If you're thinking about filing a lawsuit over a dog bite or another injury caused by someone else's dog, you need to understand the statute of limitations in your state, and how the law applies to your situation.
Get the basics on how the statute of limitations works in personal injury cases.
After any kind of incident in which you're injured by someone else's dog, it's crucial to take some immediate steps to protect your health and your legal options.
If your injuries are significant, it might makes sense to discuss your situation with a personal injury lawyer (more on this later). If you decide to pursue an insurance claim under the animal owner's homeowner's insurance (or renter's insurance) policy, or file a lawsuit against the animal owner in court, this is when it becomes important to understand the statute of limitations filing deadline in your state
Each state's statute of limitations for dog-bite cases is generally the same as for most personal injury lawsuits filed in that state's civil court system. These deadlines range from one to six years after the injury happened, although the typical time limit is two or three years. See our 50-state statute of limitations chart for the details on the law in your state. The time limit listed under the "Injury" column will apply to any lawsuit over dog-bite injuries in your state.
Dog-bite injury cases are typically governed by a combination of state dog-bite laws and universal fault concepts like "negligence."
Some state dog-bite laws only apply if a dog actually bit you, while other states' laws apply to any injury caused by a dog, such as when a dog knocks someone over or chases a bicycle and causes an accident. But in every state, when the dog owner's carelessness or "negligence" played a part in causing the bite or other injury, the owner can usually be held liable for the injured person's harm, regardless of what any specific dog-bite statute says. Learn more about a negligent dog owner's liability.
Also, under "strict liability" dog-bite laws, many states make owners liable for injuries their dogs caused (especially bites) even if the owner didn't necessarily do anything wrong.
If you try to file your dog-bite lawsuit after the statute of limitations filing deadline has passed, you can expect the dog owner to ask the court to dismiss the case. And unless a rare exception applies to effectively extend the deadline (more on these later), the court will grant the dismissal, and you'll be left without a legal remedy for your injuries, lost income, and other damages.
Even when you think you'll be able to settle your injury claim without filing a lawsuit (for instance, if you're negotiating a settlement with the dog owner's homeowners' insurance carrier), make sure you leave yourself plenty of time in case you end up needing to file a suit. If nothing else, having the option to take the matter to court is always a good source of leverage at the negotiating table.
In some fairly rare situations, the statue of limitations clock might pause (or "toll" in legalese), effectively giving you more time to get your lawsuit filed. The specifics vary from state to state, but let's look at a few common examples that might "toll" the clock:
If you're worried that the statute of limitations filing deadline in your state is approaching, or if settlement talks have stalled, it may be time to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer. Having the right attorney on your side is the best way to make sure your rights are protected, and to ensure the best outcome for your dog-bite case.
You can use the features right on this page to connect with a lawyer near you who might be able to help with your dog-bite claim. Learn more about how to find the right personal injury lawyer for you and your case.