One of the reasons why people have kept dogs for tens of thousands of years is because dogs are intensely loyal and vigilant protectors of their owners.
Still, sometimes a dog’s defensive instincts can go wrong. A dog can react in unexpected ways when it is startled or stressed, and when this happens, the chance exists that the dog will bite someone. Depending on the circumstances, when this happens, “Man’s best friend” can inflict painful, costly, and sometimes even lethal harm with its teeth.
If you have been injured in a dog bite attack in Phoenix or elsewhere in Arizona, then after you receive medical attention, it’s always a good idea to consult with an experienced dog bite lawyer from Stone Rose Law to see if you are entitled to compensation from the dog owner. Call us at (480) 498-8998 to learn more in a free consultation about how one of our dog bite attorneys can help you evaluate your possible dog bite case.
Throughout the United States in the year 2022, there were about 10 million incidents of dogs biting people. In the same year, the average cost to settle a dog bite claim for personal injury was more than $60,000. Dog bite injuries are often serious and can involve not only physical injuries but property damage, too.
Children are particularly susceptible to dog bites. About half of all children will be bitten by a dog. Younger children tend to be bitten more often by dogs that are familiar to them, like a family dog or a neighbor’s dog, while adolescents usually receive dog bites from unfamiliar dogs. Most child dog bites happen between the ages of 5 and 9.
Adults are also often the victims of dog bite injuries. Some professions are more likely to be at risk for dog bites. Postal workers, landscapers, utility workers, and electric and gas meter readers have long been acquainted with dog attacks and dog bites. The increasing prevalence of delivery services that bring goods we buy directly to our doors is becoming another increasing source of dog bites to workers.
The consequences of a dog bite can be immediate and/or delayed, short-term and/or long term, and physical and/or emotional. The damage a dog bite does can be minor, serious, or even lethal in its effects.
Physical wounds from dog bites are usually soft tissue injuries that are not life-threatening. Examples of common dog bite wounds are lacerations, puncture wounds, and bruising. Depending on additional factors, like the size of the dog, the size of its bite victim, and the sensitivity of the bite area, more serious injuries can include avulsions and extensive blood loss.
Although dogs have a popular reputation for having “clean” mouths, a dog bite wound can transmit infections to you. The most well-known dog bite infection is tetanus. Other infections include septicemia and rabies.
Tetanus is an infection that can come from puncture wounds. Tetanus infections are not common in the United States because of widespread childhood vaccination programs in school, and additional effective preventive measures exist including a tetanus vaccine booster or a tetanus immune globulin injection (a “tetanus shot”).
Still, depending on the location of the infection, tetanus can lead to serious symptoms that, if left untreated, can lead to pneumonia, voice box spasms that can cut off breathing, pulmonary embolisms, seizures, severe kidney failure, and muscle spasms severe enough to cause bone fractures.
For those infected, tetanus has an 11 percent fatality rate.
Septicemia is a bacteria that can cause your body to experience an extreme immune system response known as sepsis. Sepsis is seldom fatal, and most people will recover with medical treatment. Untreated sepsis can worsen into a more serious condition known as septic shock, a low blood pressure condition that can cause organ damage because of low oxygen supply in the bloodstream.
Rabies is a viral infection that almost always comes from the bite of an infected animal. Its main effect is to cause the brain to swell, which results in physical symptoms. Rabies is extremely rare in the United States. If treated early (before symptoms appear), then rabies is curable. If untreated, rabies is almost always fatal.
Sometimes, even though a dog bite may be non-life threatening, it can still have lifelong consequences if the soft tissue damage is so severe that scarring results. For example, a serious dog bite wound to your face that causes permanent disfigurement is something that can have a lasting effect on your social life, and even your ability to enjoy some normal life activities.
A dog attack, especially by a large dog, can be a mentally traumatic event that leaves emotional scars just as long-lasting as physical ones. In Arizona, this kind of long-term emotional trauma is compensable as a form of dog bite harm.
In rare cases, a dog bite injury can lead to the death of a loved one. Wrongful death is a legal claim that family members of the deceased person can seek a money damages remedy for the loss of life of the dog bite victim.
Arizona has two statutory laws governing liability for injuries caused by dogs. One is the state’s strict owner liability law for dog bites, and the other is the dog-at-large statute.
In earlier days, a common approach under the law to dog bite injuries was to apply the “One Bite Rule.” Under this rule, a dog could bite a person once and the owner might not be held liable. The reason for this rule was that the dog could have been startled, or frightened, and so its bite was out of character with its normal, gentler nature.
If the dog bit someone a second time, then ordinary personal injury laws would apply.
In Arizona, however, the “One Bite Rule” no longer applies. Instead, a dog owner is strictly liable for harm that the dog causes to anyone who is on public or private property at the time.
This law may sound harsh, but recall from what we wrote above that the “typical” dog bite injury can lead to tens of thousands of dollars in medical treatment costs and other kinds of liability, such as mental anguish or wrongful death.
Proving an owner’s strict liability for a dog bite under Arizona’s dog bite statute requires you to show all the following two key elements:
Arizona’s strict liability dog bite law does not protect wrongdoers. Anyone who enters the private property of another without permission, like a trespasser, or who is committing a crime on the property, like a burglar, is not lawfully on the property.
People who can be lawfully present on private property owned by another without obtaining permission include social guests (such as customers in a store), postal delivery workers, utility workers, meter readers, and public officials.
The main thing to remember about the Arizona strict liability law is that it only applies to the owner of the dog. No one else, even another person in control of the dog at the time of the biting incident, is strictly liable for the dog bite.
A second limit on the application of the Arizona strict dog bite liability law is that it only applies to dog bites. If a dog causes harm unrelated to biting behavior, then the injured person must use another law to seek compensation.
A third limit on the applicability of the Arizona strict liability dog bite statute is that it specifically exempts some dog bite situations. These exceptions apply mostly to police dogs that bite someone during a law enforcement activity like an investigation, serving of a warrant, or an arrest. Also, if a dog bites in reaction to being provoked, or if it is defending itself, then strict liability will not apply.
Arizona’s strict liability dog bite statute recognizes provocation of the dog as an affirmative defense. This means that the dog owner must bring up the defense for the court to consider it.
The statute does not specifically define what “provocation” is. Rather, it applies a reasonable person standard: would a reasonable person, seeing the behavior of the victim that led the dog to bite, conclude that the victim’s acts were provocatory to the dog?
Arizona court cases that have considered the question of what provocative behavior is have found the following acts sufficient to support the defense of provocation:
Intent to provoke is not always required to raise the provocation defense. A small child, for example, who playfully pulls on a dog’s tail could inadvertently provoke a bite response.
This law applies to dog attacks, which are situations in which a dog is loose without a leash, or the person controlling the dog—not just the owner as with the strict liability law above—loses control over the dog and it gets loose.
The Arizona dog-at-large law makes the dog owner or person controlling the dog liable for personal injuries or property damage the dog causes while it is in its at-large state. This statute is not confined to dog bites, like the strict liability law, but covers cases where a dog can knock someone over, or scratch someone, or attack another person’s pet, or damage property.
The main proof element to show a violation of the dog-at-large statute is that the dog was loose or “at large.”
A possible affirmative defense an owner might raise to a claim under the dog-at-large statute was that even though the dog was loose, it was loose in a place authorized for a dog to be off-leash, like a designated area in a park for off-leash animals.
If you intend to take legal action based on either the Arizona strict liability dog bite statute or the dog-at-large statute, then you have one year from the date of your injury to file a lawsuit.
Phoenix has a city ordinance that creates a per se cause of action against dog owners who fail to maintain the following requirements:
Under this per se law, if you can prove that the dog owner was in violation of any of these requirements, then the law will presume negligence on the part of the owner. You do not have to prove negligence occurred.
The Phoenix negligence-per-se statute makes exceptions to its at-large and leash requirements for specifically-designated dog parks.
In addition to Arizona and local laws, if you are a victim of a dog bite then you may have another option to recover for your injuries, property damage, and emotional distress. This is to file a personal injury lawsuit based on common law negligence.
There is no special requirement for a dog bite negligence cause of action. You prove your case in the same way as for any other personal injury, by showing all of the following:
If you are successful in proving a negligence-based case for a dog bite injury, you can recover money damages for three kinds of harm:
Statute of limitations: Unlike legal claims based on Arizona statutes, for a negligence-based personal injury lawsuit you have two years after the dog bite incident to file a lawsuit. This two-year statute of limitations is suspended, or tolled, if the bite victim is a child under the age of 18. In most cases, however, a child dog bite victim’s parents will sue the dog owner on their child’s behalf instead of waiting for the child’s independent personal injury case to ripen.
Multiple legal options: Arizona law does not prohibit you from pursuing multiple causes of action under the strict liability dog bite law, the dog-at-large law, local laws, and for personal injury negligence. You may not be allowed to recover multiple times for the same injury, but by considering all of your legal options you can increase the chances that everyone you have a claim against in a dog bite lawsuit—the owner, and the person controlling the dog—gets covered.
Possible comparative negligence defense: Arizona negligence law allows for the possibility that a successful plaintiff in a dog bite case might have at least partially contributed to the harm that person has suffered. To the extent that the plaintiff is also at fault, the plaintiff’s damages award from a lawsuit can be reduced.
A jury or the judge in a bench trial will decide, based on deducting your percentage of fault from 100 percent, how to allocate fault between the plaintiff and the defendant.
What this might mean in a dog bite lawsuit, for example, is that the dog’s owner, likely through a dog bite lawyer hired by the owner’s insurance company, might raise comparative fault defenses against you, like arguing that you provoked the dog. If as a result the jury finds you to be 10 percent at fault for the dog bite and the dog’s owner 90 percent liable to you, then you will receive 90 percent of whatever damages the jury awards you.
The most important thing to do after a dog bite or an at-large dog attack is to seek appropriate medical treatment, whether it is as simple as a tetanus shot or if hospitalization is needed for serious injuries.
Here are some other things you can do that can help your Phoenix dog bite lawyer to support your dog bite injury claim in settlement negotiations or in trial:
If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog, you can turn to us at Stone Rose Law for the moral support and aggressive representation you deserve. Whether you need a dog bite attorney in Scottsdale, Chandler, or elsewhere in the state, our Phoenix dog bite lawyers here to help.
Call Stone Rose Law at (480) 498-8998 for more information, and to schedule a free case evaluation with a qualified dog bite attorney today. Or if you prefer, contact us online to ask a question to a Phoenix dog bite lawyer or to arrange for a free initial consultation.
If you have been bitten by a dog in Phoenix, Maricopa County, or anywhere in Arizona, do not wait on your injury. If your medical condition worsens because you delayed treatment, then the dog’s owner can argue that you are negligent for that and try to reduce your recovery.
Also, do not forget that Arizona law gives you as little as one year to file your legal claim for a dog bite injury, or lose it.
Let us help you to preserve your claim and to win the maximum compensation you need. Call us today.