What to do After a Dog Bite

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 4.5 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year. Even if a dog bite does not appear to require immediate medical attention, it’s imperative to take the bite seriously and follow protocol. Even minor dog bites can breed dangerous infections, as the CDC also reports nearly 1 out of every 5 dog bites becomes infected. In California, dog bite victims can often negotiate a settlement or file a lawsuit for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. For the best results, victims should do the following: 

1. Identify the Dog and the Owner

First, seek to obtain licensing, vaccination (most notably, rabies), and general records on the dog. This will help you identify the dog—yes, even by name—and exchange contact information with the dog’s owner. California dog bite law usually imposes “strict liability” on the owner, making them responsible for all damages (unless it can be proven that you were trespassing and/or provoking the dog). 

There are many cases in which identifying the dog is more difficult than you might expect, such as when a stray dog bites someone and runs away. Do your best, and if all else fails, take a clear mental note of what the dog looked like and where it might have run off to so you can investigate later.

2. Seek Medical Attention

If the bite is a medical emergency, calling 911 and getting to the emergency room is more important than personally identifying the dog. But in most cases, the victim is able to take the 10-20 minutes to find and converse with the owner, either before the paramedics arrive or before driving to a hospital.

Again, any dog bite that breaks the skin has a relatively high likelihood of infection due to the bacteria that live in dogs’ mouths. No matter how minor the bite may seem, you should at least visit a walk-in clinic or urgent care. Afterward, be sure to follow the doctor’s orders—both for your successful recovery and to substantiate a potential personal injury claim against the dog’s owner. 

3. Take Photos

If you hope to pursue a personal injury claim, photos can help to prove your case against the owner. Since the bite will likely heal by the time you would appear in front of a jury, you need to be able to show the seriousness of your injury when the incident first occurred. If possible, take photos of the bite, as well as the scene of the attack, immediately after the incident. Continue to document the bite during treatment so it is clear how long it took to heal. Also capture any permanent scarring or disfigurement.

4. Report the Incident

One of the most common mistakes dog bite victims make is not reporting the attack to police, animal control, or the health department. Sometimes, the owner of the dog will try to convince the victim not to file a report, but more often, the mistake is simply an oversight on the victim’s part. It is absolutely critical that you report a dog bite to the proper authorities. Jurisdictions each handle dog bite reports differently; if you are unsure of whom to contact, default to the police and they will be able to direct you to the correct department.

5. Communicate with Authorities—Not Insurance Companies

Equally important to reporting the dog bite is cooperating with the authorities and following their instructions. However, do not provide a statement to the dog owner’s insurance company. Insurance adjusters are trained by insurance companies to contort any information you provide, and they will only seek information to cast doubt upon the severity of your claim. The only people you should be speaking to initially about your bite are doctors and the local authorities.

6. Consult a Dog Bite Attorney

Once your statement is finalized, the final step while you continue to treat your wound is to contact an experienced dog bite attorney. It’s best to hire an attorney sooner rather than later, especially considering dog bites typically have only a two-year statute of limitations (meaning you have two years from the date of the incident to file a lawsuit).

According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites and related injuries were responsible for more than $600 million in claims in 2016. But remember, insurance is a business, and insurers always try to minimize (if not eliminate) any payout for a dog bite or personal injury claim. This is why you need legal assistance from an attorney who specializes in dog bites to ensure you don’t accept a lowball settlement, or worse, irreparably damage the value your claim. 

If you were bitten by a dog in California, contact The Law Offices of Belgum, Fry & Van Allen. We are here to answer your questions, communicate with insurers and the defendant’s legal counsel on your behalf, and work tirelessly toward securing the compensation you deserve. Start with a free case evaluation today.