How Long Do I Have to File a Dog-Bite Lawsuit?

Comply with the statute of limitations for dog-bite injury lawsuits, or you could lose your right to sue the animal's owner.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

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.

  • A statute of limitations sets a time limit on your right to file a lawsuit in civil court after you've suffered some kind of harm.
  • In most states, the statute of limitations that applies to "personal injury" or "negligence" lawsuits will apply to a suit over dog-bite injuries.
  • The statute of limitations "clock" starts on the date of the bite or other injury, but some (fairly rare) situations can pause the clock.

Get the basics on how the statute of limitations works in personal injury cases.

First Things First: What to Do After a Dog Bite

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.

  • Get prompt medical attention for any injuries, even at the slightest indication of pain or discomfort.
  • Take photos of your injuries, preserve any torn clothing, and hold on to any other evidence that might help prove the seriousness of the bite.
  • Get the names and contact information of any witnesses who might have seen the bite incident.
  • Report the incident to the local animal control authorities, especially if you're having a difficult time identifying the dog's owner.

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

Finding the Dog-Bite Lawsuit 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.

When Is a Dog Owner Liable for Injuries?

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.

Learn more about a dog owner's liability for bites and other injuries, and what happens when the dog-bite victim is partially at fault.

What Happens If You Miss the Dog-Bite Lawsuit Deadline?

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.

When Can the Statute of Limitations Be "Tolled" After a Dog Bite?

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 the dog owner leaves the state for any period of time after the injury occurs, but before the lawsuit can be filed, the statute of limitations might toll until the owner returns.
  • If the dog-bite victim is under the age of 18 when the injury occurs, the statute of limitations clock will likely toll until the person turns 18. So, let's a dog-bite victim is 16 when the bite occurs, and the state has a two-year statute of limitations for injury lawsuits. In this example, the statue of limitations clock probably won't start until the victim's 18th birthday, meaning their right to file an injury lawsuit against the dog owner won't expire until their 20th birthday.

Next Steps After a Dog-Bite Injury

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.

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