pursue.
Press Criminal Charges
You can contact the police to file a dangerous dog complaint and press criminal charges against the owner. In some areas, owners of dogs who attack multiple times can face jail time, hefty fines, and bans from owning dogs again. Even if charges are not formally filed, reporting the incident to the police is important for documenting the event.
Consider a Protective Order
If you feel genuinely threatened by this dog and its owner, you may want to petition for a protective order. Also known as a restraining order, it requires the owner to keep a certain distance from you and restrain the dog. Violating a protective order is a criminal offense.
By understanding your options and legal rights after an attack by a repeat offender, you can take appropriate action to recover damages, prevent future attacks, and hold irresponsible owners accountable. Consulting with a personal injury attorney is advisable, especially if pursuing a lawsuit. They can advise you on the proper steps to take and build the strongest case possible.
Fletcher Law Can Help With Your Damages Claim
If a dog has attacked you, and you later find out it has a history of aggressive behavior or biting, you have several options to pursue damages. At Fletcher Law, our personal injury attorneys can help you file a claim against the owner to recover compensation for your injuries, pain and suffering.
Depending on the circumstances, we may advise you to pursue a claim for:
- Medical expenses: This includes emergency care, follow-up treatment, physical therapy, medication, etc. These costs can quickly add up, especially if surgery or hospitalization was required.
- Lost wages: If the attack prevented you from working for a period of time, you can seek compensation for wages lost during recovery and rehabilitation.
- Pain and suffering: In addition to economic losses, you may be entitled to damages for the physical pain, mental anguish, and emotional distress resulting from the dog bite. The amount will depend on the severity of your injuries.
-Punitive damages: If the owner was grossly negligent in controlling a dog with a known propensity for violence, punitive damages may be awarded as a punishment and deterrent. Our lawyers can build a case to prove the owner's reckless disregard for public safety.
When a dog that has previously attacked causes injury again, the owner may face criminal charges for failing to properly confine the animal. We work with local authorities to hold irresponsible dog owners accountable and push for the harshest penalties allowed under the law. By taking a multi-pronged approach, we aim to recover full compensation for clients while also preventing future harm to others.
If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog with a history of aggression, contact our office today for a free case review. We have over 20 years of experience helping injury victims and will evaluate all options to determine the best way to proceed with your claim. Justice and community safety are our top priorities.