Dog Bite Lawyers
Serving All Missouri Personal Injury VictimsView Full Service Area
There's a reason why people love dogs. They can be a valuable companion, a beloved member of the family, and a loyal friend who will be there with you no matter the situation. But occasionally man's best friend isn't so friendly, and remembers their natural animal instincts. When that happens and a dog bites you or someone you know, you will want to call upon the services of a top dog bite injury lawyer.
Attorney Gene Hou has years of experience with dog bite lawsuits. He has helped many people across Missouri and Illinois recover damages for their dog bite injuries and help regain peace of mind after they have been bit by a dog. If you or someone you know has been bit by a dog, feel free to call (636) 333-1717, or contact him online for a free case review.
How do I choose a lawyer if I was bit by a dog?
Choosing the right lawyer can make or break your dog bite lawsuit. It's an important decision that should not be taken lightly. Before you go choose a lawyer for your dog bite injury lawsuit, you should ask questions like these:
- Should I hire a lawyer in the first place? Is my case better handled through an insurance company or by myself?
- You say that you have a "no win, no fee" or contingency policy. Even so, if I lose my case, will I need to pay some of your expenses?
- Who is going to take my case? Will you be doing it personally, or do you have other attorneys on your staff that will handle my case?
- How big is your firm?
- Do you have experience taking dog bite cases?
- Where are you located? If I live far from your office, will you come to me, do I need to drive to your office, or can we meet at a mutually agreeable location?
- How long have you been trying dog bite cases?
- Can I see records, results, and other information of previous cases your firm has litigated?
- What is your reputation within the legal community? What do they say about you, your record of fighting for your clients, and your skills in the courtroom?
- Can I see what other clients have said about you? Have they left reviews or testimonials?
- What kind of style do you have as a lawyer?
- How will you communicate with me? Will you use email, phone calls, mail, texts, or a combination of several methods? How often will you be available to communicate?
- If I end up having to terminate our relationship before the case is resolved, will I have to owe you anything and if so, how much would I need to pay you?
- How strong of a case is my dog bite lawsuit?
- In addition to my fees, would there be extra expenses I would need to pay you related to my dog bite case?
- Can you assist me with finding proper medical care to deal with my dog bite injuries?
- What are all the potential outcomes of my dog bite lawsuit?
- Is my dog bite lawsuit a winnable one?
Who is liable for a dog bite case?
Missouri's statutes regarding dog bites, and who could be liable for injuries, have changed quite a bit in recent years. Prior to 2009, Missouri was what is called a "one bite" state. This meant that if a dog had never previously shown signs of being dangerous, the owner was not at fault if it attacked a stranger. In practice, this meant that dogs got one free bite before victims could sue for their dog bite injuries and the dog's owner could be deemed negligent. Currently, twenty states follow this rule for dog bite liability.
But in 2009, the Missouri General Assembly passed a new standard for dog bite liability. Officially Missouri RS 273.036, this law changed Missouri's standard for dog bite lawsuits to a "strict liability" standard. Missouri is now one of 30 states (plus the District of Columbia) that uses strict liability for dog bites. The new law states that any dog owner is liable if their dog bites anyone without provocation, either on public property or if the victim was lawfully on private property, and causes an injury as a result of their bite. This is regardless of whether their dog had ever bit anyone or anything before this incident. On top of potential civil damages their owner must pay out, the statute in Missouri also requires liable owners to pay a fine of no more than $1,000.
Illinois has always been a "strict liability" state. Its dog bite laws are officially gathered under 510 Illinois CS 5, otherwise known as the Animal Control Act. Like in Missouri, it places all responsibility for dog bites upon the owner of the dog, noting that if a dog bites a human being its owner is "liable in civil damages to such person for the full amount of the injury caused".
What is the statute of limitations for dog bites?
In both Missouri and Illinois, dog bite lawsuits are officially considered personal injury cases. This is because dog bites are deemed to be due to the negligence of another person or group. Other examples of personal injury cases involving negligence are car accidents or slips and falls. The Missouri Injury Law Firm takes these cases as well as dog bite injury lawsuits, and is ready to take your call no matter the personal injury case.
For personal injury cases in Missouri, according to Revised Statute 516.120, all claims "for the recovery of specific personal property, or for any other injury to the person or rights of another" must be filed within five years of the date of the original indident. This is actually one of the longest statutes of limitations for personal injury in the United States.
If your personal injury case is in Illinois, you would follow 735 Illinois Compiled Statue 5/13-202, which states that personal injury actions "shall be commenced within 2 years next after the cause of action accrued". This is much shorter than Missouri's statute of limitation, but much closer to the average statute of limitations in the USA.
What happens to a dog in a dog bite case?
In both Missouri and Illinois, the protocol for what happens to a dog that has bit another human is broadly the same. Following the victim reporting the bite to local authorities, the animal control or sheriff's department of the county where the dog resides collects the dog and impounds them for ten days. During this time, the dog is taken to a central facility like an animal shelter, or in some cases an animal hospital or veterinarian's office. It is checked for rabies or other diseases by a veterinarian. If test results show that the dog is rabid, it will be euthanized by a vet, as rabid dogs are seen as a threat to public health. Otherwise, the dog will be observed for the remainder of the period. It will have a microchip implanted in it for further identification by local authorities. In addition, if the owner has not done so already, the dog will be spayed or neutered.
Following the ten-day observation period and if local authorities have deemed the dog safe, it is released back into the custody of its original owner. He or she must pay certain service fees or fines that cover the cost of the care and feeding of the dog while it was being impounded. Having bit someone, the dog is now considered a "dangerous dog" under both Missouri and Illinois law, and its owner is now bound by law to take extra care of it. This includes keeping the dog in a secure pen or kennel, installing signs alerting visitors that there is a dangerous dog on their property, and mandating that the dog be leashed and muzzled when out of its pen.
How do I report a dog bite?
To put it in layman's terms, think of being bit by a dog as if you've been in a car accident. Both are traumatic experiences, and you should react to both in the same way: by taking out your phone or camera and snapping pictures.
Important pictures you should take after you've been bit by a dog include:
- The dog itself: if you can, get shots of the dog that bit you. Even if poor quality, animal control authorities can use them to identify the size, color, notable markings or details, or potentially even the breed of dog that bit you and use it to warn others in the area.
- The dog's owner: ideally he or she should be with the dog, but in some cases they may make a run for it or have let their dog run off their leash. If they were there, you should get info about the dog (including pictures of the dog's tag) as well, plus the owner's personal information, insurance details, and the name and number of the dog's veterinarian.
- The area where you were bit: get pictures of nearby buildings, street signs and numbers, and even cars around you. Not only will this help animal control locate the dog if it ran off, but it can also help find witnesses who saw you being bit.
There's a few important phone numbers you should call after you've been bit by a dog, including the following:
- Animal Control in your area: each county or city in Missouri and Illinois has their own department of animal control. This is important because they keep records of dog bites and track whether the dog that bit you has a history of being aggressive.
- 911: If you have been severly injured, you may require an ambulance. You should also file a police report, not only for a record of your case but also because if the dog has bit other people before its owner can be held criminally liable under Missouri and Illinois law.
- Your doctor or medical provider: dog bite injuries should be treated as soon as possible because of the threat of infection as well as rabies. Small, surface-level injuries can wait for treatment, but we recommend going to an urgent care center or emergency room without delay.
- Your insurance company: Depending on your policy, your homeowners' or renter's insurance can help you with bills after being bit by a dog. You should also get the dog owner's insurance information to file a claim with them as well.
Furthermore, if you are in Illinois you are legally obligated to report a dog bite within 24 hours, according to the Animal Control Act. Our staff at the Missouri Injury Law Firm believes this to be a good practice, and we recommend our Missouri clients to report within 24 hours as well.
Do I need to get medical treatment for a dog bite?
Let's get the answer out of the way quickly: yes, you need to get medical treatment as soon as you can after you are bit by a dog. There are a number of major reasons why you need to seek medical care after a dog bite.
Dogs often carry a number of diseases that can cause serious problems in humans and are transmitted via dog bite. Arguably the most well-known disease dogs can carry is rabies, which can cause fever, paralysis, and mental confusion in humans. But dogs can carry several other diseases in their saliva, including tetanus (best known for being acquired from rust, and which can cause all-over body pain, muscle spasms, and seizures) and sepsis (symptoms of which include clammy skin, shortness of breath, and extreme pain).
Luckily, scientists have developed vaccines against most of these diseases. However, it's up to you to make sure that your vaccination records are current and you've gotten all available booster shots.
Getting medical treatment after you've been bit by a dog isn't just important for your own health, but also the health of others in your community. Rabies in humans is incredibly deadly if you have not been vaccinated against it: scientists have recorded only 13 cases worldwide where a person was infected with rabies and made a recovery. The fear of community transmission of rabies is one of the main reasons why dogs that bite humans are taken into custody by local animal control authorities. One of the first things vets check for while the dog is impounded is to see if it has been been vaccinated for rabies, and if not they are tested for the disease. If it turns out the dog is indeed rabid, it is put down.
Can I sue for a minor dog bite?
In both Missouri and Illinois, dog bite lawsuits have operated under the principle of strict liability since 2009. Illinois has long been a strict liability state. But until 2009, dog bite law in Missouri was based on the "one bite" principle, where dog owners had to prove that their dog had a history of aggressive behavior if they were sued for a dog bite. This made it tough for dog bite victims to win a lawsuit, since they had to show evidence that the dog was vicious in order to get compensated for their medical bills. But with the law change in Missouri, the burden of proof is not only changed from victim to owner, it is much lower--no matter whether a dog has shown any signs of aggression before, its owner is held liable unless they can prove that the dog was provoked.
If your dog bite injury was a minor one, chances are your dog bite lawsuit will not see the inside of a courtroom. Studies have shown that the vast majority of dog bite lawsuits are settled between the two parties and their insurance companies. This is primarily because most homeowners' or renters' insurance policies include coverage if the policy holder is either bit by a pet or is the owner of a pet who causes injury to another. Dog bites are covered under the "personal liability" section of these insurance plans, so it is best to review this section of your insurance for further details.
Even though insurance may cover most or all of your medical bills, you could still end up going to court due to other reasons. Maybe the facts of your dog bite lawsuit mean that it is likely you may be in line for punitive damages against the dog's owner, or one or both insurance companies is not paying you the money you are entitled to. Every dog bite lawsuit is unique, and thus what works best for someone else may not be the best course of action for your dog bite lawsuit.
Can I sue if a stray dog bites me?
Dogs are considered the personal property of their owners under the law. This is why when you make an insurance claim after being bit by a dog, it is classified under their homeowners' or renters' policy. As such, dog owners are held strictly liable for how their dog behaves as per Missouri Revised Statute 273.036 and the Illinois Animal Control Act. But with a stray dog, since there is no owner on record, it becomes much harder to prove liability after a dog bite.
Even though they do not have an owner that can easily be held liable, it is still possible to recover damages after being bit by a stray dog. You should investigate the following things if you get bit by a stray dog in Missouri:
- Was this dog previously reported as dangerous? Cities are responsible for making sure dangerous animals are not running freely around town. It's possible someone had already reported this animal as being dangerous and the city or county you were in did not take this dog into custody, or you were bitten by a stray dog on public property. It could also be that the dog was previously picked up by animal control but somehow managed to escape back into the wild. Under any of these circumstances, the local area may be liable for your attack and resulting injuries, as they did not maintain a safe premises.
- Were you on private property?: If a property owner knew that there was a stray dog on their premises and did not at least warn others of potential danger, they can be deemed negligent and thus liable for a lawsuit. Make sure you had the right to be on this property, though: Missouri law deems property or dog owners not liable if someone was bit by a dog while unlawfully trespassing on private property.
- Could authorities find the dog's owner?: It's entirely possible that during an investigation it is determined that the stray dog that bit you is actually not a stray at all, but rather a dog either willfully abandoned by its owner or allowed to run free. Now not only can we prove liability much easier, but also the dog owner could be subject to additional criminal charges, as animal abandonment is a Class C misdemeanor in Missouri and a class A misdemeanor in Illinois.
Who is liable in a dog bite lawsuit?
Both Missouri and Illinois operate under a "strict liability" legal framework for dog bite lawsuits. This means that a dog owner cannot argue that they were unaware their pet was a danger to humans if they bit someone. They are liable for the actions of their pet at all time, and the onus is on them, and not the person who was bit, to prove that the dog bite was not their fault.
While it may seem like this means that dog owners are held responsible in all dog bite lawsuits, this is not always the case. The law states that the person being bit was at fault in the following cases:
- The person bit provoked the dog into biting them, such as by baiting or taunting the dog
- The person that was bit was unlawfully on private property or ignored posted warnings about dangerous dogs
Both Missouri and Illinois also operate under a "comparative fault" system for negligence. This means that a judge or jury can determine that both parties were responsible to a degree for an incident, such as a dog bite, and assess proportional damages. For example, if a jury authorizes a $100,000 award to a dog bite victim but judges that he or she was 25 percent at fault, the plaintiff will only take away $75,000.
How much can I get for my dog bite case?
Dogs are natural predators. With sharp teeth and strong jaws, their bites can be particularly vicious. The severity of your injuries can vary based on the size and breed of the dog that bit you. However, some of the most common dog bite injuries are:
- Cuts, bruises, or lacerations
- Infection: canine saliva can carry multiple bacteria strains that are harmful to humans
- Broken or cracked bones
- Damage to nerves and scarring
- Rabies or tetanus
- Post-traumatic stress disorder or other emotional trauma
The good news is that all medical expenses resulting from a dog bite can be recovered in a judgment or settlement. This includes not only your hospital or prescription bills, but also rehab costs and mental health consultations. You can also replace broken or damaged property and get additional damages for the pain and suffering the attack caused you.
Most dog bite lawsuits are settled before they go in front of a jury. Insurance companies like settlements because they avoid the risk of large jury awards, while plaintiffs may want a settlement as it allows for a quick resolution without the time and expense of a trial. According to data from a leading insurance firm, the average dog bite lawsuit settlement in Missouri for 2019 was $47,411, and the average dog bite lawsuit settlement in Illinois was slightly higher at $48,098.
A Top Dog Bite Injury Lawyer Can Help Your Case
Being bit by a dog can be a traumatic experience. If you have been bit by a dog, have been injured, and want to know what damages you may be able to recover, talking to a respected dog bite injury attorney is important. Attorney Gene Hou is an experienced personal injury lawyer with a long record litigating dog bite injury cases. Contact us today for a free consultation about your case.