As the weather continues to improves, chances are you’ll be taking an occasional walk outside in the sunshine. Remember to be cautious of unfamiliar dogs along the way. Getting bit by a dog can be a very frightening and painful experience. After your initial shock subsides, it’s important to protect your health – and your rights.
When a person is bitten by a dog, the dog bite statute of Rhode Island provides for strict liability unless the dog was within its owner’s enclosed area. It also mandates that, if attacked by a dog that previously engaged in conduct bringing the dog within the state’s dog bite law, the victim is entitled to double damages.
Here are some important facts about the Rhode Island Dog Bite Law:
- It applies not only to owners but to anyone who is a “keeper” of the dog.
- Any injury brings the incident within the coverage of the law, whether or not a bite.
- The victim can be a human, a dog or other domestic animal, or a sheep, lamb, cattle, horse, hog, swine or fowl.
- After the first bite, a dog owner or keeper is liable for double damages if and when the same dog attacks again.
The Rhode Island Supreme Court summarized the state’s dog bite statute in just 10 words: “strict liability attaches for any injury occurring outside the dog’s enclosure.” Johnston v. Poulin, 844 A.2d 707 (Rhode Is. Sup. Ct., 2004). On the other hand, “If injuries are suffered within an owner’s enclosed area, the strict-liability statute does not apply, but rather the common law continues to apply and dictates that the plaintiff first must prove that the defendant knew about the dog’s vicious propensities, a … requirement commonly known as the ‘one-bite rule.’” DuBois v. Quilitzsch, ___ A.2d ___ (Rhode Isl. Sup. Ct., 2011).
When the statute does not apply, a dog owner, harborer or keeper still can be responsible for being negligent or breaking a law, such as a leash law, or for intentional conduct that causes the dog to bite.
If you are the unfortunate victim of a dog bite, consider the following recommendations.
- Regardless of the severity of the dog bite, it is smart to seek medical attention.
- Contact the dog’s owner, get a name and address and check for rabies vaccinations.
- Obtain insurance information. Get the name of the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance company, if they have insurance.
- Take pictures of your injuries and perhaps the dog as well. If the case ends up going to trial, you want to be able to show what the dog looks like.
- Get names, phone numbers and addresses of any witnesses. Witness statements will provide an accurate record, as close in time as possible to the dog bite, of exactly what these witnesses saw. This is something your attorney can do.
Here are some things you should avoid.
- Do not discuss your case, give a recorded statement, or discuss settlements with the insurance adjustor.
- Do not post details of the experience on social media sites. This could impact your case.
- Don’t assume the dog is healthy. In many cases, a dog should be quarantined to determine whether or not it has rabies. This can also affect liability. If the dog owners knew of the rabies and allowed the dog to be in a position to bite somebody, then punitive damages might be awarded.
If you’ve been injured due to a dog bite, take the appropriate steps to protect yourself and your legal rights. Contact an experienced attorney who can help you navigate the complex waters of the insurance claim and healthcare process.