How Long after a Dog Bite Can You Sue the Owner?

Categories: Dog Bites

Angry dog on a leash.

After a bite or vicious attack from a dog, the last thing on your mind is filing a lawsuit. Most likely, you know the dog’s owner. They might be a friend, family member, or even a neighbor. Therefore, the idea of filing a claim against them to seek compensation just doesn’t seem right.

Indeed, often you do not need to file a lawsuit at all–most claims against the homeowner’s or renter’s insurance company settle without the need for a lawsuit.

However, once the medical bills start coming in, more days are missed from work, and you are taking on the full financial burden, you find yourself wondering if you should file a lawsuit – and how long you have to get it done.

One of the most important things to consider is the time between the accident and when you file. Every state, including Pennsylvania, has what is called a “statute of limitations.” The statute of limitations is a time clock that starts the date of the injury. From there, you only have so long to file your claim in court. Once you pass the statute’s timeline, you cannot seek compensation – regardless of if you have 100% proof that the other party is at fault.

What Is Pennsylvania’s Statute of Limitations for Dog Bite Cases?

For dog bite claims against the homeowner’s insurance, the state limits you to two years from the date of the event. If the victim is a minor, however, then the lawsuit must be filed by their 20th birthday.

Therefore, if your injury occurred six months ago, you are within the timeframe allowed by the court to request compensation. If your injuries were the result of a brutal attack four years ago, however, you would be barred from seeking compensation, unless you were a minor and then the above limits apply.

Understanding the Other Factors That Play a Role in Timelines

While you have up to two years to file, that is not a deadline you should wait for. Instead, multiple factors play into the determination of when you should file and how quickly you should act.

The Witnesses

Did anyone see the dog bite or attack? If so, the longer you wait, the more likely they are to forget critical details, relocate, or be unreachable for testimony. Eyewitness testimony is crucial in any injury claim, and the more witnesses you have to corroborate what you claim, the more likely you are to get the compensation you deserve.

Actual Evidence

You cannot file an injury claim and assume that your word is all you need to win. Instead, you need evidence to prove the four significant elements of any personal injury case:

  1. Showing that the dog’s owner had a duty of care. First, you need evidence that establishes the dog’s owner owed a duty of care to you and the public to keep you safe. Did they know their dog was a risk? Has their dog bitten someone before?
  2. Showing that the dog’s owner violated his or her duty of care. Now you must use evidence to establish that the dog’s owner violated that duty of care. In some instances, strict liability applies. This means you do not have to show that they knew their dog was a risk before it attacked you. In other cases, you must at least show the dog’s owner was negligent, such as letting their dog out without a leash, not having fenced yards, or bringing in a vicious dog to a public place knowing the dog had a history of attacks.
  3. Your injuries were from the dog. You must prove that the attack came from that dog and show that through evidence. Whether it is a witness statement, tests done by a laboratory, or the animal control team’s report, you still must prove that the dog that bit you has the same owner you are suing for compensation.
  4. You suffered damages as a result. Again, you must have evidence to show that the injuries left you with damages. Damages include not only the physical pain and suffering, but lost wages, medical bills, and other expenses that have affected your quality of life as a direct result of the dog’s vicious attack.

The Longer You Wait, the Harder It Is For Your Attorney

Your attorney needs to get involved almost immediately after the attack. They must collect evidence, find witnesses and record their testimony before they can forget, and start working a strategy to negotiate the highest settlement possible in your case.

When your attorney is chasing down evidence that is years old, it makes it harder to prove your case for higher compensation. If you hire an attorney immediately, they will start right away to secure powerful evidence (such as witnesses that can recall all of the details). This way, the insurance company is more likely to settle because they know you are serious about pursuing the claim.

Hiring an Attorney Is No Risk to You

You may hold off thinking you cannot afford an attorney, but the reality is that these types of cases are done on a contingency basis. That means you do not pay an attorney until they successfully receive compensation in your case. The contingency fee from there is a percentage of your settlement, which you would know when you sign your agreement with your attorney upfront.

Contact a Local Attorney That Is Ready to Fight for Your Right to Fair Compensation

If you have been seriously injured in a vicious attack, you need to seek compensation now for your losses. You shouldn’t have to take on the financial burdens of a dog attack, including the medical costs, lost wages, and the long-term suffering that will stay with you after such a traumatic event.

Attorney Jeffrey H. Penneys, Esq., understands what you and your loved ones are going through. He has helped countless victims of dog attacks in Pennsylvania fight insurance companies and gets the compensation they deserve.

Explore your options by contacting him toll free at his office today, on his cell direct, or by filling out an online contact form with your questions. All consultations are free of charge and there is no obligation to hire our firm after your initial meeting.