Injuries from dog bites can be extremely serious, and cost the victim large sums of money due to medical bills. In addition, dog bites may cause strong emotional trauma to young children. Children who have been bitten by a dog may experience loss of sleep, fear of dogs, and general trepidation. It is important for anyone whose child has suffered from a serious dog bite injury to seek an experienced personal injury attorney. An attorney is invaluable in sorting through state laws regarding dogs, gathering and evaluating medical information, and negotiating with dog owners or insurance companies.
Dog bite law differs from state to state. Some state use a "One Bite" rule, that is that an owner is not liable if they do not know that their dog might act aggressively. However, once a dog has bitten someone, the owner is on notice and can be held liable for later injuries. Still, other states will not hold an owner liable if the dog was provoked or if the person bitten had no legal right to be where they were at the time they were bitten. However, more and more states apply a strict liability standard. That is the dog owner is liable for the injuries caused whether the owner knew the dog to be potentially dangerous or not.
Utah's Dog Law
Utah follows the strict liability standard. Utah law places responsibility upon the dog owner for any injuries caused by the pet. That is, a dog owner in Utah need not be aware of the dog's vicious tendencies before the owner is responsible for the damages caused by the pet. The person who was bitten does not need to prove that the dog was vicious or that the owner knew that the dog was vicious.
(1) Every person owning or keeping a dog is liable in damages for injury committed by the dog, and it is not necessary in the action brought therefore to allege or prove that the dog was of a vicious or mischievous disposition or that the owner or keeper of the dog knew that it was vicious or mischievous. [U.C.A. §18-1-1 .]
Two or More Dogs Involved
If two or more dogs are acting together and they are owned by different owners liability, both owners can be joined as defendants. Liability among the dog owners is to be apportioned among them and judgment is to be entered severally against all of the owners. [See U.C.A §18-1-2 .]Severally liable means that if two dogs are deemed to have caused injury and one of them caused most of the damage, say 80% while the other dog caused 20% of the damage, the owner liable for the 20% would only have to pay 20% of the damages, even if the owner with 80% liability could not pay for some reason. This is different than "joint and severally liable" where
Arbitration of Dog Bite Cases
Utah allows the use of binding arbitration to resolve bodily injury claims for dog bites. [U.C.A. § 18-1-4 .] Arbitration can be a good solution for the resolution of a dog bite case. Arbitrations are less formal and are typically faster and cheaper than taking the matter through trial.
In order to eligible for binding arbitration under Utah's dog law a complaint must be first filed in court and then a notice to submit the case for arbitration must be filed within 14 days and the complaint has been answered. An arbitration award under this statute cannot exceed $50,000 in addition to medical benefits and a claim for property damage.
There are other limitations of the recovery under the arbitration statute. For instance, recovery is limited to the amount of monies available from insurance and punitive damages are not available. Discovery is available as provided for under Rule 26 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure and the Rules of Evidence , but with caveat that discovery is to be completed within 150 days after the election of arbitration.
If either party is not satisfied with the arbitration award, they can seek a trial de novo. However, if the award at trial is not different by 30% from the arbitration award, the party moving for trial de novo will pay the costs of the other party.
Even though Utah is a strict liability state, the actions of the victim are taken into account. A dog owner may not be held responsible for the acts of his dog if the victim is to blame. For example, of the dog was provoked by kicking or striking, teasing or tormenting the dog. In a case such a provocation, a comparative fault analysis is available which would apportion blame between the owner and the victim. Petting or playing with a dog is not usually considered provocation, unless the victim was warned not to do so.
A comparative fault analysis is typically not available in the case of children being injured by a dog. A child is not expected to know not to provoke a dog, depending on his or her age. If a dog owner is held responsible for a child's injuries from a dog bite, the owner will be required to pay for treatment of all of the injuries caused by the animal. The owner may also have to pay extra money for physical pain, mental anguish, and apprehension of rabies. In addition, the owner may have to pay punitive damages, which is money required to punish the owner, if he knew about the vicious nature of the dog. If a dog is found to be extremely vicious, a court may require that the dog be put to death.
Dog attacks can be extremely stressful for a young child. A child may obtain a lifelong fear of animals after an attack. It is important to have a skilled attorney to insure that your family is fully compensated for all consequences of the attack. It is also important to keep good medical records, and keep track of all the psychological changes in your child.