If you’ve been injured by a dog, you may wonder how you can get help paying for your injuries and how you can help to ensure that the dog does not injure anyone else. This will require that you hold the owner of the dog liable for the incident. But what is the best way to pursue that liability? The answer depends on the factors surrounding the bite as well as your need for compensation.
Civil liability is perhaps the most common form of liability in dog bite cases and is the liability which allows for you to collect compensation for your injuries. The owner will automatically be held liable if the person who was bitten was carrying out a legal responsibility, such as delivering mail, and was acting peacefully, without provoking the dog. This liability does not require that the owner have any prior knowledge of viciousness on the part of the dog. Even if this is the first biting incident involving the dog, that will not be a defense and will not protect the owner from financial liability.
Although civil liability does not necessarily result in criminal charges, there are consequences of being found liable. Any reasonable expenses incurred by the dog bite victim, such as medical bills, lost wages due to the injury, and pain and suffering may be paid by the dog’s owner.
In addition to civil liability, criminal charges may be filed as a result of a dog bite in certain circumstances. These charges are at the discretion of law enforcement, regardless of whether or not the victim chooses to pursue a civil case, although the victim will typically need to agree to press charges in order to build the case for law enforcement. Under Indiana law, an owner is criminally liable if:
- The owner does not restrain the dog, knowingly or intentionally
- The dog enters someone else’s property and attacks without provocation
- The dog is a wolf or coyote hybrid and is not restrained
With the exception of crosses with wolves and coyotes, criminal liability generally requires some knowledge or reasonable expectation that the dog might be vicious. In most cases, the crime is a misdemeanor, with the exception of dog attacks resulting in the death of the attacked individual, which are charged as felonies. In the case of a wolf hybrid or “coydog,” felonies may be charged for repeat offenses or for offenses resulting in serious injury or death.
Unlike civil liability, criminal liability does not allow for compensation for the victims. Any financial penalties, such as fines, do not benefit those bitten. Therefore, dog bite victims must pursue a civil liability case in order to collect compensation. The results of the criminal case have no impact on the civil case, which may reach a different conclusion entirely. However, the results of the criminal case can be used as evidence in the civil case.