Missouri has enacted one of the toughest dog bite statutes in the nation, at least from the point of view of dog owners. Although the dog bite statute doesn’t apply in some circumstances, Missouri’s general personal injury law might offer you a remedy. The average compensation in a dog bite case exceeds $30,000.
The Missouri Dog Bite Statute
Missouri’s dog bite statute, Missouri Revised Statutes 273.036.1, states that the victim of dog bite has to prove three facts to win a lawsuit:
- The victim’s injury was actually caused by a dog attack
- The victim was not trespassing on private property at the time of the attack
- The victim did not provoke the dog into biting him
The applicable standard of proof is “preponderance of the evidence” (about a 51 percent likelihood), not the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal prosecutions. The victim does not have to prove that the dog’s owner or keeper was at fault in any way – the owner or keeper is strictly liable for any injuries caused by an attack carried out by his dog, regardless of whether or not he did anything wrong.
If you win your case, you will be entitled to full compensatory damages for medical expenses, lost earnings, pain and suffering and any incidental expenses that you might have suffered, such as travel to and from medical clinics or day care for your children while you are in the hospital.
Although you will probably not be able to recover attorneys’ fees, many if not most dog bite lawyers are willing to take on clients on a “no win, no pay” basis – if you lose the case you pay nothing, but if you win the lawyer gets a percentage of your recovery.
If you win under the dog bite statute, the defendant will also have to pay a $1,000 fine to the Missouri state government.
If the Dog Bite Statute Doesn’t Apply
The Missouri dog bite statute applies only to bites, not to other injuries that a dog might cause, such as jumping onto you and knocking you down a flight of stairs or chasing you into the street in front of an oncoming car. In this case, you will need to sue under Missouri common law negligence. Since negligence is essentially carelessness, you will need to prove that the dog owner or keeper (or, in some cases, a third party) caused your injury by carelessly acting or failing to act.
If you can established that your injury occurred because the owner violated a dog control law by, for example, failing to leash the dog in public in a city or county that has enacted a leash law, it will be easier for you to prove negligence.
The Missouri Statute of Limitations
The Missouri statute of limitations gives you five years from the date of the attack to file a personal injury lawsuit. In rare cases, you might be able to evade this five-year deadline – if, for example, you suffered a dog bite injury that was not diagnosed until a year later, a court might give you five years from the date of the diagnosis, as long as your delay in diagnosis was not the result of your own careless delay in seeking medical attention. A successful Missouri dog bite lawyer could greatly assist you in circumstances such as these.
If you think you have a dog bite claim, talk to an attorney in your area.