Dog attacks are serious business. A surprising 4.5 million dog bites occur each year in the United States. A solid 80% of those dog attacks do not result in serious injury. Most people don’t even need to seek medical care.
Death by dog attack is extremely rare. In fact, you are 34 times more likely to die from hot dog attacks (choking on inhaled food) than from real dog attacks. But in case a furry friend decides to be not so friendly with you, here’s some good information to know.
1. Two Types of Liability
There are two main types of liability related to dog attacks. Not all states enforce the same dog bite laws. Most do use one of these two types of liability to shape their dog bite policy.
Let’s take a look at these types of liability.
The first is negligence. The negligence theory of liability refers to the ability of the owner to contain and/or restrain the dog. The victim must be able to show that the owner did not use reasonable care to contain the dog. If the victim can’t prove that, the owner is not held liable if their dog attacks.
Reasonable care to contain the dog are things like:
- Keeping the dog in an enclosed area on private property
- Keeping the dog on a leash at all times when outside that enclosed area
What if the dog owner keeps the dog in a fenced yard, but forgets to close the gate? If the dog attacks a person out on the street the owner will be liable.
If the victim enters the private property it is not quite as simple. Leaving the gate open is negligence, but entering private property without permission is trespassing. This is an example of where the law gets sticky. It depends on the state and the situation (and your lawyer’s ability) as to which side will win out in this case.
Some states have adopted a more stringent theory of liability for dog owners. Strict liability means that the owner is liable any time their dog attacks. It doesn’t matter how much care they took to contain or restrain their dog.
Louisiana’s Liability Laws
The laws in Louisiana don’t stick to only one or the other of these two types of liability. First, it depends on what kind of animal committed the attack. For any other animal besides dogs, the negligence theory applies.
For dog attacks in Louisiana, a form of strict liability applies though not in the strictest sense. Louisiana law gives dog owners a break as there are a few exceptions.
For one, you as the victim must be able to show that it was in the owner’s power to prevent their dog from attacking. An example of this might be if an owner is walking their dog on a leash. You want to pet the dog and do so without permission or ignore a warning from the owner. The owner did what they could and you bear responsibility when the dog attacks.
For another, you as the victim also must be able to prove your presence was lawful. An example of this is if you are trespassing on private property when a dog attacks. In that case, there’s a good chance the owner will not be liable for damages.
In addition, the dog’s owner will not be liable if they can show that the victim provoked the attack.
2. Criminal Liability
Did you know that dog attacks are so serious the owner could go to jail? If a dog seriously injures another person, the owner could end up facing criminal charges under Louisiana law. If found guilty, the court could sentence the owner to up to 6 months in jail and order them to pay a $500 fine.
A criminal case is different from a civil case in that a state or local prosecutor files the charges, not the injured person. This most often happens when an owner violates the vicious dog statute.
Dangerous Dog Statute
Under Louisiana law, if a dog falls under the dangerous dog statute the owner has extra responsibilities to meet. If the owner doesn’t abide by these restrictions and the dog injures someone they could face criminal charges.
We encourage owners to be responsible. Know what defines a dangerous dog. Owners of dangerous dogs should know the rules and abide by them. Just because a dog is dangerous doesn’t mean the owner has to get rid of the dog. But they must maintain the responsibilities that Louisiana law requires.
What defines a dangerous dog? Before we get into that let’s first define serious injury so we’re all on the same page. In Louisiana, serious injury is defined as an injury that causes
- Severe pain
- The loss or impairment of a limb or an organ
- The loss of impairment of a bodily function or mental functioning
- Significant risk of death
None of that looks very fun now does it?
Owners have to register their dog as a dangerous dog if it commits any of the following acts without provocation.
- Has caused a person to feel they must defend themselves at least 2 times in the past 3 years. These incidents have to take place off the owner’s property to count.
- Has bitten or seriously injured a person.
- Has killed or injured 2 other domestic animals in the past 3 years. Again, the incidents have to take place off the owner’s property.
If a dog is guilty of one of these 3 crimes, the owner must meet the following requirements.
- They must keep the dog safely restrained or contained at all times. For example, on their own property, they can keep the dog indoors or enclosed somehow outdoors. The dog must not be able to escape the enclosure, nor should young children be able to enter. If the owner wants to take their dog out for a walk, the dog must be on a leash at all times. The dog cannot be allowed to get to an area where there are other people or to run free.
- If the dog lives outdoors, the owner must place visible warning signs around the enclosure. These signs can’t be more than 30 feet apart and there must be one near all entrances and exits. The signs must read either “Dangerous Dog” or “Beware of Dog” in text that is at least 3 1/2 inches tall.
- As mentioned, the owner must register the dog with their local dog licensing authority as a dangerous dog.
If dog owners violate any part of the dangerous dog statute, the court can fine them up to $300. Fines for not properly containing and/or restraining the dog range from $100-$500.
Just as we encourage owners to be responsible we encourage others to steer clear of dogs in marked enclosures. The owner is being responsible for containing their dog and warning others that the dog is a potential threat. Don’t ignore the warning. If you do, it isn’t necessarily the dog owner who will be liable for your injuries.
Vicious Dog Statute
The vicious dog statute is more serious than the dangerous dog one. Dogs fall under this statute if they were already registered as a dangerous dog and then kill or seriously injure a person.
This is a very serious situation. Louisiana law does not allow ownership of a vicious dog. If you are the victim of a dog attack and believe the dog to qualify as a vicious dog you should seek legal counsel at once. We can advise you what to do in that situation.
The vicious dog statute is where the criminal liability we described earlier comes into play. A violation of this law is a serious issue in Louisiana.
If a dog previously determined to be vicious is responsible for your injuries, that dog’s owner is in big trouble. They are subject not only to your civil case but also to a criminal case at the state or local level. That case could result in jail time and a fine of up to $500.
For more information about dog bites and the law check out our post A Client’s Guide to Dog Bite Law in Louisiana.
3. What You’ll Need for a Civil Suit
If you are the victim of a dog attack and hope to win a civil suit you’ll need to gather evidence. Take detailed pictures of your injuries as soon after the attack as possible. The judge will also want to see copies of both your medical records and your bills. If the dog also damaged your clothes or shoes or any other items in the attack, have those ready to show also.
As the victim, you’ll also have to show that you had not unlawfully entered the owner’s private property. You also may have to show that you did not in any way provoke the attack.
As we mentioned earlier, in Louisiana the owner is not automatically liable for dog attacks. You have to have followed the rules also.
We also recommend getting a lawyer to advise and represent you during this process. Personal injury cases are never as simple as they seem. The best way to enter a courtroom is with a professional on your side.
In many cases, the cost of hiring a lawyer is overshadowed by the settlement amount. We’ll stick up for you and ensure that you get the settlement that you deserve. In most cases, we can win you more money that you could have won on your own.
Most people who file the suit on their own only sue for the obvious costs of their injuries. Costs like medical bills and time off work. There are extra things you might not think about that drive up the cost of your injuries. Therefore the amount you sue for should be adjusted accordingly.
For example, what if the dog bite was severe enough to leave you in a wheelchair? If your home is not already wheelchair accessible you will have to pay for remodels to your home. This is what makes hiring a personal injury lawyer invaluable. We’ll think of all the little things you won’t.
4. The Court Finds that You Provoked the Attack
What happens if the court determines that you are at least partially responsible for your own injuries? This can happen if the owner can show that you were trespassing or were provoking their dog into attacking. In these cases, the court often assigns each party a percentage of the blame.
What does that mean? You may still receive a settlement from the dog’s owner. But the court will usually reduce the amount by whatever percentage they determined was your fault.
For example, let’s say that you are suing the dog’s owner for $10,000 in medical bills etc. The court finds that you were 40% responsible for the attack and awards you $6,000. That is, they will award you 40% less than what you were seeking.
Bottom line, don’t go around provoking your neighbor’s dogs. It isn’t a smart, or profitable, move. Dog attacks are serious business. If you think that the court will automatically place the blame on the dog or its owner, you are mistaken.
5. There’s a Time Limit
Louisiana has specific rules about how long you have to file a claim after a dog attacks you. Like most personal injury claims you must file your suit within 1 year.
Reach out to us as soon as possible so we can be sure to get your claim started within the time limits. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to get the settlement you deserve for the injuries you sustained.
We’ll make sure that all the right paperwork gets filed by all the right deadlines. That’s the advantage of hiring a professional. You’ve already suffered enough. Your lawsuit doesn’t have to be stressful too. Let us handle the rough stuff and you focus on healing as quickly as possible from your injuries.
If you’ve been injured, Stephen Babcock is standing by to help you.
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