5 things you NEED to know about dog bite lawsuits in Wisconsin
For most dog owners, their pets are more than just companions. They’re part of their family. Unfortunately, dogs sometimes attack people and other pets. The injuries they inflict can range from mild to life threatening, and in particularly tragic cases, the attack can even result in death.
Whether it was due to provocation or some instinct that drove them to attack, the owners of these dogs need to be held accountable for the harm they cause. For that, you need an attorney. Our combination of big city experience and small town service, along with our willingness to fight hard for our clients, make Wisconsin dog bite lawyer Steve Caya your best choice.
Yes. Under Wisconsin law, a person injured by a dog can hold the dog’s owner liable for injuries caused by the dog. The dog’s owner can also be held liable for injuries the dog causes to someone else’s dog.
The Statute governing dog bite injuries (172.02) reads as follows:
(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 Statute speaks generally of “injury,” and is commonly interpreted to cover not just dog bite injuries but also injuries caused by a dog jumping on someone and knocking them over.
Wisconsin follows the “strict liability” law, which holds that a dog owner can be held liable for injuries caused by the dog whether the owner knew the dog had the potential be dangerous or not. If it turns out the dog has a history of biting or attacking, the dog owner can be held liable for twice the damages.
In Wisconsin, the statute of limitations for filing a suit over a dog bite injury is three years from the date of the occurrence. This may seem like a long time, but you’d be surprised how an insurance company can drag things out. Why do they do this? Because once 3 years have elapsed, you’ll be prohibited from filing a suit to recover for your damages.
Best advice: if the dog owner isn’t willing to offer you full restitution for your injuries, a lawsuit is your only recourse and the sooner you file it, the better, particularly if your injuries are serious.
Most dog bite injuries are settled without ever going to court, but there are cases that progress to a court trial—particularly those involving serious injury or death caused by a dog attack. Obviously, the more that’s at stake (i.e. money), the more likely a case will go to trial.
In most cases, the dog’s owner and the injured party both agree on who is liable and on what the restitution should be. Such cases usually involve injuries that are minor. Typically, there’s no dispute that the dog’s owner failed to properly restrain the dog, and the at-fault dog owner is covered by insurance. With nothing to dispute in court, cases like this can usually be settled out of court within 1 to 3 months.
For cases where the dog owner and the injured party dispute what happened and what is owed, a lawsuit progresses through three phases. The first is the discovery phase, which involves both sides gathering information and evidence to present at trial. This can last from 6 months to a year.
Following discovery, the court will order the parties into mediation, which is an attempt to get them to resolve their differences with the assistance of a neutral mediator. The mediation phase can last anywhere between a couple of hours to a several days. The mediator tries to get both parties to see how the case will likely resolve if it goes to trial—with the goal of getting them to come to a mutual agreement. If they agree, the lawsuit can be dropped and the court notified of how they intend to settle the dispute.
If mediation fails, the last resort is a trial. Besides the expense of a trial, there can be a long wait just to get a court date (2+ years is not uncommon), and the outcome is in the hands of a jury. For this reason, all but the most serious dog bite injury cases are settled without ever going to trial.
Theoretically, you could represent yourself (“pro se”, in legal terminology), but unless you have some legal background you’ll soon find yourself in way over your head. In the vast majority of personal injury cases, the suit is against the insurance company of the at-fault party. These insurance companies have highly experienced attorneys to defend against lawsuits, and it is virtually impossible for a DIY novice to win a case against them.
Attorney Steve Caya knows just how the attorneys of insurance companies work because he spent 13 years representing insurance companies in personal injury lawsuits. Steve has also been consistently named one of the top 100 trial lawyers in Wisconsin by the National Trial Lawyers Association, and is a member of the Wisconsin Chapter of the American board of Trial Advocates-- a group whose membership is by invitation only. Currently, there are fewer than 80 Wisconsin attorneys as members.
The point is, you will get very qualified legal representation from personal injury attorney Steve Caya.
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The size of the settlement all depends on how serious your injuries are. Your suit can seek compensation for all of the following:
- Reimbursement for medical bills. This can include not only the treatment you’ve already received but also any ongoing medical treatment you may require
- Lost income. If the injury caused you to take time off work to recover, you can request compensation for the income you would have earned if you had been able to work.
- Out-of-pocket costs. If you’ve had to hire someone to help care for you or a family member because of your injury, or if you’ve been unable to drive and had to hire a cab or Uber, you’re entitled to compensation for your expenses.
- Pain and suffering. The trauma of being attacked by a dog, as well as the pain of having your wounds treated can be factored into your claim. Insurance companies and attorneys have several ways of calculating awards for pain and suffering. Obviously, the greater the pain and suffering, the greater the monetary award.
Are there financial penalties for injury and damage caused by a dog?
Yes, Wisconsin imposes fines on dog owners whose dogs cause damage. These fines are paid to the court, though, not to the victim. These penalties are outlined in Section 2 of Wisconsin Statute 174.02:
(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.
It's not uncommon for a dog owner with a dog that has a history of causing damage to want to avoid any involvement with the courts or the police. If the injury you suffered is serious, we don’t recommend going along with any settlement proposal that stipulates you won’t file a police report.
Get the medical treatment you need, then file a report with your police department. If the dog has a history of unprovoked attacks, and the attack you suffered is serious, the dog needs to be euthanized before it attacks someone else. Wisconsin Statute 174.02 includes provisions for this.
How comparative negligence can affect how much you’re compensated for your injury
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Wisconsin has a comparative negligence rule that allows the at-fault dog owner to assert that the injured party was either partly or entirely responsible for the dog attack. For instance, if the dog owner can show the injured person provoked the dog somehow, or was burglarizing their property, then the injured person bears some responsibility for the injury.
In Wisconsin, if the injured party is found to be 50% or less responsible for the injury, the award of damages is reduced by the whatever percentage of fault is attributed to the victim. In cases where the injured person is found to be more than 50% responsible, there is no award for damages.
In cases where the at-fault party is alleging the victim is partly responsible for the attack, it all comes down to evidence. A good attorney can make mincemeat of a fraudulent claim that the victim did something to provoke the attack.
If we don’t win your case, you don’t pay
With our no win, no fee policy, you have nothing to lose by hiring Steve Caya to represent you. Call us at 608-531-6252 or contact us online to request a free initial consultation on your injury. If you can’t come to us, we’ll come to you.
Contact Wisconsin personal attorney Steve Caya now for a free initial consultation.
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