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I Was Bit and Injured By a Dog. What Should I Do?

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You’ve been bitten by a dog. You’re not alone. The CDC estimates that there are 800,000 dog bites each year. Bites are caused by family pets and dogs at friends and family member’s homes most often. They can also be strays or neighborhood dogs that get loose.

What you need to do depends on the severity. About 20% of all dog bites require the victim to be seen by a doctor. Infection, nerve damage, and severe pain are all possible outcomes of a dog bite. In addition to rabies, tetanus and staph infections are infections occurring after dog bites.

The severity of the bites dictates your immediate actions. A minor bite is something you can wash at home and then watch for signs of infection. A serious bite or deep puncture needs to be seen by a medical professional. It’s risky to try to care for a deep or severe bite on your own.

Iowa’s state dog laws state that a dog owner is liable for damages caused by the dog biting another person or animal. The only exception is if the dog bites a person who is committing a crime that led to the injury, such as if a dog bites you while you’re trying to break into another person’s home. When you’re just walking down the street and are attacked, the dog’s owner is responsible for all damages. Take these steps following the dog bite.

Get Photos and Witness Information

If anyone saw the attack, get their information. If you seek legal advice, witness information will help with your complaint. Also, get as many photos of the bites and area as you can. If you’re unable, see if someone will take photos of your injury and photos of where the attack happened.

Don’t do this if the dog is still nearby and acting aggressive or territorial. It’s best to slowly walk away and give the dog its space.

Assess the Wound

Assess the wound. If it’s not too deep, wash it out with warm, soapy water and bandage it. If it’s deep, put pressure on it and get to an urgent care clinic or emergency room. You may be tempted to try to take care of it at home, but you need to make sure there’s no damage to bones, muscles, tendons, or nerves. A bacterial infection is also a serious risk with any dog bite, so it’s best to have a doctor properly clean a deep wound.

Listen carefully to the doctor’s instructions. You’ll be told to watch for swelling, warmth, redness, and increasing pain. If you experience any of those, return to the doctor as you may need antibiotics to treat an infection.

File a Report With Animal Control or the Police

You need to let the authorities know you were bitten. If the dog has bitten others, the dog may need to be removed from its home. If it was the first attack by that dog, there will be a record on file in case there is a future situation. Reporting the bite is a legal requirement.

In some towns, you report dog bites to the animal control officer, but it could be the police. If you’re not sure, call your town or city clerk or find the information online. Ask to file the report. The officer can find out if the dog is licensed and vaccinated against rabies. If there is no proof of a rabies vaccination, the dog may be quarantined to watch for signs. You may need to get rabies vaccinations, too.

Be detailed in your report. If you were on the animal’s property, you may be found at fault. If the dog was not leashed and was off its property, the dog owner can be fined. Most states, cities, and towns require dogs to be kept on leashes when they’re off-property.

If a dog bite has left you injured, make sure you understand your legal rights. If you have to miss work or go on light-duty with reduced pay following a dog bite, the dog’s owner may be legally required to pay. Your dog bite lawyer can advise you whether to file a claim against the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance, if possible, or if you should file a dog bite lawsuit.

Are you worried that you cannot afford to hire a lawyer? Don’t be. At Trial Lawyers For Justice, initial consultations are free. Plus, the attorneys at TL4J often work on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything unless the attorney wins. Call 1-866-TL4J-LAW to learn more.

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Trial by Human

Nick Rowley founded Trial by Human, a nationwide legal education course to help trial lawyers improve their skills in the courtroom by "being human".