According to a recent survey, 70% of U.S. households own a pet, and 69 million of those own dogs. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs yearly in the United States. Children are the most common victims and are far more likely to be severely injured. Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday interactions with familiar dogs.
Any dog can bite. It is not a dog’s breed that determines whether it will bite, but rather the dog’s unique history and behavior.
If a dog injured you or your child, you might wonder, What is the average dog bite settlement? Amounts vary and depend on several factors, including the type of injury, the extent of medical care required, and the amount of insurance coverage the responsible party carries.
Common Dog Bite Injuries
Most dog injuries happen on or around the owner’s home. But in some cases, they happen in public places like a park. If the dog bite occurs around the dog owner’s home, the homeowner’s insurance policy receives the claim. Homeowner’s insurance usually also covers dog bites that occur off the owner’s property. But if the dog owner doesn’t have homeowners insurance (or some other type of personal liability insurance), then you will have few options but to sue the owner of the dog directly.
The injuries the victim suffers will likely drive the value of a settlement. Some common dog bite injuries include:
- Cuts and lacerations;
- Nerve damage;
- Scarring or disfigurement;
- Infections, including rabies;
- Broken bones;
- Strains and sprains;
- Concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBI);
- Emotional distress;
- Anxiety around dogs; and
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Dog bites generally occur on the limbs. These injuries can be quite severe, depending on the breed. In some cases, dog bite incidents prove to be fatal. In that case, the victim’s family member or a loved one could file a wrongful death claim against the dog’s owner.
What Should I Do After a Dog Bite?
After a dog bite attack, collecting as much information as possible is key to maximizing recovery. Medical reports, police reports, and animal control reports are compelling pieces of evidence that can strengthen your claim against the dog’s owner. This evidence ensures that your lawyer has the leverage to negotiate with the other party’s insurance company for a higher settlement.
How much Is a Dog Bite Settlement Worth?
Determining the average lawsuit settlement for a dog bite is no easy feat because of the number of factors involved in the calculation, making each case unique. But according to the Insurance Information Institute, an insurer’s average cost for a dog bite claim was $49,558 in 2020.
Some key factors that determine how much a case will be worth are the following:
- Injuries suffered by the victim;
- The victim’s share of responsibility for the dog attack;
- The dog’s bite history;
- The dog owner’s conduct; and
- Characteristics of the dog or victim, like if the dog was a law enforcement animal or if the victim was a veterinarian.
It is important to note that there is no guarantee of a settlement amount for any dog bite case. The insurance company, or a jury, evaluates all these factors and decides the amount appropriate for your loss.
Contrary to what an insurance company might say, medical bill reimbursement is not the only compensation available to dog bite victims. Instead, personal injury law entitles victims to compensation for:
- Emergency room treatment;
- Past medical treatment;
- Reasonably anticipated future medical expenses, like physical therapy;
- Lost wages;
- Reduced earning capacity;
- Pain and suffering;
- Emotional trauma;
- Property damage; and
- Loss of consortium and companionship.
Another big factor in determining compensation is the extent of the dog owner’s insurance coverage. Dog bite insurance is a regular part of most homeowners’ liability coverage. If you file a claim with an insurance company, and the coverage applies to a dog bite, the insurance company will be responsible for paying the full cost of the attack up to the policy limits.
Some insurance companies will not insure homeowners with certain breeds of dogs categorized as dangerous, such as pit bulls. While other insurers never ask the breed of a dog owned and do not track the breed of dogs involved in dog bite incidents. Some companies decide on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether an individual dog has a history of aggressive behavior.
Your attorney will see if the following insurance applies to your dog bite claim:
- Homeowner’s insurance,
- Condo insurance,
- Co-op insurance,
- Renter’s insurance,
- Mobile homeowner’s insurance,
- Landlord insurance,
- Canine liability coverage or dog owner liability insurance,
- Automobile insurance,
- Business liability insurance (if the incident happened at a place of business),
- General liability insurance, and
- Umbrella Insurance.
Regardless of an insurer’s stance on various dog breeds, the risk of liability increases once a dog bites someone. When a dog has a history of biting, an insurance company may charge a higher premium, not renew the homeowner’s insurance policy or exclude the dog from coverage.
How Long Does It Take for a Dog Bite Settlement?
Once you achieve a settlement agreement with an insurance company, you can expect payment in as little as two weeks. Ensuring you collect all your documentation in a prompt manner makes the entire process go smoothly and quickly.
If you do not reach a settlement agreement, you can initiate a personal injury lawsuit to pursue fair compensation. If the case goes to court, a jury will decide whether you are entitled to compensation. Unfortunately, a lawsuit can take months or years to complete. However, it is common for insurance companies to make a new offer after you file a lawsuit because they want to avoid going to court. At that point, you and your attorney can restart the negotiations with them and possibly settle the case without going to trial.
Dog Bite Settlement Attorneys Who Can Help
At O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, LLC, we understand the complexity of dog bite law in New Jersey and serve as your advocate through every stage of your lawsuit. We are proud members of the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum, which is awarded to attorneys obtaining a recovery of more than two million dollars. Contact us for a free consultation online or by phone at 908-928-9200.