Animal attacks can result in far more than physical pain.
Disfigurement, a fear of rabies or other disease, and even a long-term
fear of the type of animal that caused the injuries can ensue. A pet
owner may be liable for such injuries when his or her animal bites or
otherwise attacks another, meaning that he or she must compensate the
injured party for the resulting damages.
Although animal-attack claims most commonly involve dog bites, many
other types of domesticated animals, such as ferrets, cats, and even
birds, can also bite humans, causing injury and potential liability for
their masters. Even non-domesticated animals, such as large cats
ordinarily found in the wild, can attack children and adults. The
liability for all such attacks, if any, will vary greatly from
jurisdiction to jurisdiction. A lawyer experienced in dog bite and
personal injury law is the best source for accurate advice and
information in animal attack cases.
The Plaintiff's Burden of Proof in Animal Attack Cases
To succeed in most animal attack cases, the plaintiff must prove that
the animal that caused the injury was owned and kept by the defendant.
In the past, the plaintiff was also required to show that the owner knew
or should have known that the animal was dangerous, mischievous,
vicious, or prone to such undesirable and potentially threatening
behaviors. Under current law, however, when proof is established that an
owner was somehow negligent, such as by not properly restraining or
containing the animal, the plaintiff may often recover without making a
showing of the animal's viciousness.
An owner of an animal may be found negligent under any circumstances
in which he or she had knowledge of the animal's viciousness but failed
to act in order to prevent injuries to others. Accordingly, if an animal
exhibits vicious or uncontrolled behavior, the owner should take steps
to ensure that the animal is secured from access to the public. For
example, if an individual owns a pit bull with a propensity to attack
and bite without provocation, the owner should probably keep the animal
indoors and, while outside, within a contained yard with a fence that
the animal cannot escape. If he or she does not adhere to these
common-sense guidelines and the animal attacks, the injured party may be
able to recover his or her damages.
Those who harbor animals that are generally considered to be wild,
such as lions, bears, and monkeys, are often held strictly liable for
the harm that results if the animals escape, regardless of whether the
particular animal is known to be dangerous. Such animals are presumed to
have a natural tendency to revert to their wild mannerisms no matter how
well trained or allegedly domesticated they are. Strict liability may
not apply if the animal injures someone while it is confined or
restrained on its owner's property, but this is a factually dependent
argument that will not apply in every case.
In some states, it is not always necessary for the animal to actually
bite or attack the victim in order to hold the owner liable for an
injury. A pedestrian who is walking past a yard and who becomes
frightened by a dog snapping and barking, and who in an attempt to get
away trips and falls, breaking an ankle, may nonetheless be able to sue
the dog's owner successfully if he or she can show that the actions of
the dog led to the injury.
Possible Defenses in Animal Attack Cases
Animal attack victims are not always entitled to recover their
damages. If the plaintiff is found to have provoked the animal, for
instance, recovery may be denied. Say, for example, that a pet owner
informs a neighbor that his pet parrot is not friendly and that it
should not be touched, but the neighbor does not heed this warning and
is thereafter pecked or bitten, recovery may be denied. If the owner
merely stated that the parrot was not always friendly, on the other
hand, but still encouraged the neighbor to pet it, liability for the
injury could likely still be found.
Dog bite victims are also generally unable to recover in trespasser
situations. In many states, in order to successfully bring suit under a
dog bite statute, the plaintiff must show that he or she was lawfully in
the place where the injury occurred. If it is found that the plaintiff
was, instead, a trespasser at the time of the injury, liability will be
avoidable on that ground. If, for example, someone jumps over a fence
into an enclosed junkyard with "Beware of Dog" warnings posted and
taunts the German shepherd guard dog with a stick, the junkyard owner
may not be liable if the dog bites the trespasser.
Persons injured by biting or attacking animals should seek the
counsel of skilled veterans of personal injury law in order to
understand the complexities of their case and obtain guidance through
the legal system toward the most favorable outcome. If you or someone
you know has suffered personal injuries as a result of an animal attack,
an experienced and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer can advise you
on whether you may have a claim against the pet owner and can help you
receive the maximum damages recoverable under the applicable law.