Written by attorney Nick Passe

Wisconsin Dog Bite Law Victims' Guide

Those who suffer injuries or property damage as a result of dog attacks in Wisconsin have the ability to pursue compensation and sometimes up to 100% penalty damages. The purpose of this guide is to explain Wisconsin's dog bite statute and what it means to dog bite / dog attack victims. This guide also contains a list of issues to think about and warnings about pitfalls dog bite victims can fall into by not being aware of their rights and a checklist for how to respond if a you have been attacked by a dog in Wisconsin.

Background - What is Wisconsin's Dog Bite Statute and What Does It Say?

The Wisconsin State Legislature has created special rules for incidents where a dog attacks a person or the person's property. Wisconsin Statutes section 174.02 specifically addresses damages caused by a dog which injures a person or causes property damage. In Wisconsin, the owner of a dog is responsible for the dog's acts. Others like dogsitters or guests temporarily in control of the dog may also be civilly liable for the acts of the dog. Perhaps most critically, the owner and/or person in control of the dog may have insurance which makes the insurer liable for the acts of the dog. If the owner knew about the dog having been involved in a previous incident where the dog caused damage to a person or property, the owner is liable for double the actual damages caused by the dog in the second incident.

How Are Dog Bite Cases Similar to Other Personal Injury Cases?

Dog attack cases are similar to other personal injury cases but are also unique in some important ways. As with other personal injury cases like automobile accidents and defective product cases, the injuries sustained by dog attack victims:

  • can be small enough to be regarded as annoyances or serious enough that a person dies from his or her injuries
  • medical care may or may not be appropriate
  • you may miss work and lose wages as a result of the incident
  • you may develop a fear of dogs or other anxiety as a result of the incident and benefit from mental health counseling as a result of the incident
  • pain and discomfort from the incident may be temporary or permanent
  • scarring of the skin or disfiguration of limbs may result
  • you might be injured in a way that limits your ability to perform work tasks in the future and suffer lost earning potential as a result
  • you might be injured in a way that prevents you from participating in hobbies or other activities you find enjoyable
  • your spouse and family members may be negatively impacted by the incident in losing your availability for support, friendship or companionship

How Are Dog Bite / Dog Attack Cases Different From Most Other Personal Injury Cases?

There are also several ways in which dog bite cases are different from other personal injury cases:

  • Judges and juries sometimes have strong opinions about dogs and dog ownership responsibilities.
  • Dog bite cases lend themselves to claims for punitive damages
  • Dog bite cases are disproportionately likely to result in scarification and disfigurement on visible parts of the body. The social stigma attached to scarring should not be minimized. Beauty may only be skin deep, but many people are shallow and do treat people differently based on appearance. Over the course of a lifetime, a visible scar matters
  • Once bitten, twice shy - A traumatic incident with a dog can result in emotional trauma. A dog bite victim may never feel safe around dogs again and may view dog owners with fear or disrespect. A victim may have nightmares and experience anxiety or panic. In severe cases, the emotional trauma can lead to a diagnosis of PTSD or other debilitating anxiety-related disorders. Replacing a victim's enjoyment of life with fear and anxiety can sometimes be the most significant damage caused by a dog bite.

I have been bitten by someone else's dog in Wisconsin; what should I do?

If you have been bitten or attacked by a dog, there are a few things you should do immediately and a few things you should do later.

  • First and foremost, you should at least consult with medical personnel about what care is necessary and what care is advisable. If the attack broke the skin, go to a hospital or walk-in clinic immediately. If the attack broke the skin or you have any question about whether the dog might be diseased in some relevant way, call for law enforcement and advise that you need an animal control officer to consult with about the situation. Dog bites, in addition to the immediate pain and damage to skin, tissues, ligaments and bones, can result in infections if not given attention. Failing to take reasonable steps to mitigate your injuries is a partial defense which could be raised by any defendant in settlement negotiations or litigation.
  • Second, be guarded in any statements you make to anyone about what happend or how you feel. Avoid discussing the facts of exactly what happened with anyone until you have spoken to an attorney. As with automobile accident cases, insurance companies are eager to settle as quickly as possible with people who don't know their rights and those who might be unaware of their rights. If they can't reach a quick, cheap settlement, getting you on a phone recording minimizing the damages caused by the injury is a nice consolation prize for them.
  • Third, document the injury. Take photographs of the injury and the scene of the attack. Begin a journal from scratch about your experience including details about the frequency and severity your pain and discomfort. Include a log of any work or school or other activities you were forced to miss as a result of the incident.
  • Fourth, as soon as you possibly can, consult with an attorney. Having an attorney review your case and advise you as to the strengths and weaknesses of the case can be one of the most important steps you take. Parties represented by counsel routinely recover higher settlements and judgments than pro se (unrepresented) parties because attorneys know what evidence to look for and what arguments to make. Yes, it is possible to attempt to negotiate by yourself. No, doiing so probably isn't wise unless you have worked in the insurance or civil litigation fields for a meaninful length of time. Attorneys familiar with this kind of case ordinarily will offer free initial consultations, so any up-front cost to you should be limited to your time. Ideally, your attorney will be someone who is knowledgable about Wisconsin's dog bite / dog attack statute and how to file open records requests with the right agencies to determine if there are any records of earlier attacks by the same dog. Your attorney should also have experience with personal injury litigation in Wisconsin and a solid grasp of Wisconsin civil procedure, evidence, and damages law.

If you have found this guide helpful, my firm would appreciate the chance to offer you a free consultation to allow us to explore how we can put our knowledge, skills and experience to work for you. We practice in all Wisconsin courts. If having us represent you would not make sense for any reason, we would be happy to research and refer you to competent local counsel. Thank you for reviewing this guide. I am always looking to improve this and my other guides, so please contact me if you have any suggestions.

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