Your pet isn’t just an animal. It’s family. It’s not just a dog or a cat. It’s your heart on four legs. But what happens when your beloved Bruiser and Beulah Dean gets hurt? Or worse, what if they hurt another person or animal?
When it comes to an accident or injury involving your pet, it’s important to know your legal rights. It just might save you thousands of dollars in medical and legal fees. And it could even save your pet’s life.
Understanding Who’s at Fault
One of the most important, but also among the most difficult, aspects of dealing with an injury involving your pet is determining who’s at fault. For instance, you might have an issue in your neighborhood with aggressive dogs roaming around off-leash. This can lead to a devastating attack if you take your dog out for a walk or a bit of outside playtime, or if you have cats that enjoy a little backyard sunshine.
If your dog is on a leash, or your pet is on your own property, especially if they’re on a run or inside a fenced or gated area, then chances are you’re not going to be liable. The burden of responsibility, in general, falls on the owner of the unsupervised or uncontrolled animal, because their negligence, willful or otherwise, results in the injury or attack. However, unless you have video evidence, it can be impossible to legally prove whose dogs are responsible.
Because of this, installing surveillance cameras on your property is an excellent defensive measure. This can spare you tremendous medical and veterinary expenses and ensure you have the resources to get your fur baby the care they need should the worst happen.
However, it’s imperative that you understand the state and local surveillance laws, often referred to as “nanny cam” laws. Typically, these cameras, even when installed outdoors, are perfectly legal, provided they’re installed on your own property. Nevertheless, it’s important to know your rights to ensure you, and your fur child, are well protected.
And, of course, turnabout is always fair play. If other pet owners are legally responsible for the supervision and control of their animals and liable for any damages that might occur when they fail to do so, as a pet owner, you have the same legal obligations.
This means ensuring your fur babies are securely housed and confined to your own property. They must not be allowed to freely roam the neighborhood, and when you take them off your property, you have to have reasonable control of them, either with a leash, a harness, a carrier, or “stroller.” Otherwise, you’re likely going to be legally responsible for whatever trouble they may get into!
If your pet has been injured due to someone else’s negligence, chances are you will be legally entitled to some form of compensation. If, for example, a careless dog walker accidentally loses control of your pet and your pet is, God forbid, hit by a car, you are likely entitled to at least the cost of your pet’s veterinary care. You may even sue for damage due to mental distress and suffering.
Likewise, if you have a service or a working animal that needs surgery, you may be able to write off the costs. In fact, thanks to a 2009 law, under certain circumstances, pet owners are permitted to write off the costs of pet care up to $3500.
You may even be entitled to this write-off if the surgery was the result of an injury that your pet sustained when you were relocating for work. Your best bet is to consult with a tax attorney if you’re facing significant veterinary expenses. You may be entitled to more credits than you realize!
When Your Pet is at Fault
Your fur baby may be an angel to you, but even the most well-behaved pet can act out aggressively sometimes, especially if they’re in unfamiliar surroundings or under significant stress.
If your dog or cat has bitten, scratched, or otherwise injured another animal or a human, especially a child, then the first thing you need to do is ensure the situation is under control. However, it’s imperative that you say nothing and admit no fault, not even to apologize, while on the scene.
Just do what you need to do to prevent further injury and ensure the hurt animal or person is being taken care of. Once the emergency is under control, reach out immediately to an attorney.
Liability laws vary widely from state-to-state, but a good attorney will know how to protect both your pet’s life and your finances. The majority of states, however, adhere to the “one bite law,” meaning that dog owners become legally and financially responsible for any injury their pet may cause after they have bitten one person one time.
This means that if your dog bites again, not only will you likely be liable for financial damages, but there is also a distinct possibility that your pet will be confiscated and possibly even euthanized as a “dangerous animal.”
And that is something that is just unthinkable, on many different levels, for any loving and responsible dog owner. The good news, though, is that there are actions you can take today to prevent your fur baby from ever being in such a situation.
This means understanding, first of all, why most dogs bite. In the vast majority of cases, dogs don’t bite out of maliciousness. They bite out of fear or territoriality. So, if you can understand those circumstances that make your dog more likely to act out, you can work to remove your dog from that high-risk environment and avoid a potential catastrophe.
Being a pet parent is one of life’s greatest joys and privileges. And no one wants to think about a scenario when their pet is hurt or hurts someone else. Unfortunately, though, it does happen. That’s why knowing your rights and responsibilities is of paramount importance. Doing so can not only save you thousands of dollars in medical, legal, and veterinary fees, but it might also save your pet’s life or the life of another animal.
Author Info: Noah Rue is a writer, a digital nomad, and a graduate of the lessons of life (primary) and also the University of Idaho. These days, Noah teaches English as a second language in lovely Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and moonlights as a content strategist for an American based marketing company.