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Dog Bite Lawyers

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Phoenix Dog Bite Lawyers

While dogs are colloquially known as the best friends of humans, they can also be dangerous to people of all ages. Dogs may attack both familiar people and strangers, and dog bites can result in devastating injuries or fatalities. If you or your loved one have been bitten by a dog, you may be able to hold the dog’s owner liable to pay for your losses. The Phoenix dog bite attorneys at Lamber Goodnow may help you to recover compensation in an amount that fairly compensates you for your losses.

Strict liability for dog bites in Arizona

While some states require that dog bite victims prove that an owner was negligent, Arizona provides strict liability for dog owners when their dogs bite others in the state’s statutes. Under A.R.S. § 11-1025, dog owners are legally liable to pay damages to victims if they are legally on a public or private property, including the dog owner’s property. People who are bitten by police or military dogs when the dogs are engaged in the following will not be able to recover damages under the strict liability statute:

  • Police or military dog bites in response to provocation or while defending itself
  • Police or military dog bites while helping to apprehend a suspect
  • If the bite occurs during the investigation of a crime
  • If the dog bites while a warrant is being served
  • If the dog bites to defend another person or a police officer

The strict liability statute only applies to dog owners and not to others who may be in possession or control of the dog when the attack happens, according to the decision in Johnson v. Svidergol. There are other potential causes of action that may be available against people who are non-owners but who are in control or possession of the dogs, which are further explained later in this article.

What is strict liability, and what does that mean in Arizona?

Strict liability means that dog owners will be liable when their dogs bite others who are lawfully present regardless of whether or not the owners knew or should have known of their dogs’ propensity to bite. According to the court decision in Murdock v. Balle, owners will be strictly liable even in situations in which the owners were not at fault. Some states have a one-bite rule under which dog owners will not be liable unless they know that their dogs have the propensity to bite. These rules absolve owners of liability if the bite is the first time a dog has reacted violently. Arizona does not file this rule, however. Under Massey v. Colaric, dog owners will be liable even if they had no prior knowledge that their dogs were vicious.

Under the statute, if a dog owner’s dog bites another person while being walked on a public sidewalk or in a park, the dog owner will be held to be strictly liable to pay damages to the injured victim. If a dog owner has guests at his or her house who are bitten by the owner’s dog, the dog owner will likewise be liable to pay damages for their injuries and losses. Other lawfully present persons on private property who can recover under the strict liability dog bite statute include people who are on the property for lawful business purposes, including the following:

  • Meter readers
  • Postal carriers
  • People who are on the property to do work on the premises
  • Delivery personnel

Trespassers may not be able to recover under the strict liability statute because they are not lawfully present on the premises. However, dog owners should post signs warning trespassers to keep out so that there is no question of the existence of an implied invitation to enter.

What is lawful presence?

Lawful presence in Arizona is defined under A.R.S. § 11-1026. Under this statute, people are lawfully present when they are the guests of the dog owner, are invitees, are on the property to perform a legal duty under the laws of the federal government or the state, or are on the property pursuant to a municipal ordinance.

The impact of provocation on the ability to recover damages under the statute

In Arizona, provocation of a dog is a defense to strict liability under A.R.S. § 1027. Courts will consider whether or not a reasonable person would consider the action of the bitten person to be sufficiently provoking as to cause the dog to attack. Provocation may include hitting or striking a dog and may even include unintentionally stepping on a dog’s tale by a toddler, according to the decision in Toney v. Bouthillier.

What happens if a dog is at large?

Arizona also imposes strict liability on dog owners when their dogs are at large and bite victims. Under A.R.S. § 11-1020, either the owner or the person who was in control of or responsible for the dog at the time of the attack may be held to be strictly liable. If a person is attacked by a dog while it is at large and while under the control of a non-owner, this statute may provide the basis for the injured victim to hold the non-owner strictly liable for the injuries and resulting losses that the victim suffered.

Negligence claims for dog bites

The court held in Murdock v. Balle that the strict liability statute in Arizona does not replace the ability of victims to pursue claims under common law theories of negligence or negligence per se. If a dog owner’s negligence caused the dog attack, then the owner may be sued under both a common law negligence claim as well as the strict liability statutory claim. These claims may be filed simultaneously and allow more grounds for recovery.

A negligence per se claim may be available if the dog attacked the victim while the owner or person in control of the dog was violating the state’s law or the municipal ordinances. For example, violating the dog-at-large statute may provide a basis for a victim to sue under that strict liability statute as well as to claim a separate ground of negligence per se. In Arizona, an action is considered to be negligence per se when it violates an ordinance or statute.

Arizona Dog Bite FAQs

Millions of people in the U.S. own dogs. According to the Insurance Information Institute, 68% of households in the U.S. own at least one dog. While dogs are considered to be a part of many people’s families in Arizona, they can pose dangers to people in some cases. Dog bites can cause serious injuries and deaths. At Lamber Goodnow, our Phoenix dog bite lawyers represent people who have suffered serious injuries in dog attacks and have compiled some of the questions that we are frequently asked to provide you with more information about dog bites. Here are the frequently asked questions that we receive and some answers to help you to understand your rights.

Q: How many people are bitten by dogs each year?

A: According to data reported by the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs in the U.S. each year. From 2005 to 2016, 392 people were killed in dog attacks. Out of the 4.5 million bites that happen, 800,000 require people to seek medical attention. Since the U.S. population is estimated to include 329.45 million people in 2019, this means that one out of every 72 people in the U.S. is bitten by a dog. Because of the risks posed to people who are bitten by dogs, the states have enacted laws about dog bites and liability. People are also able to take steps to prevent dog attacks so that they can reduce their risks and the risks to others.

Q: What are the most dangerous dog breeds?

A: Certain breeds such as pit bulls, German shepherds, and Rottweilers have developed reputations for being dangerous. Dog breed advocates argue that these breeds are not dangerous when they are handled correctly by their owners. According to Dogbite.org, however, pit bulls were responsible for 74% of the dog bite fatalities that occurred in 2017. The fact is, however, that any dog can bite, including small breeds that you might think are harmless. Some of the breeds that tend to bite people more often than others include the following:

  • Chihuahuas
  • Pit bulls
  • German shepherds
  • Jack Russell terriers
  • Rottweilers
  • Pekingese
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Mastiffs
When you encounter a dog, you should exercise caution regardless of its breed. Dogs tend to bite when they feel threatened or when they are trying to protect their territory. If you see a strange dog, you should not approach it or try to pet it.

Q: Should you report a dog bite incident?

A: If you are bitten by a dog or if a dog bites your child, you should report it to the animal control department in your area. If the dog is running at large, you should call 911 to report it since it might pose a risk to others. All dog bites should be reported to the animal control department in your county. Health care providers are required to report to animal control officers when they treat dog bites in an effort to prevent rabies from spreading. In Maricopa County, dog bites can contact the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control department by calling 602-506-7387. After they receive your report, they will investigate what happened.

Q: What is strict liability for dog bite cases?

A: Each state has its own approach to determining the liability of dog owners. A majority of the states have either strict liability or follow the one-bite rule in their laws. States that follow the one-bite rule do not hold dog owners liable for the first time their dogs bite someone else. In these states, the dog owners will essentially receive one free pass. In states that have strict liability dog bite statutes, including Arizona, dog owners are liable to pay damages any time their dogs cause injuries to others. Arizona's strict liability dog bite statute can be found at A.R.S. § 11-1025. However, people are not allowed to recover damages when they are bitten by police or military dogs while the dogs are performing their duties. In some cases, a dog's owner may also be negligent in addition to holding strict liability. For example, if the dog's owner allowed the dog to roam at large, he or she may be negligent per se under A.R.S. § 11-1020. In cases in which both theories of negligence and strict liability apply, people normally plead both causes of action in their civil complaints with the help of their Phoenix dog bite attorneys.

Q: What if the victim provoked the dog?

A: Under A.R.S. § 11-1025, there is an exception to the strict liability of a dog owner when the victim provokes the dog. A dog's owner can raise a defense of provocation under A.R.S. § 11-1027. If the dog's owner is able to present evidence that the victim provoked the dog to bite, he or she will not be liable to pay damages in a dog bite claim. The court or jury will determine whether the victim's conduct was something that a reasonable person would determine to be likely to provoke a dog.

Q: What if the dog bite happens on private property?

A: Dog owners can still be liable when their dogs bite people who are lawfully present on their property, including invited guests and people who are there for legitimate business purposes. For example, if a child visits and is bitten by the homeowner's dog while he or she is playing in the back yard, the homeowner can be liable. Similarly, homeowners can be liable if their dogs bite meter readers, postal workers, and delivery drivers. A dog's owner will not be liable if his or her dog bites someone who is not lawfully on the property such as a burglar, for example. It is a good idea for people to keep their dogs penned away from people when they have visitors. Homeowners in Arizona are not required to post dangerous dog or beware of dog signs, but it is a good idea to do so that visitors to your property are aware that they should stay away from your dog.

Q: When should a dog bite claim be filed?

A: While the Arizona statute of limitations for personal injury cases is two years under A.R.S. § 12-542, a lawsuit for a dog bite should be filed no later than one year after the attack. This is because there is a one-year statute of limitations for strict liability claims for dog bites. Claims that are filed within one year of the attack can be filed under Arizona's strict liability law for dog bites. If you wait to file your claim until after a year has passed, you will be limited to bringing negligence claims against the dog's owner. To prove negligence, you will need to show that the dog knew or should have known that the dog had a propensity to attack. This might require you to prove that the dog had threatened a person or had bitten someone else in the past, which can be difficult. You can also prove negligence per se if the dog's owner violated the leash laws and allowed his or her dog to roam free. If you wait until two or more years have passed since your dog attack, you will be barred from being able to recover your damages. Claims that are filed beyond the statute of limitations are said to be time-barred, and they will be dismissed by the court. You should talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer at Lamber Goodnow as soon as possible after you have been bitten by a dog. Getting help early can help your lawyer to preserve evidence that might help to strengthen your claim.

Q: What damages can you recover in a dog bite case?

A: The amount of money that you might be able to recover in a dog bite case will depend on the extent of your injuries, your likelihood of recovering, and whether you will be able to return to your job, among other factors. You may be able to recover damages to pay for your economic and your noneconomic losses. Your economic losses are called special damages in Arizona and include such things as your past and future medical bills, past income losses, your future anticipated income losses, and your property losses. General damages are damages that are more difficult to value. These include a reduction in your capacity to participate in normal activities, a loss of your enjoyment of life, scarring and disfigurement, emotional trauma, pain and suffering, and others. When you meet with your attorney at Lamber Goodnow, he or she will analyze your claim and provide you with a range of values within which you might expect a reasonable settlement to fall.

Q: What are the potential sources of recovery in dog bite cases?

A: Some people hesitate to file dog bite claims when they are bitten by their friends' dogs while visiting their homes. If you file a dog bite claim after being bitten by one of your friend's dogs, his or her homeowner's insurance will likely cover your claim. Most homeowner's insurance policies provide coverage for bites by animals that the homeowners own. In addition to dogs, these policies may also cover bites by other types of pets such as cats. Some policies may have breed restrictions for certain dogs such as rottweilers or pit bulls, however. If the dog's owner has a breed that is excluded from his or her homeowner's policy or does not have homeowner's insurance, you will have to look at whether the owner has income or assets that will be able to satisfy your damages. You might also want to investigate whether there might be another responsible party or a different type of insurance such as a relative's policy or renter's insurance that might apply. If the dog attack happened at a business, there may be commercial liability insurance available as a recovery source. Your attorney will try to identify all of the potentially available recovery sources to try to secure you a monetary amount that will fairly compensate you.

Contact the Phoenix dog bite attorneys at Lamber Goodnow

Dog bites can cause serious injuries and leave you facing substantial losses. By filing a dog bite claim, you may be able to recover compensation to pay for all of your losses. The Phoenix dog bite lawyers at the Lamber Goodnow legal team have extensive experience helping the victims of animal attacks to recover compensation that fairly compensates them. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation so that you can learn more about the rights that you might have.


 

Statutes of limitations

Arizona has a relatively short statute of limitations for claims under the strict liability statutes. In the state, claims of strict liability for dog bites must be filed against the owners no longer than one year after the incidents. Personal injury negligence and negligence per se claims have a longer statute of limitations of two years but require the plaintiffs to prove fault. It is important for victims to file their lawsuits as soon after their attacks as possible so that they preserve their ability to file claims under the strict liability statute. If the victims miss the statutory deadline, they may be barred from seeking the recovery of damages under a strict liability theory. If a victim has already passed the strict liability statutory deadline, he or she may still be able to file negligence claims if the owner was at fault.

Damages

Under the strict liability statute, dog owners can be held liable for the injuries and property damage that their dogs cause when they attack victims. If the victims are also able to separately prove negligence claims, they may recover the following types of damages:

  • Past and future medical costs
  • Disfigurement damages
  • Past and future income losses
  • Losses for the reduction of the quality of life
  • Pain and suffering
  • For spouses, loss of consortium if applicable

If the dog attack results in the death of the victim, the family members may also recover reasonable costs for their burial and funeral expenses. In most cases, the dog owners’ homeowners’ insurance will provide coverage for dog bite attacks.

For common law dog bite claims, how do plaintiffs prove negligence?

If people are pursuing negligence claims against a dog owner or a non-owner who was in control of the dog, then they will be required to prove fault. In order to prove negligence, plaintiffs must be able to prove the following:

  • The owner or person in control owed a duty of care to the victim;
  • The owner or person in control breached the duty of care;
  • The dog’s attack happened because of the breach of duty;
  • The victim was injured and suffered compensable harm as a result.

In order to prove that a duty was owed, plaintiffs will need to be able to prove scienter, which can be difficult. This involves showing that the dog’s owner either knew or had reason to know of the dog’s vicious propensities and is normally shown by proving the dog has attacked someone in the past. Phoenix dog bite attorneys may analyze the facts in order to determine whether or not the owner was negligent when deciding whether or not there are sufficient grounds to file a negligence claim.

How do dog bite cases work?

In a dog bite case, the Phoenix dog bite lawyers at Lamber Goodnow will initially start by sending demand letters to the defendant and his or her insurance company. The demand letter will request a settlement offer in a specific amount. The lawyers will value the case before sending the letter and discuss the likely range of values within which a settlement should fall and then demand an amount that is at the high end of that range. The insurance company may agree to settle the claim at the demand amount or make a counteroffer. If the counteroffer is unreasonably low, the attorneys may then initiate a lawsuit by filing a civil complaint with the court that has jurisdiction over the matter. The defendant will then be given a specific amount of time to file his or her response to the complaint. Once that happens, the case will enter the discovery phase.

During discovery, both sides must exchange all of the evidence that they have gathered. Discovery may also involve interrogatories and depositions. Interrogatories are questions that must be answered within a specific amount of time. Depositions involve giving testimony and being questioned by attorneys in front of court reporters and the attorneys but outside of court. Deposition testimony is transcribed and allows the attorneys to understand what testimony they should expect at trial.

Many cases that go through the litigation process are settled before trial. Sometimes, they are settled before trial on the day it is scheduled. If a settlement is not reached, the case may proceed to trial before a jury. Once the trial is finished, the jury will deliberate before returning the verdict. After a verdict, either the defense or the plaintiff may file an appeal. If the appeal is won, then the case may be sent back and have to start over.

Contact the Phoenix dog bite attorneys at Lamber Goodnow

The Lamber Goodnow team is highly knowledgeable and experienced in helping the victims of dog bites in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area. We are committed to helping our clients to recover fair compensation so that they can be made whole after they have been attacked by dogs. Our attorneys are often able to negotiate reasonable settlements with the responsible insurance companies, but we are willing to fight for our clients through trial if it is necessary. To schedule your free consultation with our knowledgeable Phoenix dog bite lawyers, simply contact us online or call our office at (602) 274-9662 or (800) 283-2652. We will be happy to explain your potential rights to the recovery of damages for your losses.

Sources

  1. A.R.S. § 11-1025.
  2. Murdock v. Balle, 696 P.2d 230 (Ct. App. 1985).
  3. Massey v. Colaric, 725 P.2d 1099 (1986).
  4. Johnson v. Svidergol, 757 P.2d 609 (Ct. App. 1988).
  5. A.R.S. § 11-1026.
  6. A.R.S. § 11-1027.
  7. Toney v. Bouthillier, 631 P.2d 557 (Ct. App. 1981).
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