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Dog Bite FAQs

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1. What should you do immediately after a dog bite?

If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog, you should seek medical attention, for your own safety, and alert the police, as a matter of public safety. Even if you think the dog bite is minor, you should see a doctor. Dog bites can lead to infection, complications, and scarring, and need professional medical attention.

You should also get details about the dog and the attack, including the owner’s contact details, whether or not the dog was properly restrained or provoked, and if the dog is up to date on rabies and other vaccinations.

You should take photos of your injuries, if possible.

Get the advice of a personal injury lawyer experienced in handling dog bite cases, who can advise you of your rights, and help you get compensation for your medical bills and other costs, including damages for your pain and suffering.

In Delaware, the attack should also be reported to the Delaware Division of Public Health.

2. How much money can you get from a dog bite lawsuit?

Damages are awarded in a dog bite lawsuit to compensate the victim for their injuries, and, in limited cases, to punish the dog owner or a responsible third party for their malicious or intentional behavior. Compensation is available for economic and non-economic damage resulting from the dog bite injury, including medical bills, lost wages, pain, and suffering, and psychological harm. Every dog bite lawsuit is different and will result in a different award of damages to the victim. An experienced personal injury lawyer can advise you on the individual circumstances of your case.

3. Are certain dog breeds outlawed in Delaware?

No. In 2017, breed-specific legislation was banned in Delaware. This means that it is illegal for any local or state authority within the state to outlaw any particular dog breed.

4. Are there any Delaware laws that cover dog bites or attacks?

Section 913 of the Delaware Code specifically covers dog attacks and damage. It states that:

The owner of a dog is liable in damages for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by such dog, unless the injury, death or loss was caused to the body or property of a person who, at the time, was committing or attempting to commit a trespass or other criminal offense on the property of the owner, or was committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense against any person, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing the dog.

The common law of negligence also applies to dog attacks. A person owes a duty of reasonable care to other persons, and if their behavior falls below that standard of reasonable care causing injury or loss to another person, they can be liable in negligence.

An important doctrine within the law of negligence is negligence per se, which deems a person negligent if they violate a relevant law or regulation. In Delaware, section 908 of the Delaware Code states that no dog is allowed to run at large unless the dog is accompanied by the owner or custodian, and is under their reasonable control, and licensed, except that a dog may run free on a farm or other 20+ acres property with no more than 3 dwellings from October through February. If a dog owner violates this law, they will be deemed negligent.

5. What does strict liability mean?

Strict liability means that the victim does not have to prove that another person was at fault or negligent in order for that person to be liable for damages or injuries. In the context of a dog bite, a dog owner is strictly liable under section 913 of the Delaware Code for the injuries caused if their dog bites a person regardless of whether or not the dog owner did anything wrong (subject to limited exceptions.)

6. Who is responsible for a dog bite?

In Delaware, a dog owner is strictly liable for any injury, death, or property damage caused by their dog, unless the victim was:

  • committing (or attempting to commit) trespass or other criminal offense on the dog owner’s property;
  • committing (or attempting to commit) a criminal offense against any person; or
  • teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog.

It may also be possible to hold another person liable for injuries caused by a dog bite if that person’s negligence caused the injury e.g. a dog sitter who does not exercise reasonable care with the dog or a childcare provider who does not exercise reasonable care with a child.

7. Do I have to sue the owner if their dog bit me? What if I am friends with them?

You are not required to sue a dog owner if their dog bites you, however, you will likely have to bring legal action and/or negotiate a settlement in order to get compensation for any medical bills or other losses that you have as a result of the dog bite. In such a situation, it is likely that the dog owner will have homeowners’ or renters’ insurance which provides coverage for dog bite claims, and you will be dealing with the insurance company rather than the dog owner.

8. Is it possible for anyone else to be responsible in a dog bite case?

It is possible for people other than the dog owner to be held liable for injuries in a dog bite case. The dog owner is strictly liable under Delaware statute but another person may be held liable if their negligence caused the injury. If another person e.g. a dog sitter or property owner, did not exercise reasonable care and was a cause of the victim’s injury, they could be held liable for that injury and any costs arising from it.

9. How do you know if a dog bite is serious?

You should seek medical attention after a dog bite, both for your own health and safety and as evidence of your injuries. Your healthcare providers are the proper people to advise you about your injuries. It is possible to have complications, such as infection, even from seemingly minor injuries. A dog bite can also cause lasting injuries, such as scarring, which will be important to you and to any legal action you may bring.

10. Should you file a police report for a dog bite?

You should alert the police if you are bitten by a dog, both for public safety and so that a police report is filed. It may be important evidence in any future claim or negotiations. In Delaware, dog bites should be reported to the Delaware Division of Public Health.

11. What if I am injured while being chased by a dog, but not bitten?

The same standards apply to those that are injured while being chased by a dog. For example, if a dog chases you into a public roadway and you are struck by a vehicle, the dog owner may be liable in the same way he/she was liable had his/her dog bitten you.

12. Should I get a lawyer for a dog bite?

If you or a loved one has been injured by a dog bite, you have probably incurred medical bills, physical and emotional suffering, and other losses. Delaware law protects victims, and shifts these costs to dog owners or their insurance providers but insurance companies will try to minimize their losses by reducing the amount of compensation that they payout to you. A good lawyer can level the playing field between you and the big insurance companies to get you the compensation that you need and deserve.

Most personal injury lawyers, including Morris James, will offer a free consultation to discuss your case and the options available to you.

13. If I sue for a dog bite, what will happen to the dog?

When a dog attack is reported to the Delaware Division of Public Health, an investigation will be initiated to determine whether or not the dog is dangerous. If a dog is deemed potentially dangerous, the dog owner has a right to request a county Dog Control Panel, which is made up of experts in dog behavior, veterinary medicine, and law enforcement. The Panel will hear the case and make a final determination as to whether or not the dog poses a future public safety risk. If a dog is found to be dangerous, conditions may be imposed on keeping and controlling the dog, or, other courses of action.

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