Thousands of people may require a medical evaluation and treatment of their injuries due to the dog attack. Some of these injuries or associated complications will be serious enough to result in missed time from work or even a permanent loss of earning capacity.
The III explains that the dog owner’s homeowners liability policy generally compensates victims of dog bites. While most insurance providers who sell homeowners policies will cover dog bite liability to the limit of the owner’s policy.
Many insurers refuse to cover certain dog breeds associated with a high number of bite injuries. When a dog is deemed vicious, it is not uncommon for the insurer to exclude damages caused by the dog from coverage or even decide not to renew the homeowner’s policy.
If the insurance company that services the dog owner’s policy refuses to fairly compensate a claim filed by someone the insured’s dog injured, the victim can file a lawsuit in civil court. They can seek the assistance of a dog attack attorney to present the case to a judge or jury who will determine the amount of compensation (if any) that the claimant is entitled to receive. However, certain factors impact the claimant’s right to sue. Here is a look at how long you have to file a lawsuit after a dog attack.
The Statute of Limitations on Dog Attack Claims
One of the biggest factors that impact the amount of time you have to file a claim against a dog owner’s homeowners policy or file a lawsuit in court is the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is the amount of time that parties in a legal dispute have to file a lawsuit in court following the precipitating event. While statutes of limitations are often part of the criminal legal process, they also apply to other types of civil liability claims, including personal injury claims such as a claim filed for dog bite injuries.
State lawmakers determine the statute of limitations for various types of legal actions. Most states have a statute of limitations for personal injury claims of one to six years, beginning on the date of the injury. Failing to file your legal complaint in court before the statute of limitations expires will almost always result in losing the claimant’s right to use the court process to seek compensation for their injuries.
While most personal injury claims, including those involving dog bites or attacks, are resolved through an out-of-court settlement rather than litigation, the statute of limitations also impacts the ability to settle the claim. Insurance providers are not required to compensate expired claims and face no legal repercussions if they don’t.
Other Factors That Can Affect How Long You Have to File a Dog Attack Lawsuit
While the statute of limitations is the main factor determining how long you have to file a dog attack lawsuit, several other issues can also impact the time it takes to file a claim or a legal complaint.
Whether You Have an Attorney to Assist You With the Claims Process
Experienced personal injury lawyers are a key ingredient to having a positive outcome to a dog attack claim. They have a firm understanding of the laws designed to help you obtain the compensation you need and the legal knowledge needed to counter an insurance provider’s reluctance to fairly compensate the claim.
Dog bite victims who attempt to navigate the personal injury claims process without the assistance of a lawyer often find themselves overwhelmed with understanding the type of documentation needed to prove that someone else’s dog injured them or how to gather that documentation.
They can face delays in evaluating or responding to the claim by the insurance company or even find the insurance company has denied their claim because they have not followed the proper procedure when filing. Further, many dog bite victims do not realize all the expenses and psychological impacts they can include in their claim or how to assign a value to the claim.
An attorney has a team of legal professionals to assist them in gathering needed documents and other evidence. They understand how long insurance companies have to evaluate claims, and they also understand what the insurer is required to cover in accordance with the provisions of the policy in question. They know how to value a claim to maximize the compensation available to the claimant and can guide their client in making important decisions about their claim.
The State’s Dog Bite Rules
Another factor involved in a dog attack claim that can impact the timing of the claim is the state’s laws about dog attacks. Many states use a one-bite rule when determining liability after a dog bite. This rule states that a dog’s owner is only liable for injuries caused to others by their pet if they knew or had reason to know that the dog could be aggressive.
One of the most certain ways a person can determine that their dog can bite someone is if it has previously bitten someone else. Essentially, the one-bite rule allows the animal one free bite before its owner faces liability.
Some states, including California, follow strict liability for dog bites. This means that the dog’s owner is responsible for compensating those harmed by the animal, regardless of whether they had reason to know that the dog was capable of aggressive behavior. In strict liability dog bite claims, the injured party does not need to prove that the dog’s owner was negligent in protecting others from the dog. They merely must prove that the dog belonged to its owner and was responsible for the injuries to the claimant.
The Severity of Your Injury and the Speed of Your Recovery
Personal injury lawyers rarely value their client’s claims until their injuries have stabilized and their physician determines that they have likely made the most meaningful recovery possible in light of their injuries.
Physical injuries commonly result in complications that can extend the length of the sufferer’s recovery or even lead to severe medical consequences that take a long time to heal. The time it takes for a dog bite claimant to heal is often a source of frustration for the claimant, as it can feel like lingering injuries are holding up the claims process.
More severe injuries often result in a higher-valued claim, as additional medical expenses are often involved, a longer period in which the claimant’s injuries prevent them from working, and more significant psychological impacts result from frequent medical treatments.
Unfortunately, the higher the claim’s value, the more likely the dog owner’s insurance provider will dispute the claim and fail to make a settlement offer that fairly compensates the claim. Additionally, the claimant’s attorney will require more time to negotiate a settlement that fairly compensates the injury.
Why Not Bypass the Insurance Claim and File the Lawsuit?
To file a legal complaint in court, the claimant must show that they attempted to collect compensation directly from the insurer before involving the courts. When a claim is submitted to the insurance company, they will assign a claims adjuster to evaluate it.
The adjuster will determine:
- Whether the policy held by the dog’s owner covers your injury. As noted, most insurance companies will cover dog bite liability. However, the insurance company will not compensate the claim if the dog is of a breed specifically excluded from coverage. In these cases, seeking compensation through a demand letter sent directly to the dog’s owner is possible. If the dog’s owner fails to pay the claim, a dog bite victim can file a lawsuit against them. However, collecting compensation directly from the dog’s owner will likely be more difficult, as most people do not have the funds to pay for the expenses and impacts related to a dog bite out-of-pocket.
- Whether you can hold the dog’s owner liable for your injuries. Even in strict liability states, there are reasons why an owner would not be liable if their dog attacks someone. Most state laws exclude liability for bites that occur because the victim of the bite was teasing or provoking the dog. In many states, dog owners are excluded from liability if the bite occurred while a trespasser was on the dog owner’s property without permission. Other exceptions to strict liability include dogs that bite while serving in an official law enforcement or military capacity.
- How much money the claimant deserves. It is not unusual for an insurance provider to admit that the insured was liable for the dog bite but to dispute the claim’s value. This is why it is important to have documentation as to the costs incurred during the provision of medical treatment and information about the injuries sustained.
Once the insurance claims adjuster has concluded their evaluation of the claim, they can either choose to approve the claim as submitted and process payment of the compensation due to the claimant, deny the claim and provide a written reason for the denial to the claimant and their attorney, or offer to settle the claim out of court for less than its established value.
Settlements Usually Take Less Time Than Lawsuits
Around 95 percent of all personal injury claims resolve through out-of-court settlements because of:
- The time it takes to prepare for a trial and present the case in court.
- The extra expenses involved in litigation. Many of these expenses occur during the discovery process when witnesses are deposed, and the claimant is responsible for providing a venue for these depositions.
- The uncertainty of the outcome for both the claimant and the defendant. A lawsuit takes the matter out of the hands of the claimant, the defendant, and the defendant’s insurance provider and places it in the hands of a judge or jury. On the contrary, settlements allow each side to have a say in the resolution of the claim.
A settlement offer can be made at any time, from when the insurer receives the claim to the point at the end of the trial when the court makes a decision. Despite this relatively large window for receiving and agreeing to settlement offers, the settlement process generally takes less time than litigation, as the timing of the resolution is based on the ability of the two sides to compromise and agree rather than on the scheduling of an often overburdened civil court system.
What You Can Do to Reduce the Time It Takes to Resolve Your Claim?
Many factors in the timing of a dog attack claim can increase or reduce how long it takes to resolve the claim. Some actions you can take to help promote a faster resolution to your claim include seeking prompt medical treatment, following your physician’s orders, and retaining all documentation about your injury, including bills for medical services, documentation about your wages and time you missed from work, and photos of the injury.
Contact a San Diego personal injury lawyer as soon as possible so they can begin working on your case with plenty of time to file a lawsuit if necessary before the statute of limitations expires.