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Dog Bites

Dog Bites

Title 18-Chapter 1 of Utah State Legislature’s Utah Code says, “every person owning or keeping a dog is liable in damages for injury committed by the dog.” It also says that it is not necessary to prove any dog or owner was guilty of a “mischievous disposition.” If you were attacked by more than one dog, and the dogs are owned by different individuals, then all of the owners of the dogs involved are liable to your injuries and damages.

Why Would I Need a Lawyer for a Dog Bite Case?

While cases can be won without representation, the trend shows that fighting the legal battle with a lawyer will reward you with a much higher settlement. It is proven that plaintiffs without legal representation often misstep in their case by giving a recorded statement, demanding too much or too little, assuming the system makes sense, taking the insurance company’s “final” offer and settle the case without knowing the full extent of their injuries.

Utah Dog Bite Law

Injuries from dog bites can be extremely serious, and cost the victim large sums of money due to medical bills. In addition, dog bites may cause strong emotional trauma to young children. Children who have been bitten by a dog may experience loss of sleep, fear of dogs, and general trepidation. It is important for anyone whose child has suffered from a serious dog bite injury to seek an experienced personal injury attorney.

An attorney is invaluable in sorting through state laws regarding dogs, gathering and evaluating medical information and negotiating with dog owners or insurance companies. Dog bite law differs from state to state. Some state use a “One Bite” rule that is that an owner is not liable if they do not know that their dog might act aggressively. However, once a dog has bitten someone, the owner is on notice and can be held liable for later injuries. Still, other states will not hold an owner liable if the dog was provoked or if the person bitten had no legal right to be where they were at the time they were bitten. However, more and more states apply a strict liability standard. That is the dog owner is liable for the injuries caused whether the owner knew the dog to be potentially dangerous or not. Utah follows the strict liability standard. Utah law places responsibility upon the dog owner for any injuries caused by the pet. That is, a dog owner in Utah need not be aware of the dog’s vicious tendencies before the owner is responsible for the damages caused by the pet. The person who was bitten does not need to prove that the dog was vicious or that the owner knew that the dog was vicious. Every person owning or keeping a dog is liable in damages for injury committed by the dog, and it is not necessary in the action brought therefore to allege or prove that the dog was of a vicious or mischievous disposition or that the owner or keeper of the dog knew that it was vicious or mischievous.

If two or more dogs are acting together and they are owned by different owners’ liability, both owners can be joined as defendants. Liability among the dog owners is to be apportioned among them and judgment is to be entered severally against all of the owners. Severally liable means that if two dogs are deemed to have caused injury and one of them caused most of the damage, say 80% while the other dog caused 20% of the damage, the owner liable for the 20% would only have to pay 20% of the damages, even if the owner with 80% liability could not pay for some reason. This is different than “joint and severally liable.”

Arbitration of Dog Bite Cases

Utah allows the use of binding arbitration to resolve bodily injury claims for dog bites. Arbitration can be a good solution for the resolution of a dog bite case. Arbitrations are less formal and are typically faster and cheaper than taking the matter through trial. In order to eligible for binding arbitration under Utah’s dog law a complaint must be first filed in court and then a notice to submit the case for arbitration must be filed within 14 days and the complaint has been answered. An arbitration award under this statute cannot exceed $50,000 in addition to medical benefits and a claim for property damage. There are other limitations of the recovery under the arbitration statute. For instance, recovery is limited to the amount of monies available from insurance and punitive damages are not available. Discovery is available as provided for under Rule 26 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure and the Rules of Evidence , but with caveat that discovery is to be completed within 150 days after the election of arbitration. If either party is not satisfied with the arbitration award, they can seek a trial de novo. However, if the award at trial is not different by 30% from the arbitration award, the party moving for trial de novo will pay the costs of the other party.

Comparative Fault

Even though Utah is a strict liability state, the actions of the victim are taken into account. A dog owner may not be held responsible for the acts of his dog if the victim is to blame. For example, of the dog was provoked by kicking or striking, teasing or tormenting the dog. In a case such a provocation, a comparative fault analysis is available which would apportion blame between the owner and the victim. Petting or playing with a dog is not usually considered provocation, unless the victim was warned not to do so. A comparative fault analysis is typically not available in the case of children being injured by a dog. A child is not expected to know not to provoke a dog, depending on his or her age. If a dog owner is held responsible for a child’s injuries from a dog bite, the owner will be required to pay for treatment of all of the injuries caused by the animal. The owner may also have to pay extra money for physical pain, mental anguish, and apprehension of rabies. In addition, the owner may have to pay punitive damages, which is money required to punish the owner, if he knew about the vicious nature of the dog. If a dog is found to be extremely vicious, a court may require that the dog be put to death.

Time Limits on Utah Dog Bite Cases

Utah, like all states, has its own “statute of limitations” that sets a time limit on the filing of lawsuits in Utah courts. In Utah, a person injured by a dog has four years to bring any case to court. This four-year time limit typically starts running on the date of the injury, but since certain situations can change the running of the statute of limitations, it’s important to understand how the rule applies in your particular case. And remember, if your case is not filed within the four-year time limit, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear it.

Defenses to Dog Injury Lawsuits in Utah

Utah’s dog injury law is comprehensive, so very few defenses are available for those facing a lawsuit under Utah’s dog injury statute. The law does create an exception to liability for trained law enforcement dogs who are “reasonably and carefully being used in the apprehension, arrest, or location of a suspected offender or in maintaining or controlling the public order.” When a Utah dog bite or other dog-related injury case is based in negligence, however, a dog owner may raise one or more defenses. For instance, the dog’s owner may argue that the injured person was partly or totally responsible for the injuries. This argument, known as “comparative negligence,” may apply if, for instance, the injured person was provoking the dog at the time of the injury. Utah is a “modified” comparative negligence state. If the injured person is found to be less than 50 percent at fault, Utah law requires the court to reduce the injured person’s total damages award by a percentage equal to his or her fault. If the injured person is found to be 50 percent or more at fault, however, he or she is barred from collecting any damages at all from any other at-fault party. If the injured person was trespassing at the time of the injury, a dog owner may also be able to argue that limits on homeowner liability for trespasser injuries apply to the case.

Things You Must Do After a Dog Bites You in Utah

Almost every city in Utah has a law that requires dog owners to put a leash on their dog to prevent injury – and sometimes even death – to others. Because under Utah law, if a dog gets out and bites you, dog owners become “strictly liable.” What this means is that the dog owner will held responsible, except in those cases where the victim may have provoked the dog. Even where the dog may have been as peaceful as could be before the bite, with no history of even nipping at someone, the dog owner will be accountable. The Utah dog bite rules says: “Every person owning or keeping a dog shall be liable in damages for injury committed by such dog, and it shall not be necessary in any action brought therefore to allege or prove that such dog was of a vicious or mischievous disposition or that the owner or keeper thereof knew that it was vicious or mischievous.” Thus, while some states have a “one free bite rule,” Utah law puts the responsibility on the dog owner for the dog’s very first bite, even if that bite was unexpected. And it doesn’t even have to be a bite. A young child or jogger who is trying to get away from a dog off its leash and injures him or herself, is one of the people who is meant to be protected under this rule. Damages from dog bites can include the cost of medical treatment, shots, plastic surgeries to help reduce scars, visible scars, scar tissue, muscle and ligament damages, lost time from work, future time off work, emotional distress, etc. These claims are usually made against the home owner’s insurance policy of the dog owner.

If the dog owner is a renter, however, they will typically not have this type of coverage.
• Get the contact information for the dog owner or person in charge of the dog, including their name, phone number and address;
• Notify animal control as the dog could have rabies or some other disease and may need to be quarantined to see if they have a disease;
• Get the names and contact information of witnesses who saw the bite happen;
• Find out the type of dog that bit you and the breed;
• Take pictures of your wound after the bite and as you heal to show the healing progression;
• Take pictures of the scene of the dog bite, including where the dog may have escaped from; and
• Save the clothes you were wearing that show bite marks or were bloodied from your dog bite wound.

Who will be held responsible for the dog’s actions?

According to Utah law, the dog owner is nearly always responsible for any injuries the dog causes. The only exception applies to those dogs used by police officers. However, police dogs can only avoid liability under two conditions. First, those dogs must be trained. Second, the injury must happen while helping officers arrest a suspect or maintain public order. Utah law also specifies that the injured person does not need to prove that the dog was vicious or that the owner knew this. While some states do not hold owner’s responsible until the dog’s second bite, Utah starts punishing owners from the very first bite. However, just because a dog bite someone does not mean the owner must automatically pay for the injuries. Utah compares the fault of the owner to the fault of the injured person. A person cannot intentionally provoke a dog and then blame the owner for the injury. Usually, little children will not be held responsible since they do not know any better. Sometimes an injury can come from multiple dogs owned by different people. In this case, Utah law holds all of the owners responsible as joint defendants. If found responsible, the court will require each owner to pay a certain portion of the total damages caused by the attack.

What can I receive compensation for?

If the owner is found responsible, then he or she will need to pay for the injuries and any other damages caused by the bite. Typically, a dog owner’s home or rental insurance will cover these costs. The owner may need to pay for:
• medical expenses,
• surgery for scars or disfigurement,
• lost earnings (current and future), and
• pain and suffering.
When should I seek help?
After a dog bite, you should do several things to ensure that someone will be held responsible for the attack. Further, Utah law only allows an injured person four years to file a claim against the dog’s owner. If the dog injured a child, then this four year time limit does not start until the child reaches the age of 18. However, this statute of limitation can vary based on individual circumstances, so please do not wait to act.

What else should I know about Utah’s laws on Dog bites?

If you are a dog owner, you need to realize your responsibility for your dog. You can also take certain steps to avoid creating aggression in your dog. If a dog attacks another animal, a person can injure or kill that dog without legally getting in trouble.

Dog Bite Injuries to the Face

When a dog wants to bite a human, it will likely call back to its animal instincts and attack a person’s head and neck area. From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest report in 2012, nearly 900 thousand people were hospitalized for dog bite injuries and half were small children.

Statistics of Facial Dog Bite Injuries

In a study done on facial repair of dog injuries to the head and neck, 45% of the cases were from pit bull attacks, in two cases that had multiple dogs involved, all were pit bulls. Injuries to the lip made up 21.7% of cases followed closely by dog bite injuries to the cheek and nose. Those who needed surgical repair and had to go to the operating room were all children. The cost of dog bite injuries to the face result in staggering hospital costs. On average, homeowner’s claims for dog bites in 2012 paid out nearly $30,000; however, considering some facial surgery costs can go into the millions, it’s easy to see why medical debt causes many to go bankrupt. Not only can the medical costs rise, but psychological pain and suffering from suffering large facial injuries and the resulting scarring can be devastating. Dog bite injuries can be serious, especially if the bites are on the head or neck. Your medical bills will climb if you have to get surgery for the dog bite wound. These mounting medical bills, accompanied by pain and suffering can wear you down and even make you bankrupt! However, you don’t have to go into debt.

Free Initial Consultation with Lawyer

It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you!

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506

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