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Being Sued for Dog Bite: Understanding Liability and Legal Actions

Updated: Sep 14


Dog bites can lead to serious injuries and legal consequences for both the victim and the dog owner. With millions of dog bites occurring each year in the United States, it is important to understand the legal implications of such incidents. If you find yourself being sued for a dog bite, it is crucial to be well-informed about your rights, responsibilities, and available options. This article provides a comprehensive guide to help you navigate through the process of being sued for a dog bite, including understanding insurance coverage, avoiding lawsuits, responding to legal actions, and seeking legal representation if necessary.

When your dog bites someone or another dog, the potential for a lawsuit arises, and understanding the legal aspects is crucial. This article combines information from multiple sources to provide a comprehensive guide on how to handle dog bite lawsuits and explores defense options that can be pursued. Whether you have insurance coverage or not, it's important to be prepared and informed to navigate the legal process effectively.

Dog Bite Statistics

Dog bites are a prevalent issue in the United States, with millions of incidents reported annually. Although the exact figures are not available, it is estimated that there are at least 4.7 million dog bites every year. Shockingly, only around 800,000 victims seek medical attention, and compensation is typically provided to only 2% of those victims. This highlights the need for awareness and understanding of the legal aspects surrounding dog bites.

Insurance Coverage for Dog Owners

When faced with a potential lawsuit due to a dog bite, one of the primary concerns for the dog owner is whether their insurance coverage is sufficient to handle the claim. Homeowner insurance policies typically have a liability limit of $100,000, which is usually adequate for settlements. However, in cases involving substantial injuries, this coverage may not be sufficient. In such situations, utilizing an umbrella or excess policy is recommended. These policies often offer $1 million of coverage for approximately $100 per year, providing an additional layer of protection.

Avoiding a Lawsuit

Prevention is always better than dealing with the consequences of a lawsuit. If you own a dog that shows signs of aggression or has a history of biting, it is crucial to take proactive measures to protect yourself and others. By following these guidelines, you can reduce the risk of being sued for a dog bite:

1) Restrict Access to Your Dog

Keep your dog away from people, especially if it displays aggressive behavior. Restrict its access to areas where it may come into contact with unfamiliar individuals. This can include using gates, fences, or crates to create a safe environment for your dog and others.

2) Use a Muzzle

If your dog has a tendency to bite or shows aggression, using a muzzle can be an effective precautionary measure. When your dog is around people, particularly in public spaces, ensure that it is properly muzzled to prevent any potential harm.

3) Comply with Animal Control Laws

Familiarize yourself with local animal control laws, including leash laws, anti-trespassing laws, and anti-running at large laws. Adhering to these regulations will not only protect you from legal consequences but also ensure the safety of others.

4) Do not leave dogs unattended when no one is home

Leaving dogs unsupervised can increase the likelihood of incidents and accidents. Dogs may engage in destructive behavior, become anxious, or even escape, potentially leading to confrontations with other animals or people. Whenever possible, ensure someone is present or make appropriate arrangements, such as doggy daycare or pet-sitting services.

5) Use proper restraining equipment and fencing to prevent escape

Proper restraining equipment, such as a sturdy leash and collar or harness, is essential for maintaining control over your dog during walks or outings. Ensure that the leash is of appropriate length and strength for your dog's size and strength. Additionally, secure fencing around your property can help prevent your dog from wandering off and encountering potential risks or causing harm to others.

6) Install a gate inside the house near the front door to avoid dogs rushing out

To prevent dogs from bolting out of the house when the front door opens, consider installing a gate inside the house near the entrance. This provides a physical barrier and allows you to safely interact with visitors without the risk of your dog escaping or inadvertently injuring someone.

7) Avoid using retractable leashes

Retractable leashes, while convenient for giving dogs more freedom to roam, can pose risks in certain situations. These leashes can easily extend to long lengths, potentially creating entanglement hazards or allowing your dog to approach others without proper control. Instead, opt for a standard leash that provides a consistent length and better control over your dog's movements.

8) Train your dog to respond to basic commands such as sit, stay, heal and come

Training your dog is crucial for establishing obedience and proper behavior. Teaching commands like sit, stay, heal, and come can help you maintain control in various situations, including encounters with other dogs or unfamiliar individuals. Enroll your dog in obedience classes or work with a professional dog trainer to develop these skills effectively.

9) Take immediate photographs of the scene, your dog, and any injuries to document the incident

In the event of a dog bite incident, it's important to document the scene and any injuries sustained. Take photographs as soon as possible, capturing the location, any environmental factors, your dog, and the injuries inflicted. These photographs can serve as crucial evidence in case legal proceedings occur and aid in determining liability.

10) Be Nice

The most effective and straightforward approach is to exhibit utmost kindness and empathy towards the dog bite victim and their family. Demonstrate genuine concern without immediately assuming fault, while also implementing the aforementioned preventive measures. It is crucial to maintain sincerity, refrain from becoming defensive, and avoid assigning blame to anyone involved. By adopting this approach, you can foster a positive atmosphere that encourages open communication and cooperation in addressing the aftermath of the incident.

By adhering to these preventive measures, you demonstrate responsible pet ownership and actively work towards minimizing the risk of dog bites. Remember, dog bites can have severe consequences, both for the victim and the dog owner, so prioritizing safety and taking proactive steps is key to avoiding such incidents.

If You Are Sued

Facing a lawsuit due to a dog bite can be a daunting experience. It is crucial to take appropriate actions based on your insurance coverage and the nature of the incident. Here are steps to follow if you find yourself being sued for a dog bite:

1) Contact Your Insurance Provider

If you have homeowners' or renters' insurance, it might provide liability coverage for dog bite incidents. They have the responsibility to defend you in such situations. However, even if you are uninsured or your claim is denied, legal representation is still crucial. If the incident occurred while you were on the job, notify your employer, as they are obligated to defend their employees from lawsuits.

2) Business Liability

For business owners, if the incident occurred in connection with your business activities or on business property, inform your commercial general insurance carrier. They will guide you through the process and provide the necessary assistance in handling the lawsuit.

3) Legal Representation

If you are not already represented by an attorney, it is advisable to seek legal representation as soon as possible. An attorney who specializes in dog bite cases can provide valuable guidance and protect your interests throughout the legal process.

When choosing an attorney, look for someone with experience in handling dog bite cases specifically. They should have a thorough understanding of local laws, liability issues, and potential defenses related to dog bites. Your attorney will help you navigate the legal proceedings, negotiate with the opposing party, and build a strong defense on your behalf.

Boston Dog Lawyers (BDL) specializes in investigating dog bite claims, focusing on determining why the dog attacked. They have a team of experts, including investigators, trainers, behaviorists, veterinarians, and claims adjusters, who work together to uncover the truth. Understanding the factors that contributed to the incident is essential for determining liability and the appropriate amount of damages.

4) Gather Relevant Information

Work closely with your attorney to gather all relevant information and evidence related to the incident. This may include medical records of the victim, photographs of the scene, witness statements, veterinary records of your dog, and any prior incidents involving your dog's behavior. The more information you can provide, the better equipped your attorney will be to build a solid defense strategy.

5) Respond to the Lawsuit

Once you receive the legal complaint, you must respond within the specified timeframe. Failure to respond may result in a default judgment against you. Your attorney will help you draft a response, which typically involves filing an answer to the complaint, addressing each allegation made by the plaintiff.

During this stage, your attorney may also explore the possibility of settlement negotiations. They will assess the strength of the plaintiff's case and work to reach a resolution that is satisfactory to both parties. If a settlement cannot be reached, the case will proceed to litigation.

6) Litigation Process

If the case goes to trial, your attorney will represent you in court. They will present your defense, cross-examine witnesses, and argue on your behalf. It's important to follow your attorney's guidance throughout the litigation process, as they have the expertise to navigate the complexities of the legal system.

The court will consider the evidence presented by both parties, assess liability, and determine the amount of damages, if any, that should be awarded to the plaintiff. The outcome of the trial will depend on various factors, including the evidence presented, witness testimony, and the interpretation of relevant laws by the judge or jury.


Being sued for a dog bite can be a stressful and challenging experience. By understanding your rights and taking appropriate actions, you can navigate through the legal process more effectively. Remember to contact your insurance provider, seek legal representation, gather relevant information, respond to the lawsuit, and follow your attorney's guidance.

Additionally, it is important to take preventive measures to avoid dog bites and potential lawsuits. Restrict access to your dog, use a muzzle when necessary, and comply with local animal control laws. By prioritizing safety and responsible ownership, you can minimize the risk of dog bite incidents and their legal consequences.

The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.

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