In Nebraska, victims of attacks by vicious dogs and other animals are entitled to full compensation for their entire range of injuries. This area of personal injury law is commonly known as a dog bite injury. A victim of a dog bite injury in Nebraska is entitled to be compensated for not only his or her immediate medical bills for treating the injury, but also pain and suffering, mental anguish, permanent scarring, temporary and/or permanent disability, loss of wages, loss of future earning capacity, loss of enjoyment of life, medical expenses for treating the injury, cosmetic or plastic surgery to repair scarring suffered in the attack, and psychological counseling or therapy. While the dog owner is ultimately responsible to the victim for these damages, compensation is typically provided by a homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy.
In Nebraska, dog owners are held strictly liable for injuries caused by their dogs under Nebraska Revised Statute § 54-601. Unless the victim of the dog bite provoked the animal attack or was injured while trespassing on the dog owner’s land, the attacking dog’s owner is responsible for the damages suffered by the victim.
If, however, the dog bite victim was trespassing on the dog owner’s land when (s)he was injured by the vicious dog, (s)he is required to plead and prove that the dog had bitten another person or another pet previously. Thus, the “one free bite” rule applies only if the victim was trespassing on the dog owner’s land.
If the dog bite victim intentionally provoked the dog’s attack, the injured person can be barred from recovering damages. However, the dog owner must prove that the provocation caused the dog to attack the victim.
In certain instances, landlords can be held responsible for a dog attack carried out by a renter’s dog if the landlord had actual prior knowledge of the violent or dangerous nature of the dog.
Most dog bite victims find themselves in completely foreign or unknown territory once injured by a vicious dog. The victim doesn’t understand that doing, or not doing, certain seemingly insignificant things can sometimes have a huge impact on their case. Steffens Law Office has handled many dog bite injury cases, and in doing so, we have learned that there are a significant number of “rules” which must be followed in order to have a successful outcome in your dog bite case.
1. Do seek medical assistance immediately. The most important thing you can do when you are bitten by a dog is to make sure you receive the necessary medical treatment. You do not want your health to be jeopardized, either short term or long term, because of a failure to go see your doctor following the injury. Don’t make the mistake of trying to “tough out” the pain or a new symptom because you don’t want to make a big deal out of the injury, or in an attempt to save medical expenses. Not only does a failure to treat jeopardize your health, but worse yet, the insurance company will use this failure against you when it comes time to settle or try your case.
2. Do notify the owner of the dog or vicious animal that attacked you. Not only will your notification hopefully trigger the dog owner to notify his/her insurance company, but you don’t want the guilt on your conscience should the animal bite another person shortly after attacking you.
3. Do notify “animal control” or your local police department that you have been bitten. The police and animal control will have a duty to make sure that the dog is tested for disease. In addition, a report should be prepared by the police or animal control which can be valuable evidence in your claim against the dog owner’s insurance company.
4. Do take photographs and collect evidence which will be valuable for your case. Take photographs of all the important elements in your case, such as the injured areas of your body where the dog bit you, the dog or dog pen itself (if you are able to do so), and the bandages or other medical treatment of your wound after you have first gone to the doctor. Take three (3) times as many photos as you feel are needed, from several angles with different lighting conditions, and in the days and weeks following the dog bite attack.
5. Do acknowledge and accept that your situation is essentially “you” versus the insurance company. “They” (the insurance company) are not on your side – “We” (the law office) are here to help you. With the exception of a few pleasant insurance representatives, “they” want you to settle cheap, give up on your claim, or to prove you’re a fraud. “They” will try to frustrate you into giving up by denying or delaying medical treatment. “They” will not inform you of your legal rights (not required to), and will sometimes give you misinformation. Don’t lose hope – “we” will do our best to help you through this tough time.
6. Do keep in mind that from the day you are injured the insurance company is watching, researching, reading, or in some way observing you. They do this through surveillance (taking photographs or filming you when you are not aware), reviewing your medical records, and sometimes by talking with you or someone you know over the telephone. Protect yourself by restricting your contact with the insurance company, and its representatives; and avoid activities that your doctor has warned you not to do.
7. Do stay in touch with our law office. Keep us informed of significant events. We do not recommend that you call every day, but you should contact us after each medical appointment with your primary doctor.
8. Don’t assume that all doctors are equal, or that it really doesn’t make any difference which one you see. One of our major objectives is to help you find the best medical care available. We would like to review the names of medical specialists, in your area, with you before you make a decision. Remember that we have done many, many injury cases like yours, and we know there are some medical specialists you really should not see.
9. Don’t make an appointment to see a specialist yourself. The appointment should be made by your family physician. This is called a “medical referral” and is usually accomplished by a telephone call, or letter from your doctor to the medical specialist. If you try and do this on your own, it will be viewed as “doctor shopping”, and it will hurt your case.
10. Do follow the advice of your medical doctor. The doctor’s advice will always appear in his or her medical records. When you do not follow the advice of your doctor, the insurance company assumes that you are healed, or are no longer in pain, or you would follow your doctor’s advice. This too hurts your case.
11. Do get a note from your doctor if you are not able to return to work. Make sure the note is faxed or emailed to your employer – so that you don’t lose your job. The note is also necessary to convince the insurance company that you really could not return to work because of your injury. This “no work” note should have a starting date and an ending date. Typically, your doctor will use your next medical appointment as the ending date. After the doctor sees you on that ending date, if you are still judged to be unfit to return to work, you will get another “no work” note from your doctor, so on and so forth.
12. Do follow any “restrictions” given to you by your doctor. Your restriction may be that you can only lift a certain amount, or work a certain number of hours, or not move in certain ways (bending or twisting as examples). You need to pay careful attention to follow these restrictions for two reasons: 1) for the sake of your health – if you push yourself beyond these restrictions the chances are good that you will hurt yourself worse; 2) if you are observed not following these restrictions, the insurance company assumes that you are a fraud who has lied to their doctor, and can do more than what they are telling their doctor. Insurance companies will spend thousands of dollars trying to catch you doing something you shouldn’t in order to prove that you are a fraud. Legally they can photograph you anywhere outside your home. They hire trained investigators to follow you, and film you, hoping to find evidence of fraud. If they accomplish this, your case becomes virtually worthless.
13. Do take the medication which the doctor prescribes. If, for example, a doctor prescribes pain medication, and you do not use it, the insurance company assumes that you are not in pain. While you may have a personal reason for not taking the prescription (for example it makes you nauseous), the insurance company will not view it this way unless you explain this to your doctor and ask him/her to put this explanation into your medical records. Also, some people who are in pain choose to take only pain killers and not other medications – like muscle relaxants. In the case of muscle relaxants, these medications help you heal, and also help with the pain. If you have a problem taking the medications which have been prescribed to you, please review this with our law office for further advice.
14. Don’t discontinue or put off medical help just because an insurance company won’t pay for it. There are typically other alternatives. If you have private health insurance, we usually ask that you move ahead with medical treatment by using your health insurance company. When your case settles, your health insurance carrier can be repaid. By passing up medical treatment when it is needed, your injuries can worsen, and you can lose more time from work. Your best strategy is to receive medical treatment as soon as possible, and not to wait.
Should you choose to hire the Steffens Law Office injury attorneys to represent you in your dog bite case, you can expect our office to do the following: