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Dog biting a man's arm


Paul Benson Feb. 16, 2021

It’s said in journalism that “dog bites man” is not news, but that “man bites dog” is.

Tell that to the estimated 4.5 million people bitten by dogs nationwide each year.

With some 500,000 dogs kept as pets in Wisconsin, you or a family member could become the victim of a bite or other injury caused by someone’s “best friend.”

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries caused by a dog attack, what are your rights for compensation? Does Wisconsin law protect you, the victim? Who pays your medical bills?

At The Paul Benson Law Firm, I represent clients in the Janesville, Rock County, and Beloit areas of Wisconsin. Contact me for a free case assessment. I will represent you in the claims process and help you pursue the fair compensation you deserve.

Wisconsin Dog Bite Laws

Unlike some other states, Wisconsin has no “one bite” exclusion, which basically forgives a dog and its owner for the first incident of the dog attacking another person or domestic animal. Instead, a dog owner faces strict liability for any and all dog incidents, with penalties increasing for subsequent incidents.

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.”

Note that it 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 is liable. If you’re an invited guest in someone’s home and you trip over a sleeping dog and get injured, even that could potentially qualify. 

Furthermore, “the full amount of damages” are doubled if this is the second injurious incident involving the dog. 

Wisconsin Statutes Section 174.01(01)(b) asserts that “the owner of a dog is liable for two times the full amount of damages caused by the dog injuring or causing injury to a person, domestic animal, or property if the owner was notified or knew that the dog previously injured or caused injury to a person, domestic animal, or property.”

Under both statutes, “keepers” and “harborers” are also liable.

In a worst-case scenario, a court can order a dog to be euthanized after two separate occasions of causing “serious injury,” so long as the owner was given notice or knew of the first incident.

Not only are owners, keepers, and harborers liable for injuries caused, but they are also subject to civil fines of between $50 and $2,500 for the first incident, increasing to between $200 and $5,000 for a second offense.

Who Is Responsible forDog Attack Damages?

As mentioned above, in addition to the owner of the dog, other parties who could be held wholly or partially responsible are dog sitters, dog walkers, a kennel, or a person or agency caring for the dog, who fall under the keepers and harborers categories.

Other examples of potentially liable parties::

  • The dog owner’s landlord: If a landlord is aware that a dangerous or aggressive dog is living on his property and fails to take action to protect others, he can share liability. He can be wholly liable if he also owns the dog.

  • The dog owner’s parents: A parent can be held liable for injuries caused by a dog owned by a child under 18 years of age.

  • The owner of the property where the incident occurred: Under some circumstances, especially if the property owner knew there was a dangerous dog on his property and took no precautions, a property owner can share liability.

  • The dog bite victim: Under Wisconsin’s modified comparative negligence rule, if the injured victim provoked or somehow caused the attack (even in part), he can be held totally or partially liable. If the victim is found to be 51% or more responsible, no damages will be awarded. If 50% or less, the damages will be reduced by that amount. For instance, if the victim is deemed 25% responsible and damages total $20,000, the victim will receive $15,000.

Proving Negligence: Why is it Necessary?

With the state’s modified comparative negligence rule, the strict liability standard can often face a stress test. Was the victim at all responsible for the injurious incident with the dog? Insurance adjusters and courts will both use the negligence rule in determining who owes what, and at what percentage. This can become a contentious issue, which is all the more reason you need a seasoned attorney on your side.

Damages Available Under Wisconsin Law

The statute says the owner is strictly liable for “the full amount of damages,” which include medical expenses, scarring and disfigurement, lost income, or pain, suffering and emotional trauma — all subject to proving negligence.

Most likely, you as the dog bite victim will be filing your claim with the dog owner’s homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy, which can range from $100,000 to $300,000 and sometimes more in liability protection. Some policies, however, restrict personal injury claims to $90,000 per incident and $30,000 per person. This is important to know because the Insurance Information Institute estimates the average settlement for dog bite claims in 2019 was $44,760.

If the insurance fails or refuses to cover “the full amount of damages,” then civil action may be necessary.

Seek Out an ExperiencedDog Bite Attorney

Even with strict liability, a dog incident claim is not always a slam dunk. The insurance adjusters are going to try to pin as much blame as possible on you, the victim. If you go to court, the defendant’s attorney will use the same tactic, seeking to reduce the compensation awarded. If the incident occurred on the owner’s property, they can attempt to claim that you were trespassing. 

You really don’t want to go it alone in seeking recovery for your injuries and losses. You need the help of an experienced dog bite/personal injury attorney to navigate the choppy legal waters lying ahead to pursue fair compensation.

If you or a member of your family was injured by a dog in the areas of Janesville, Benoit, or Rock County, Wisconsin, contact me at The Paul Benson Law Firm for a free assessment.