Mail carriers are the profession at the highest risk of dog bites, and a 2022 USPS report found Baton Rouge is one of the nation’s riskiest cities for these attacks. Baton Rouge was among the 25 cities where mail carriers were bitten most frequently, in line with areas with much larger populations. One postal service manager interviewed suspects package deliveries are part of the problem. When delivering a package, mail carriers need to leave their vehicles and walk up the driveway, which can attract an aggressive dog’s attention. Most of the 4.5 million people bitten by dogs each year aren’t seriously injured, but dog bites can easily lead to substantial medical expenses and lingering trauma. When this happens, the injured person may qualify for both economic and emotional damages.
Understanding the Legal Standard of Liability in Louisiana Involving Domesticated Animals
Dog bites fall under negligence law in Louisiana. This means a pet owner is responsible if they knew the dog could cause an injury, could have taken reasonable measures to prevent the bite and did not take those steps. Depending on the circumstances, reasonable precautions might include fencing in a yard, keeping the dog on a leash or keeping a potentially aggressive dog away from people entirely. In order to win a lawsuit, the injured person needs to prove the pet owner failed to take these reasonable precautions that would have prevented their injury.
While laws surrounding animal liability are often referred to as dog bite laws, they also apply to both other animals and other types of injuries they might cause. For example, if a cat scratches someone or a large dog knocks someone over and causes an injury, the pet owner would be liable for these injuries.
The major exception for dog bite liability cases is that owners are not responsible if the person who was injured provokes the dog. In Louisiana, someone who provokes an animal that ultimately injures them is not eligible for compensation, even if the pet owner may have had some responsibility.
Available Damages in Dog Bite Cases
As in any personal injury case, someone injured by a dog bite has the option to file a lawsuit or a claim with the dog owner’s insurance company. Damages caused by pets are usually covered under the pet owner’s homeowners or renters insurance policy. The person injured can request compensation for medical bills, lost wages and possibly emotional distress. Medical costs and missed work are generally straightforward and easy to calculate objectively. If the bite caused a relatively minor injury, damages will probably be limited to these financial costs. If the attack was more serious and led to disfiguring injuries or ongoing trauma, the injured person may have a case for pain and suffering compensation as well.
Louisiana uses a comparative negligence rule in dog bite cases, which can affect the amount of compensation a person receives. If both the owner and the injured person are found partially responsible, the compensation can be reduced by the percentage of responsibility. For example, if a dog is kept behind a fence, but a neighborhood entered the fenced-in yard through an unlocked gate and was bitten, a court might determine that the owner was 70% responsible and the injured neighbor 30%. The injured person would receive 70% of the compensation they would otherwise qualify for.
Strategies for Bringing a Claim Against an Animal Owner
The first thing to be aware of when filing a claim against a pet owner is that Louisiana has a one-year statute of limitations for dog bite cases. This means the injured party has one year from the date of the bite to file their claim. Courts won’t hear a case if the statute of limitations has passed, so the injured person needs to be aware of and follow this timeline.
A good dog bite claim starts with proper documentation. Only around one in five people who are bitten by dogs seek medical attention. Regardless of how serious or minor the injury appears to be, it’s a good idea to seek medical care as soon as possible after a bite. Prompt care can prevent infections or other medical complications, and it also documents the injury and its severity. These medical records can be essential evidence when filing a claim. Taking photos of the injury can also help with a future claim.
Injured parties should report the incident to the police or animal control. It’s common for people to either forget to report a bite because they’re distressed or to choose not to report it because the pet owner asks them not to. Informal agreements to cover medical expenses aren’t legally binding, so it’s usually a better idea to report the bite and follow the formal claims process. The police report and any investigation the police perform will provide important evidence for the claim.
The injured person should consider the common defenses dog owners may present and how to counter them. In Louisiana, an injured person who is found to have provoked a dog is not eligible for any damages. This means if there is any way the dog owner can argue the injured person provoked the animal, the injured person should assume they will do so. Provocation occurs when the injured person did something to the animal that caused it to attack. While this is usually deliberate behavior like poking or teasing the dog, it can also refer to accidents like unintentionally stepping on the animal.
The dog owner will also bring up any actions that could make the injured person partially responsible, like entering a fenced area or ignoring a “beware of dog” sign. The injured person will need to argue their behavior was reasonable and the dog owner failed to take reasonable actions to prevent the incident.
Someone bitten by a dog should be able to receive compensation for their injuries, but these claims can quickly become complicated. Working with an attorney can help provide the best outcome. Call the firm today at 504-526-2222 or contact us online so that you can set up a consultation.