If you’ve been bitten by a dog, you have a right to be compensated for your injury. In most cases involving dog bites, a claim is filed with the dog owner’s insurance company to recover for damages. Claims of this sort are usually settled out of court, although insurance companies often drag their feet on settling up with the claimant and will even look for any excuse to deny payment. When this happens, you need an experienced attorney to represent you.
Three Wisconsin Dog Bite Laws Affecting Your Injury Claim Three Wisconsin dog bite laws affecting your injury claim
About accepting reimbursement from the dog’s owner
While most dog owners are genuinely concerned about injuries caused by their dogs and will offer to cover your medical expenses, accepting their offer may not be the best idea. Even well-meaning dog owners may suddenly renege on reimbursement once they see the bill. They may also not be receptive to paying for any wages you were unable to earn while dealing with your injury.
It’s also possible the dog owner has a hidden agenda in offering restitution. If the dog has a history of attacks, the dog’s owner can be liable for twice the damages. So, there’s ample motivation for the dog owner to try to settle with you directly. If the dog is a repeat offender, there’s a good chance it will happen again—and the dog owner will again offer the victim full restitution. How many times will this scenario play out before the dog owner gets the message his dog needs to be better restrained? Best advice: Don’t agree to any settlement offer from the dog’s owner without first consulting an attorney.
1. Wisconsin’s law on injuries caused by dogs
Although commonly referred to as the “dog bite law,” Wisconsin Statute 172.02 covers both injuries and damages caused by dogs, as well as the legalities of a court order to have a dog euthanized. Section 1 of the statute covers liability of a dog’s owner for injury caused by a dog:
(1) LIABILITY FOR INJURY.
(a) Without notice. Subject to s. 895.045 and except as provided in s. 895.57 (4), 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.
174.02(1)(b) (b) After notice. Subject to s. 895.045 and except as provided in s. 895.57 (4), the owner of a dog is liable for 2 times the full amount of damages caused by the dog biting 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 law has evolved over the years, with the most recent change coming in 2015 when legislation altered the double damages provision to make it only applicable in situations where a dog bit someone “with sufficient force to break the skin and cause permanent physical scarring or disfigurement” and where the owner knew the dog had done so previously. This is another reason why we advise bite victims to not be quick to settle with the dog owner directly, particularly if the injury was severe enough to require stitches and especially if it involved an attack on a child.
It should be noted there is a difference between being bitten by a dog and being mauled by a dog. Cases involving serious mauling injuries, or death, are governed not only by the Wisconsin statute on dog bite injuries but are usually prosecuted under criminal law, too
Section 2 of the statute covers penalties for damages caused by a dog:
(2) PENALTIES IMPOSED ON OWNER OF DOG CAUSING DAMAGE.
(a) Without notice. The owner of a dog shall forfeit not less than $50 nor more than $2,500 if the dog injures or causes injury to a person, domestic animal, property, deer, game birds or the nests or eggs of game birds.
(b) After notice. The owner of a dog shall forfeit not less than $200 nor more than $5,000 if the dog injures or causes injury to a person, domestic animal, property, deer, game birds or the nests or eggs of game birds, and if the owner was notified or knew that the dog previously injured or caused injury to a person, domestic animal, property, deer, game birds or the nests or eggs of game birds.
(c) Penalties in addition to liability for damages. The penalties in this subsection are in addition to any other liability imposed on the owner of a dog.
What damages can a dog “cause” to make the owner liable?
Section 2 of the statute outlines fines “if the dog injures or causes injury,” but how a dog causes injury is open to interpretation. Cases involving injuries caused by dogs are more complicated than cases involving bites.
For instance, if a dog playfully jumps on someone and causes the person to fall over and break a wrist, there’s a case to be made for damages. But what if you’re with your dog in a dog park and another dog runs into you and knocks you down, causing you to break an ankle? Can the dog owner be held liable for your injury? It all depends. The only way to know if you have a case or not is to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney.
2. How Wisconsin’s contributory negligence law can affect your dog bite injury claim
Be aware that in Wisconsin, dog bite victims can be held partially liable for an attack if they were in some way negligent in their actions and can be considered partly to blame for the attack. In legal terms, this is known as contributory negligence. For instance, someone who taunts a dog with a stick or lunges toward it aggressively—even if only in jest—can be considered partially to blame for the attack.
It’s not uncommon for dog owners to throw the blame on the victims of their dogs. “You were trespassing!” is a common tactic. Again, every situation is unique and the best advice we can give here is to consult a dog bite attorney with the details of what happened when you were attacked.
In Wisconsin, if the victim is found to be more than 51% responsible for the attack, any award of damages is reduced by whatever percentage of fault is attributed to him/her. If you’re being accused of provoking an attack, witnesses will play a critical role in determining whether or not you bear any responsibility for the attack.
3. Wisconsin’s Statute of Limitations limits your timeline for filing a dog bite injury claim
It’s a common tactic of insurance companies to drag their feet on claims in order to run out the clock on the statute of limitations. In Wisconsin, you have three years from the date of the attack to file a legal claim. If you don’t take action within those three years, you will be barred from filing a suit.
It may seem hard to believe an insurance company could drag a claim out for 3 years, but it happens all the time. After the 3-year mark, you will have no option but to accept whatever lowball offer the dog owner’s insurance company offers you.
Why choose Warshafsky Law to represent you?
What sets Warshafsky Law apart from other personal injury firms is our commitment to getting justice for our clients. Most law firms are “sign and settle” shops, quick to agree to whatever offer an insurance company makes so they can move on to the next case. Insurance companies know these firms never bother to take a case to court—where they risk even greater losses at a trial—so they get away with their lowball settlement offers.
Warshafsky Law is different. We built our reputation on being ready, willing and able to take our clients’ cases to court. Warshafsky Law literally wrote the book on trial law: the massive Trial Handbook for Wisconsin Lawyers. When we take on a case, we prepare it for trial from day one. We don’t just win, we win big.
As one of the leading personal injury law firms in Wisconsin, Warshafsky Law has successfully represented many dog bite victims. We offer a free initial consultation to all prospective clients. Once we have some information from you on your injury, we can give you our thoughts on how a lawsuit would proceed and what you can expect.