According to the Center for Disease Control, there are approximately 4.7 million dog bites per year, with 800,000 of them requiring medical attention. Some dog bites are severe enough that they can require stitches or reconstructive surgery. There were even three dozen fatal dog attacks in 2018.
The monetary damages from a dog bite can go towards paying medical bills and property damage or compensating for pain and suffering. Here is a complete list of the monetary damages available to a dog bite victim.
What Monetary Damages Can a Dog Bite Victim Recover?
Dog bite victims may seek monetary damages to pay for physical or emotional harm. The likelihood of a cash settlement will depend entirely on the strength and persuasiveness of the case. It is worth noting that intangible damages, such as grief, are more challenging to prove because there is no obvious way to measure them.
Damages from a dog bite can be expensive. While there were only 17,297 insurance claims throughout the United States in 2018, many of those injuries were severe. The average dog bite insurance claim was $39,017, which is an uptick from $37,051 the previous year.
Medical bills are the foremost way to claim damages, in part, because they are the most visible. The claims are relatively expensive, too, because of the strength and power of certain breeds like pit bulls and German Shepherds. While these breeds can be docile and friendly, they are among the most dangerous dogs if they do attack.
Medical expenses can include treatment in the hospital as well as outside of it. As long as the victim can prove a dog’s bite is the responsibility for their side effects or injuries, they can earn compensation. Some potential medical bills include:
- Antibiotic treatment
- Emergency room treatment
- On-site treatment from an emergency medical technician
- Plastic surgery to minimize the appearance of scars or disfigurement
- Rabies shot
- Removing the dog’s teeth, dirt, or debris from the wound
- Surgical procedures to repair ligaments or bones
- Tetanus shot
- Wound cleaning
Medical bills can eclipse six figures in the worst-case scenarios. These cases involve intense treatment over an extended period. If the injury is severe, victims may need damages to pay for:
- Medical equipment that is necessary to sustain livelihood after the accident, such as a wheelchair
- Medical treatment for a systemic infection that started at the bite marks
- Modifications to the home, because the dog bite hindered the victim’s ability to move and live within their current residence, such as a wheelchair ramp
- Occupational therapy
- Physical therapy
- Plastic surgery for severe disfigurement
- Prosthetic limbs as a result of amputation
- Surgery to repair damaged nerves
Reduced Earnings Capacity
Someone who suffers a permanent injury may consider claiming reduced earnings capacity. The claim presents that the dog attack prevents the victim from earning as much money as they could have in the future. For instance, if a dog bites a cellist’s hand and causes permanent nerve damage, the cellist can’t play their instrument at the same quality as they did previously.
To successfully claim reduced earnings capacities, a legal team must prove two things: permeance and effect on employment. While there is no single legal definition of “permanent,” the victim’s injury should be something they will foreseeably carry with them for the rest of their lives. Examples include the loss of a limb, nerve damage, and disfigurement.
The second qualification is that the injury must demonstrably negatively impact employment. The victim needs to show the attack prevents them from performing specific skills or functions that are essential to their work. During the time of the trial or negotiations, the victim does not have to suffer wage loss, though.
Reduced earnings capacity is challenging to win because it is inherently unknowable. Dog bite lawyers will rely on expert testimony to make the case persuasive. Two potential experts include physicians and economists.
A physician can provide medical insight into the condition and the future health of the victim. This testimony is particularly useful for injuries that are not immediately obvious, such as fractures, muscle tears, or soft tissue injuries. The physician can explain if there will be future symptoms and how likely the damage is to be permanent.
An economist will project how much money an individual could have earned throughout their career. This process requires considering multiple variables, such as inflation and the potential salaries within the victim’s industry. They can then come up with an estimate of how much the victim could have made and how much they’ll earn now.
If a dog bite is severe enough to seek medical treatment, there is a chance the victim will miss time at work. Victims can try to reclaim lost wages in their negotiations or lawsuit. The earnings can include base salary, bonus, commissions, and other benefits.
To win a claim for lost wages, the victim must show the dog’s attack directly led to them missing work. They must also have a monetary total for their request within reasonable certainty. Note that lost wages are not the same as reduced earning capacity, which focuses on future earning abilities.
Generally, lost wages are more straightforward claims because they are easy to calculate and demonstrable. The victim can figure out how much money they would have made per day based on past paystubs. Then, they can multiply the daily earnings total by the number of workdays they missed. Having medical documents showing the victim was in the hospital during this time or had a doctor’s note to stay at home, will help immensely.
These claims are also easier to win because lost wages draw on past information as opposed to the future. Calculating compensation for future loss of earnings is highly speculative. No one can predict the future, which makes it impossible to know whether the victim may have achieved up to their potential, receive raises, earned promotions, changed fields, retired early, or made another significant career change.
Loss of Consortium
A loss of consortium is also known as a loss of affection. The idea is that the injury has or will deprive the victim’s spouse of love, companionship, care, and/or sexual gratification. While the spouse is the most frequently cited party, it can refer to children and other family members, too.
Proving the loss of consortium falls under the category of general damages. Put another way: there is no way to measure the monetary value of lost affection tangibly. The court will consider several factors, including:
- The life expectancy of the victim and spouse
- How much companionship the spouse received and how much time they spent together
- The living arrangements
- Whether or not the marriage is a stable and happy one
California does not have a fixed standard for loss of consortium damages. The court determines the compensation on an individual basis. Additionally, the statute of limitations starts at the time of the injury, and when someone raises a concern that the marriage or relationship is irrevocably damaged.
Emotional Pain and Suffering
Emotional pain and suffering also fall in the category of general damages. Even if a victim genuinely suffers trauma from a dog attack, the key is proving it beyond a doubt. This claim is one of the most difficult to win and requires high degrees of skill, persuasion, and imagination.
One way to approach the argument is with a series of short stories. These vignettes will illustrate the emotional struggle that the victim has endured since the incident. For instance, a lawyer may talk about the victim’s unusually untidy house and unkempt appearance as a manifestation of depression.
Another approach is to use the “show and tell” method. This evidence may come in the form of photos, videos, or items relevant to the victim’s life. A lawyer might use this method by showing the jury a series of x-rays where the dog broke the victim’s hand.
Next, they will detail the procedure and side effects that come as a result of this type of injury. Having a physician testify to these assertions goes a long way. While the jury can’t see or feel the emotional pain of the victim, they can extrapolate the degree of suffering someone may endure based on the evidence.
There is no fixed model when it comes to paying damages for pain and suffering. Some insurance companies will use a multiples method, where they multiply the medical bills and lost wages by the perceived level of pain on a scale of one to five. If someone had $10,000 worth of bills and lost wages and a perceived pain of 3.5, the court would award them $35,000.
An alternative approach is a per diem, which means “per day” in Latin. The per diem approach compensates victims for every day of pain and suffering until they reach maximum recovery. If someone took an entire year to recover, and the court assigned a value of $100 to their daily compensation, the court would award the victim $36,500.
While it is possible to receive compensation for property damage after a dog bite, dog bite cases don’t typically create a lot of property damage. Frequently, property damage is limited to clothing, such as shirts and pants. Dogs may also ruin a watch, backpack, purse, sunglasses, or other accessories during the attack.
Most property damages in dog bite cases come when the victim is riding a vehicle. That could include a motorcycle, bike, scooter, or skateboard. If the dog significantly maims those products, victims may earn a few hundred up to several thousand dollars.
Courts rarely give out punitive damages in dog bite cases. Punitive damages are a way of punishing a defendant for exceptionally egregious behavior. For instance, the defendant may intentionally release an actively aggressive dog with the intent of intimidating or scaring the victims.
As a rule of thumb, the courts apply punitive damage in five percent of verdicts. Currently, there has not been a ruling from the Supreme Court to test for punitive damages. Therefore, the monetary figure comes at the court’s discretion.
What to Do if You’ve Been Injured Due to a Dog Bite
If a dog bites or injuries you, the first thing to do is seek medical attention. You may need to call animal control or 911 in the process. If the wounds are severe, make sure to exchange information with the dog owner, such as names, home addresses, and phone numbers.
Once you are in stable medical condition, do your best to recall the events with as much detail as possible. Whether you write or record an audio file, including what you remember about the time of day, location, the dog, and the incident. Documenting your account while it is fresh in your mind will ensure a reliable source of testimony.
This period is also when you should reach out to a dog bite lawyer. We at Adamson Ahdoot LLP offer free case consultations. These meetings provide an opportunity to go over the facts of the incident and provide suggestions on whether or not you have a winning case at hand.
If you decide to move forward with some form of legal action, the next step is to collect different evidence. If the dog tore or bloodied your clothing during the act, preserve the clothes in their original condition. Cleaning these articles may otherwise eliminate valuable proof of your claims.
Furthermore, photos and videos can be useful sources when depicting property damages and physical injuries. For instance, a dog may break through a fence before biting you. You should document as much as possible, including the broken fence, the rips in your clothing, the location, and bite marks.
If it is possible, reach out to witnesses who saw the attack take place. Their stories may back up the details and timeline of your telling, which will fortify your case. You can also contact neighbors for testimony, as they may recount insistences of past aggression from the dog.
Note that an experienced lawyer can assist you in collecting evidence and building the strongest possible case. They will draw on years of legal knowledge and firsthand experience in California to persuade the court of your claims. When you work with Adamson Ahdoot LLP, you have three decades of cumulative experience ready to serve you.
Discover the difference one of our lawyers can make for you when seeking damages from a dog bite. We take pride in putting our clients first. Call us at (800) 310-1606 or fill out our contact form to set up a free case consultation today.