Monday, July 31, 2017 | 2 a.m.
By Attorney Judah Zakalik, Esq., Partner, Peters and Associates, LLP
Question: I was recently bitten by my neighbor’s dog, and I had to go to the emergency room for stitches. I’ve known the dog, and his owner, for many years. While I’ve seen him growl and act aggressively, I’m not sure he’s ever bitten anyone before. Because of this, I don’t necessarily want to get the police involved, but I have medical bills that need to get paid. How can I go about this in a way that won’t endanger the dog or cause problems with my neighbor?
Answer: We see cases like this often, and unfortunately, they can be complicated to pursue and emotionally distressing.
You’re absolutely entitled to compensation for your medical bills, as well as any future medical bills that result from the bite (including, among other treatments, physical therapy or cosmetic surgery for scarring). It’s also likely that you’ll be able to receive compensation for lost wages, if applicable, and pain and suffering, because animal attacks can be very traumatic.
There are a few ways to go about dog-bite cases, but often, they are settled through the dog owner’s home or renter’s insurance. However, to receive an insurance settlement, the owner must be found liable for the bite. In Nevada, it can be especially complex because of varying owner liability laws.
Nevada is one of 15 states that follows the “one bite rule,” which means that, for the owner to be held liable, he or she must have prior knowledge that the dog has bitten or acted aggressively before. Depending on the circumstance, this can be difficult to prove, though it’s not impossible.
Most dogs that bite suddenly are poorly trained and often have a history of aggressive behavior, which works to your advantage. Even if the dog that bit you falls into the “first-bite” category, the owner may still be liable considering the dog’s past behavior of growling, acting erratically, etc. You will need to be able to prove that the owner was aware of this behavior, though.
Meeting this burden of proof is important when filing an insurance claim, so it’s important that you contact an attorney before making the claim, to ensure you have enough evidence.
Note: If you can’t prove the owner’s liability or your claim is rejected for any other reason, you may still have a case for negligence. This should be considered a last-resort option, but it’s an option nonetheless.
What to do following a dog bite and tips for proving liability
1. Seek medical treatment immediately if the dog broke skin, even if the wound seems mild. Bites are vulnerable to infection, and some dogs carry diseases. Keep all of your medical records, including any recommendations from your doctor about follow-up treatments.
2. Alert the dog’s owner and tell him or her exactly what happened and how, including that you needed emergency medical attention. Exchange contact information and, if possible, request the dog’s information from a veterinarian to ensure the animal is up-to-date on its vaccines. If you’re not able to identify the owner, or the dog is a stray, call animal control immediately and mention this to your doctor.
3. File a report with the police or animal control. Even if the bite wasn’t life-threatening, it’s good to have it on record because it will help build your case. Check to see if the dog has any other reports of violent behavior in the past. Request a copy of the report for your records and save any documentation/correspondence that pertain to the report. (Note: doing this won’t jeopardize the dog unless there is an immediate concern for others’ safety.)
4. Take pictures of the injury and write down your version of events as soon as you’re able to do so. If anyone else witnessed what happened, ask for a statement and contact information.
5. Talk to your neighbors about the attack, and see if they’ve witnessed any aggressive behavior from the dog that they would be willing to testify to. If you or anyone in your home have witnessed similar behavior, document that as well.
Please note: The information in this column is intended for general purposes only and is not to be considered legal or professional advice of any kind. You should seek advice that is specific to your problem before taking or refraining from any action and should not rely on the information in this column.