5 Factors That Could Derail Your Dog-Bite Lawsuit

Written by The Law Offices of Gregg Durlofsky on . Posted in Personal Injury

Dogs are usually sweet and fun to play with, but dog bites are painful, scary, and expensive. If you’ve been bitten by a dog, you may need to seek compensation from the dog’s owners to cover your medical bills.

Dog bite laws vary from state to state, and they aren’t always clear. You’ll need an experienced lawyer who knows the local laws to guide your personal injury case. While you look for a lawyer, though, you can learn more about what you might face in court. This blog will show you some factors that could derail your dog bite case and cause you to lose.

1. Did the Dog Have a History of Being Dangerous?

In some states, the laws say that a dog owner is always responsible for the dog’s actions, regardless of the dog’s history. However, in many other states, the circumstances define the owner’s liability.

If the dog has no history of reacting badly to humans, the dog’s owners may not be liable if their pet suddenly lashed out. They may not have had any warning that their dog could do such a thing, which means that they were taken by surprise as much as you were.

If you face this defense in court, you may need to prove that the dog has given warning signs before. If the dog has previously bitten someone, that could help your case, but that’s not the only relevant factor. If you can show that the dog growls, barks, or chases people aggressively, you may be able to prove that the owners should have known the dog was dangerous.

However, when you gather evidence, make sure you only pay attention to how the dog treats people, not other dogs. Dogs have their own social code, and a dog who is aggressive to other dogs may not have any aggressive tendencies towards humans.

2. Was the Dog Owner Negligent?

Whether or not the owners knew their dog was dangerous, dog owners should take appropriate precautions. In most places, dogs legally must be on leash when not on the owner’s property. And when the dog is home, he or she should be restrained or behind a fence so the dog doesn’t run up to people on the street.

If you can prove that the dog’s owners did not take any reasonable precautions, you can help your case. However, if the owners can prove that they did what they could to prevent their dog from hurting anyone, you may not have a case. A lot depends on your state’s laws, so make sure to consult with an expert.

3. Were You Trespassing?

In most states, a person who is bit while trespassing is liable for the dog bite instead of the dog’s owners. Many dogs will protect their home territory when an intruder calls, and it’s considered normal behavior.

However, if you were doing something considered normal or expected, like going up to the door to ask for directions, the owners should have prevented the bite. Dog owners are expected to know that people will approach their home for daily tasks like delivering the mail. If you climbed the fence into the backyard, on the other hand, the owners probably wouldn’t have foreseen that action and may not be liable.

4. Did You Provoke the Dog?

Even in states with very strict laws that almost always put the liability on the dog’s owners, you can still lose your case if you provoked the dog. In extreme cases, this means that if you hit or threw things at the dog, the animal is justified in biting you.

In other cases, provocation can cover accidental circumstances. For example, if you didn’t see the dog and stepped on his or her tail, the dog may be justified in being startled and biting you. If the owners accuse you of provoking their pet, you may need to show that you didn’t anger, startle, or frighten him or her.

5. Were You Careless When You Knew There Was Risk?

If you knew the dog could hurt you but proceeded anyway, you may be liable for the dog bite. For example, if you approached someone’s door to give a sales pitch, despite signs that said “no soliciting” and “beware of dog,” you may lose your case. The judge may decide that you should have known the risks of your actions.

If you get bitten while you are caring for the dog, you may also lose your case. Generally, if you’re a groomer, trainer, or dog-sitter, you are supposed to know that it’s your job to control the dog. If you get bitten while you’re doing your job, the judge may decide that you knew the risks and accepted them when you took on the dog as a client.


Because the liability in dog-bite cases isn’t always clear-cut, and because the laws can vary so much, it’s important to seek help. Contact Gregg Durlofsky, Attorney at Law. His experience and expertise will guide you through your case.

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