Two mixed breed dogs and their trainer on the lawn at a park. The dogs are fight-playing.

Most people see their pets in a light similar to their own children. So, when a dog misbehaves it may be easy for an owner to overlook the bad behavior and forgive the errant puppy. But, what if the dog bites someone? Are there legal ramifications? What should an owner do?

When a dog bites someone, initial reactions can range from humor to shock and panic. But, it is important to take swift action to make sure the incident does not escalate and to avoid liability. It is critical to remain calm, even if the bite is serious. Immediately confine the dog to a crate or another room and offer first-aid to the bite victim. Be sure to clean any wound thoroughly and immediately to avoid infection. If the injury warrants, contact 911 for emergency medial attention.

Exchange information with the victim much as you would after a motor vehicle accident. Get their name and contact details and be prepared to provide your homeowner’s insurance information (it will be the most likely policy to cover the dog bite). Avoid becoming confrontational with the victim or blaming them for the incident, as this may invoke their anger enough to file a lawsuit against you and/or seek the destruction of the dog by animal control.

If there are any witnesses to the incident, be sure to get their contact information, as well. As soon as you are able, be sure to get a copy of your dog’s medical records, and particularly their vaccination history. If necessary, inform local authorities of the incident and comply with their orders. It may be frightening to discuss your dog’s fate with animal control, but it will usually be better if you are the one to report the incident than the injured party.

Dog bite laws vary widely from one jurisdiction to another, so it will be important to contact a local attorney for the best advice on what you should do to protect yourself and your pet from a legal standpoint. You can find a list of local attorneys by visiting HG.org and searching by your location and the practice areas of the lawyers in question.

As a general rule, though, owners are liable for the damage caused by their pets, even if someone was trespassing on the owner’s property at the time of the incident. Warning signs are generally required to avoid some liability to trespassers, but even this may not fully protect the owner under some circumstances. Check with your attorney to find the best course of action for your location.

From the state’s perspective, dogs that bite people may pose a serious risk to the community. It is not uncommon for a dog to be quarantined at a state facility for a period of time to ensure the dog is not rabid or otherwise infected with a communicable disease. If this is not the first time the dog has bitten someone, the government may designate the dog a “dangerous dog.” This could lead to enhanced supervision requirements for the owner or even the euthanization of the animal in question.

The state may also hold you, as the owner, responsible for the dog’s actions in a criminal setting. The attack may be considered a form of battery, and the dog may be considered an “aggravator” (i.e., something that makes the battery more dangerous, like a weapon). Such charges are very serious, even if the injury caused by the dog seems minor, and must be taken seriously. Otherwise, you could end up with a criminal record, heavy fines, or even jail time.

While you may or may not end up being found either criminally or civilly liable to pay for the bite victim’s medical expenses, it is a good idea to offer to do so anyway. If possible, this offer should be made immediately after the biting, as this may soften the victim’s resolve with regard to reporting the incident to authorities or hiring an attorney to pursue legal action against you. It would also moot a portion of the damages to which the victim would be entitled, making it difficult for them to pursue legal action against you should things turn sour later.

As a responsible dog owner, it is your duty to ensure that your dog does not bite people. Make sure your dog is properly trained, that you have warning signs if your dog is allowed to run free on your property (even behind fences), and that you know how to treat a dog bite should it occur. If it is already too late, act quickly to mitigate the situation, as your rights (and your dog’s life) may depend on it. And, contact an attorney at once if a dog attack does occur to be sure you take all of the appropriate actions to protect yourself and your pet.

To fine out more information on what to do when your dog bites someone, please visit HG.org.

Disclaimer: This information is not a substitute for legal advice. Laws change from time to time, so if you are injured, protect your rights and call today at 1-800-598-2440 or contact the Womick Law Firm online.