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Dog bites: Laws and liability

Approximately 4.7 million dog bites occur every year. Here's what owners need to know about dog bite claims and liability

By Angie Hill

Michigan Insurance, Liability Insurance, Dog bite insurance
Approximately 4.7 million dog bites occur in the U.S. every year, says the CDC. (Photo: Shutterstock)

There are approximately 500,000 dogs in the city of New York, and they all have certain uses ranging from a loving family pet to a working dog. Sadly, not every dog has appropriate social training, which can lead to attacks on innocent bystanders.

According to research published by the Center For Disease Control (CDC), approximately 4.7 million dog bites occur in the United States annually. Often, people who suffer attacks from canines are left to deal with significant scarring in mental and physical terms from these attacks.

It’s therefore vital that people are aware of the law encompassing dog liability claims in the event of a dog bite occurring because compensation for serious dog bite injuries is only fair.

Liability and insurance

Typically, homeowners and renter’s insurance policies will cover dog bite liability legal expenses. The limits range from around $100,000 to $300,000 on a standard policy. Should the claim exceed the policyholder’s limit, the dog owner is then accountable for all damages beyond that amount.

State and local legislation

There are four kinds of law that impose liability on owners:

  1. A dog bite statute: The dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes without provocation.

  2. The One-Bite Rule: In certain states, the dog owner is accountable for an injury caused by a canine if the owner had knowledge that the dog was likely to cause injury of this nature. In this instance, the victim must prove the owner was aware of the risk the dog posed.

  3. Strict liability: Other states have a ‘strict liability rule,’ which takes the place of the One-Bite Rule. The owner is liable for the damages unless they can prove you were trespassing or deliberately provoking the dog. Military and police dog handlers are generally exempt from dog bite liability claims or lawsuits if they are on active duty.

  4. Negligence laws: The dog owner is liable in the event of an injury occurring due to the owner’s unreasonable carelessness (negligence) when controlling the dog.

Obtaining evidence after an attack

Filing a dog bite liability claim against the owner’s insurance policy is the same as filing in the case of a car accident or slip or fall, for example. You should begin by acting and gathering evidence that will support a claim.

  1. Collect the dog owner’s details.

  2. Find out the breed of the dog.

  3. Take photos of any injuries. Do so as soon as possible and in the days, weeks, and months following to show the progress of the injury.

  4. Keep the clothing you wore. Do not wash the clothing or attempt to repair it as there may be important evidence on it that could benefit your case.

  5. Record the exact circumstances. Do this immediately. Note down the moments prior to and immediately after the incident. This can be invaluable when it comes to your witness statement.

  6. Collect the contact details of witnesses. If anyone saw the attack, having their witness statement to use in the claim will strengthen your case.


Angie Hill is the editor-in-chief of Woof Dog and helps dog owners and enthusiasts by writing informative guides to learn from. She is a keen explorer and adores dog walking adventures when she isn’t helping others to develop relationships with their four-legged friends. She can be reached at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are the author’s own.


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