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Can You Take a Dog Bite Case to Small Claims Court?

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Most dog bites never make it to court because they settle before the case gets to that point. They either agree to a settlement with the owner of the dog or with the insurance company.


Last year, insurance companies paid out $479 million for dog bites. You want to settle out of court if you can help it because you don’t want your case bogged down in court costs and the time it takes to reach a verdict.

Small Claims Court: What to Expect

The disputed amount must be under $10,000. This limit is known as the jurisdictional limit because the courts don’t exceed that amount. You have a few key differences between small claims court and other court systems, such as:

  • Both parties speak for themselves with no legal representation
  • The judge doesn’t need to follow procedural law
  • The judge asks the questions
  • Can investigate out of court
  • No appeal if the plaintiff loses
  • The judge doesn’t need to follow any substantive law

Why Would You Want to Go to Small Claims Court?

Small claims court costs less than other courts where you would have to hire a lawyer. At the same time, a dog bite case will get processed much faster in small claims court. You have a lower cost here. For example, with an attorney, you will usually have to pay one-third of the award to them. That can cut down what you take home from a settlement significantly when you have to pay the associated court costs as well.

Gather Evidence

You need to gather documentation for a dog attack claim. Evidence such as photos of the bite, witnesses, and an examination of the animal’s behavior can all support your case. Witnesses can prove invaluable in winning a case. However, even the plaintiff may not understand the true sequence of events in a dog attack. Dogs may see some behaviors as provocative that the third party didn’t consider at all.

Past History of Attacks

An owner of a dog that has attacked people in the past has a higher chance of facing criminal charges. However, the laws on this vary depending on the state where the incident occurred. If a dog didn’t have a leash and wandered before attacking someone, the person could face criminal charges.

In many situations, criminal charges can be difficult to pursue except in extraordinary circumstances, like in cases where the dog has a history of attacks. Dog owners who get a criminal conviction can have civil claims filed against them for up to two years after the dog bite.

How to Evaluate the Dog

Bites from bigger dogs will often be judged more harshly because of how the injuries can be more severe. Male dogs display more aggression than females. Understanding the type of aggressive behavior that the dog used can make the case easier to follow. If the dog was provoked beforehand, the courts may not look too favorably on your case. Unprovoked dog bites, on the other hand, can lead to a more favorable judgment.

Many factors go into a dog bite case. Before it goes to a small claims court, you should understand what happened and how the dog interpreted events. Collecting the right information will lead to a successful outcome. Court cases with dog bites have an element of unpredictability to them.

Depending on the information gathered, you will determine how much you can collect in court. Each state follows its own procedures for small claims court. The judgment from a small claims court will have the same effect as a regular court.

About the Author


Kyle Hambright is a passionate writer proudly representing pintas.com. He has focused his legal career on personal injury cases, and throughout his practice, Kyle has helped people from all walks of life. This determination transpires in his writings as well. His articles translate the complex web of legal jargon into accessible text. Readers not only gain a firm grasp on theory, but they also learn how to put it into practice. 

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