Americans are fond of their dogs – 36 percent of households across the country have at least one. They can be sources of companionship, fun, and even of health, as dogs have been proven to reduce stress.
But unfortunately, dogs can also bite. Dog bites can be painful and cause severe injuries, especially to the young children that make up half of those bitten.
Twenty percent of dog bites require the victim to seek medical attention, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Injuries aren’t the only harm, either. Dog bites can cause infection, permanent scarring or disfigurement, and lasting psychological trauma.
Dog bites occur frequently, too. There were 18,522 insurance claims filed for dog bites in 2017, versus 18,122 in 2016.
If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog in West Virginia, it’s only natural to wonder what the average settlement is. Nationwide, the average claim paid was $37,051 in 2017, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Since 2003, the average amount has risen 90 percent, partly because of rising medical costs.
Dog Bite Law in West Virginia
What legal recourse do you have if a dog bite has caused injury?
West Virginia has a strict liability statute (§19-20-13) in the case of unleashed dogs. A dog owner or keeper who lets the animal roam without a leash is liable for injuries and property damage if the dog bites or attacks. “Strict liability” means that you don’t have to prove negligence on the part of the owner or keeper; it is automatic.
If a leashed dog bites or attacks you or a family member, however, you need to be able to prove that the owner was negligent in order to recover damages. Negligence can be charged, for example, if the dog has bitten or attacked people before, which is known as the “one bite” rule. It indicates that an owner or keeper knew or reasonably should have known that the dog was dangerous.
Negligence is a violation of the ordinary duty of care that property owners have to keep their property safe for visitors and to see that dogs don’t bite unprovoked if they are off the property.
If the owner of a leashed dog has been negligent, you can bring a claim for economic damages, such as medical expenses caused by the dog bite, damages to property, and lost wages from work if the bite caused you to lose time from work. If the injury has caused disability or disfigurement, West Virginians can also bring a claim for these damages.
People bitten by dogs can also suffer emotional trauma. A claim can also be brought for noneconomic damages, including pain, suffering, mental anguish, and grief.
West Virginia operates under a comparative negligence rule. If an injured person is partly responsible for the cause, any compensation awarded is reduced by the amount the court deems the person responsible.
If the court awards $50,000 for damages in a dog bite case, for example, but determines that the injured party is responsible for 20 percent, the award is reduced by 20 percent. If the court finds the injured party more than half responsible, they cannot recover any damages.
Many dog owners may try to argue that the injured party was responsible for the accident. They may claim that a child taunted, hurt, or otherwise provoked the dog, for example, whether that is true or not.
It is therefore very important to report a dog bite with your county authorities. It provides legal evidence that a bite did occur, but also serves as part of historical data about the dog. If the dog has previously bitten or attacked someone, the county might have a record.
What to Do After a Dog Bite
Seek medical attention immediately. Even if there aren’t visible wounds or pain, there could well be germs that can cause disease later on, including rabies, tetanus and infection. If there are visible wounds, call an ambulance.
Get the name and contact information of the dog’s owner, just as you would do in a car accident, for example. Ask them whether the dog is vaccinated and about any previous history of biting. If they are unwilling to provide their contact information, call the police.
If other people witnessed the attack, ask if they are willing to provide their contact information to you or ask them to talk to the police.
If You Need a Dog Bite Attorney in West Virginia
The dog bite lawyers at Johnstone & Gabhart understand the pain and trauma that can be caused by a dog bite. Our experienced Charleston, WV personal injury attorneys will work tirelessly to see that you receive just compensation. Our initial consultation is always free. Please contact our office today to discuss your case.