While laws concerning responsibilities for injuries caused by animals vary from state to state, there are some consistencies. Most of the time, the owner of an animal can be considered liable for his or her animal's dangerous behavior. Therefore, once medical attention has been sought, if the victim is contemplating legal action, the name and contact information of the animal's owner should be obtained. If the injured party doesn't know the owner's name, the information can often be uncovered by quizzing neighbors or witnesses, and this data should be provided to a personal injury attorney.
States Differ Regarding "Strict Liability" for Injuries Caused by Animals
While in some states "strict liability" applies, meaning the owner of the animal is responsible for the animal's behavior whether or not the owner was negligent, in other states the owner is only held liable if he/she was aware of the animal's "dangerous propensities." This awareness is often difficult to assess, for example, is the size or breed of the animal enough to create a presumption of danger, even if the particular animal has always been well-behaved?
"Contributory Negligence" as Cause of Animal Injuries
Another factor to consider in cases of injuries caused by animals is whether the person injured played some part in the event. A person who ignores a "Beware of Dog" sign, for example, or who climbs into a fenced yard where an animal is contained, is considered to have assumed a certain amount of risk. It is still the owner, however, who bears the burden of convincing the jury of such arguments.
Animal owners can also defend themselves and their pets if the "victim" teased or threatened the animal before the attack took place.
Other Parties Who May Be Held Responsible for Animal Injuries
In certain situations, it is not the owner who is held accountable for the injury inflicted by the animal. This may occur in the following cases:
When an animal keeper or sitter is responsible for the care of the animal, such as in a kennel, a pound, or when the owner is not at home, that person may be held responsible for the inflicted injury.
When a person under the age of 18 years is the owner of the animal, the parents or guardians of the minor may be held responsible.
When a property owner has allowed the animal onto his/her property, that property owner may be accountable for the behavior of the visiting animal.
If the landlord of an apartment knew, or should have known, that a tenant possessed a dangerous animal, it is possible that the landlord may be held liable.
What Damages Can Be Recovered After an Injury Caused by an Animal?
The damages the victim of an animal injury is entitled to vary according the severity and circumstances of the injury, and may include:
Pain and suffering
There are even cases in which punitive damages will be awarded when an animal injury has taken place. This occurs when the owner, fully cognizant of the danger of the animal, allows it to run free or to be in contact with someone who is then attacked. Punitive damages are awarded not only to punish the owner and provide compensation to the victim, but to deter the defendant and others from engaging in similarly dangerous conduct.