Every year, thousands of Americans suffer dog bites or are bitten by other types of animals. In many cases, a person bitten by an animal may have a legal right to recover damages from the animal’s owner or another responsible party.

If An Animal Bites You

First and foremost – seek medical attention immediately. If you are not treated, an animal bite can cause serious injury, infection, and even death if the animal was diseased. Once you have been medically evaluated, you should also consider consulting a lawyer with experience in animal bite cases. An attorney will be able to tell you whether you have a legal claim, and what damages you may be able to recover.

An attorney will ask you for detailed information about the circumstances surrounding your animal bite. At a minimum, you should provide the name and phone number of the animal’s owner. If you don’t have this information, a neighbor or a witness might be able to provide it to you. Also, if there were witnesses, you should get their names and contact information as well.

New Mexico Dog Bite Law

New Mexico uses a combination of “one bite” and negligence rules to decide dog bite cases.

The “one bite” rule focuses on the dog owner’s knowledge. In order to hold a dog owner liable for injuries that the dog causes, the injured person must show that the dog’s owner knew the dog was aggressive. One way to show this is by proving that the dog has already committed “one bite” against someone else. However, a prior bite is not required if evidence exists that the dog has acted aggressively in other ways, and that the owner knew or should have known about that behavior.

New Mexico law requires that a dog’s previous aggressiveness be acted out toward another human being. Evidence that a dog has acted aggressively toward other animals is not enough to establish the knowledge of aggressiveness required to hold the dog’s owner liable for injuries stemming from dog bites.

Negligence cases focus on a slightly different question: whether or not the dog’s owner or another person used reasonable care to prevent the injury. New Mexico allows people injured by dog bites to bring negligence-based cases to court. In a negligence dog bite case, the injured person must demonstrate that the owner knew or should have known about the dog’s aggressiveness, but failed to use reasonable care to control or restrain the dog in a way that would prevent injury.

Defenses in New Mexico Dog Bite Cases

New Mexico law gives dog owners several ways to argue that they should not be liable for injuries their dogs cause. Because Mexico is a “one bite” state, the first defense most dog owners raise is that they did not know and could not have known that their dog had any aggressive tendencies.

Also, because the previous aggressiveness must have been aimed at a human being, a dog owner might also argue that while he or she knew the dog acted aggressively toward other animals, the owner didn’t know and couldn’t have known that any aggressiveness would be aimed at a person.

New Mexico’s dog bite law also allows dog owners to argue that the injured person provoked the dog into causing injuries. Most states make provocation an exception to liability, but New Mexico’s rule is different: in New Mexico, provocation is only a defense if the injured person knew or should have known the dog would act aggressively when provoked. That’s a much tougher standard for a dog owner to meet when trying to use the provocation defense.

Finally, if the injured person was trespassing at the time of injury, a dog owner facing a negligence-based dog bite case might argue that property owner liability for trespasser injuries is typically limited in negligence cases, and that the same principle should apply here. A dog owner might also argue that New Mexico’s principles of comparative negligence should limit or eliminate liability.

Other Potential Responsible Parties

Animal owners are not the only people who can be held responsible for animal bites. Here are a few common scenarios where someone other than the animal’s owner could be held liable for an animal bite:

  • Animal Keepers: Anyone who is responsible for the care or custody of an animal may be considered an owner or keeper and can be held responsible for an animal bite. Examples include kennels, a pound, or an animal sitter.
  • Parents of Minors: Even if a person under 18 years of age owns the animal at issue, in many states an injured person can bring a legal claim against the minor’s parents, even if the parents had no direct involvement with the animal.
  • Property Owners: A property owner can be liable for injuries caused by an animal that the property owner allowed onto his or her property.
  • Landlords: If an apartment landlord knew (or should have known) that a tenant owned a dangerous animal, the landlord may also be liable for animal bite injuries.

What Damages Can You Recover?

Depending on the seriousness of injuries resulting from an animal attack, you may be entitled to recover for:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Property damage.

In some instances, you may also be entitled to punitive damages, which are awarded to punish someone for his or her behavior. To justify an award of punitive damages, the wrongdoer’s conduct usually must be more than negligent, such as reckless or intentional conduct. For example, if a dog owner knew his dog was very dangerous, yet repeatedly allowed the dog to run free near a school, and the dog eventually attacked a child, a jury could conclude that punitive damages were appropriate.

Getting Help

If an animal has bitten you or a loved one, you may be entitled to recover damages for any injuries that resulted. Determining your legal rights can be complicated, and it may be unclear who to bring a claim against, and to what sort of damages you are entitled. To ensure that you receive just compensation, you should consider contacting an attorney with experience handling dog/animal bite cases.

Bitten By A Dog? Get A Free Claim Review

Even the most well-behaved dog can go rogue and bite someone, sometimes causing serious injuries or even death. Since dog bites and bites from other domestic animals may be the responsibility of their human handlers, you may be able to file a claim for injuries in many cases.