What Does “Strict Liability” Mean in a Dog Bite Case?

Unlike some states, Wisconsin doesn’t give a dog and its owner a free ride when it comes to the dog’s first biting incident. Other states implement what is known as the “first bite” or “one bite” rule, basically forgiving the dog and its owner for the first offense.

Not so in Wisconsin. “Strict liability” is the rule in the Badger State. A dog’s first bite makes the owner strictly liable for the victim’s medical expenses and other damages, and they are also subject to state and local fines.

If you or a loved one has been injured by a dog — whether by bite or another form of attack — and you’re in the Janesville, Beloit, or Rock County areas of Wisconsin, contact me at The Paul Benson Law Firm to get help with your claim and pursuit of just compensation. I will consult with you for free and provide vigorous and compassionate representation if you choose to proceed with your claim.

Wisconsin Dog Bite Laws,
Damages, and Penalties

Wisconsin Statutes Section 174.02 (01) (a) states that “the owner of a dog is liable for the full amount of damages caused by the dog injuring or causing injury to a person, domestic animal or property.” There is no exception for a first-time incident. Note also that the section uses the generic term “injury,” which means that even if a dog merely jumps on you and knocks you over, causing an injury, the owner may be held liable.

“Full amount” is doubled if the dog is involved in a second incident and bites “a person with sufficient force to break the skin and cause permanent physical scarring or disfigurement if the owner was notified or knew that the dog had previously, without provocation, bitten a person with sufficient force to break the skin and cause permanent physical scarring or disfigurement.”

The section also calls for a civil fine of not less than $50 or more than $2,500 if a dog causes a personal injury. For a second offense, the fine rises to not less than $200 nor more than $5,000. The victim or victim’s parents — or the state or any municipality — may also request a court order to have the dog euthanized if it has been involved in two or more incidents of applying “sufficient force.”

Recovery of Damages

Owners of dogs will most likely be covered by their homeowners’ or renters’ policies, which provide liability protection for dog incidents. So, if you or your child is bitten by a neighbor’s pet, you can avoid the messiness and after-effects of suing your neighbor by going through their insurance company. Insurance companies, however, are notorious for having their adjusters try to low ball, deny or extend your claim for so long that the statute of limitations runs out.

One tactic used by the insurance adjusters will be to try to get you to say something that will put you partially at fault for the dog biting incident. This can be done under Wisconsin’s comparative negligence standard — or the “51% Rule.”

If you somehow provoked the dog into the attack or failed to use reasonable caution, the adjusters can try to place part of the blame on you. For example, if they can show you were 20% at fault, the “full amount of damages” will be reduced by 20%. If you can be shown to have been 51% or more at fault, your claim will be denied. The same standard will be applied if you go to court in a personal injury lawsuit.

This may sound incredible, but it has happened: Insurance companies will sometimes attempt to low-ball you for three full years until the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim or lawsuit runs out. Then you’ll have to accept the low-ball settlement offer or lose everything. Of course, if they're doing this, you should seek legal representation and perhaps consider the option of taking the whole issue to court through a personal injury lawsuit.

How a Skilled Attorney Can Help

Probably the last thing you want to do if you or a loved one has been injured by a dog is to attempt to go up against insurance adjusters by yourself. As mentioned, they’ll do everything they can to get your compensation reduced or denied — or strung out for so long that you give up and accept a ridiculously low offer. Plus, if you’re recovering from injuries, dealing with adjusters will only aggravate your suffering. You don’t need that.

That’s where I come in. Let me handle the insurance adjusters while you or your loved one recovers. I know the letter of the law and will apply it to your case to help you pursue the “full amount of damages.” I also will be able to obtain leverage through the threat of a personal injury lawsuit, and if all else fails, we can indeed pursue the legal option of going to court.

If you’re in or around Janesville or Beloit, Wisconsin, contact me immediately at The Paul Benson Law Firm for a free consultation to discuss your case claim for dog attack injuries or damages.


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