Each state has established laws regarding dog bites and liability for dog bite injuries. This is a brief discussion about dog bites and the law in Indiana, but if you are injured in this state because a dog has bitten you, you will need personalized advice from a Lake County dog bite attorney.
When is a dog owner liable for the injuries caused by a dog bite? When can a dog bite victim be compensated for injuries, lost wages, and related damages? If you are injured by a dog, is there a deadline for taking legal action?
Dog bites can be serious business. Dog bite patients often are treated for wounds and gashes, but dog bites may also cause serious strep and staph infections. Each year in the U.S., more than four million dog bites are reported. Dog bites caused 36 deaths in the United States in 2018.
Almost anyone could become a dog bite victim, so keep reading, and you’ll learn the answers to these questions. You’ll also learn more about your rights as a victim of negligence and how to put the law to work for you after a dog bite incident in this state.
Is There an Indiana Law That Specifically Addresses Dog Bites?
The Indiana civil law that specifically addresses dog bites, Section 15-20-1-3 of the Indiana Code, applies only to dog bites sustained by law enforcement officers, firefighters, mail carriers, and others who are performing their duties under federal or state laws or postal regulations.
If a dog bites one of these persons in this situation, the dog’s owner faces “strict liability,” which means that the owner may be held accountable for the incident, provided that the dog was not provoked and the victim was carrying out a legal duty in the location where the bite happened.
Section 15-20-1-3 of the Indiana Code covers only dog bites and not other injuries that may be caused by a dog or another animal. Strict liability means a dog owner may be held liable even when a dog has not been aggressive and has not bitten anyone previously.
What is Your Recourse If a Dog Bites You?
That’s good news for your mail carrier and your local police and firefighters, but what about the rest of us? What is your recourse if a dog bites you?
The courts in Indiana have determined that someone who is a dog bite victim may sue the owner for bite-related medical expenses, lost earnings, and for personal pain and suffering arising from the dog bite.
What is the “One Bite” Rule?
Furthermore, the courts in Indiana generally adhere to the “one bite” rule, meaning that the owner may only be liable if he or she knew – or should have been aware – that the dog was prone to bite someone or otherwise act aggressively.
If the case goes to court, the court will determine whether or not the dog owner – the “defendant” – failed to take reasonable steps to keep the dog from biting the injury victim or “plaintiff.”
In the State of Indiana, if a dog’s owner knows that the dog is aggressive or has bitten someone in the past, that owner is obligated to take reasonable measures to keep the dog from acting aggressively toward people or from biting anyone.
Can a Dog Owner Face Criminal Penalties?
To encourage the owners of aggressive dogs to accept this responsibility, dog owners are not only subject to personal injury lawsuits, but in some cases they may also face criminal charges. Indiana law provides that a dog owner may be prosecuted for a Class C misdemeanor if:
1. The owner “recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally failed” to take reasonable measures to restrain the animal.
2. The dog enters another person’s property.
3. The dog bites or attacks someone “without provocation” and causes an injury.
A conviction for the Class C misdemeanor charge may be penalized with up to sixty days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500.
What if a Dog Bite Causes Someone’s Death?
However, the charge is a Class B misdemeanor if it’s a second offense or if the dog bite results in ‘serious bodily injury.” A conviction may be penalized with up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. A dog’s owner may face a felony charge if a dog bite leads to the victim’s death.
If you are a dog bite victim, the criminal courts will not award you compensation. However, if you take the matter to civil court with a personal injury lawsuit, a criminal conviction will be powerful evidence in your favor.
Defenses Against Dog Bite Lawsuits
Even if you’ve been seriously injured by a dog bite and you sue the owner, that owner may claim that you were partially or entirely responsible for your injury. The owner may claim that you provoked the animal or that you were trespassing and had no right to be in the dog’s presence.
Those are acceptable legal defenses. Never provoke an animal, and teach your children the same rule. If you were trespassing and the dog’s owner can prove it, you may not prevail with a lawsuit.
However, if you weren’t trespassing and you did not provoke the animal, you will need to be advised and represented by a Lake County dog bite attorney who can prove that you are entitled to compensation for your injuries and related damages.
What is the Deadline for Filing a Dog Bite-Related Lawsuit?
You’ll need to act quickly. Indiana’s statute of limitations for personal injury claims gives you two years to file your claim and begin the legal process, but if you intend to be compensated, you can’t wait two years and then scramble to file a claim at the last minute.
The sooner you put your case in the hands of an Indiana personal injury lawyer, the more likely it is that you will prevail. Over time, evidence can deteriorate or disappear. If there were witnesses, their memories will fade, and witnesses also sometimes disappear.
As soon as you’ve been treated by a medical professional for a dog bite injury, arrange to speak to an attorney. Most dog bite cases are settled out of court, and victims are rarely required to appear in a courtroom.
How Will Your Attorney Help, and What Will It Cost?
However, if no reasonable settlement offer is made in private negotiations, your attorney may recommend going to trial, explaining to a jury what happened, and asking that jury to order the payment of your compensation.
Your first meeting with an Indiana injury attorney comes with no cost or obligation. You’ll learn more about your rights and how the law applies to your own situation.
If you proceed with a personal injury claim, you will pay no attorney’s fee until your attorney acquires a settlement or a jury verdict on your behalf. Hopefully, a serious dog bite injury is something you will never have to deal with, but if it happens, the law in Indiana is on your side.