“I never thought my dog would do that!” is the quote oft heard by dog owners…after they have bitten someone. And it’s true – no one would think that their beloved Sparky would be capable of turning on a neighbor or friend. However, CDC researchers found that 4.5 million Americans were bit by dogs per year between 2001 and 2003. Criminal Lawyer Frank Fernandez suggests to keep adequate control of your dog indoors and have your dog leashed outdoors, unfortunate accidents can happen to the best of us. If your dog does bite someone, the following is a quick primer on how to handle the situation and your liability.

In each state, laws are either One Bite or Strict Liability laws. The One Bite laws operate by the principle that a dog owner would only be held accountable for a dog biting if s/he had reason to think the dog would bite someone. This knowledge could include past biting incidents, whether the dog breed is a dangerous one, general character of the dog, or recent stressful events in the dog’s life. In litigation, the plaintiff would have to provide evidence that the dog owner should have known the dog was prone to biting and that the dog owner did not take measures that would have stopped the incident.

60% of states hold strict liability laws which are defined by the dog owner being held liable if the bite occurs at all, whether or not anything could have been done to prevent it or if there was prior knowledge as to the tendency to bite. The law does typically have provisions that the person attacked was legally allowed to be in the location s/he was at the time of the bite and that s/he did not provoke the dog.

If your dog bites someone or another animal, first help to make sure the person bit is all right or offer to get help, if further care is needed. Even if nothing is needed right away, encourage the victim to receive medical attention. Although some bites could be superficial and amount to not much more than a scratch, other bites can lead to infections if not properly treated. In addition, it is in your and your pets’ best interest to maintain veterinarian and vaccination records. These will help to avoid unnecessary treatment for the victim and unnecessary testing on your dog.

It is also in your best interest to call the local police to file a police report. Although you are the one held liable for the incident, police reports can help to accurately describe the facts of the case, especially if the details would morph in memories later on. In addition, give your detailed information to the victim. Similar to car accidents, do not attempt a hit and run – you are the liable party and it is the right thing to do.

Offer to pay for any medical care that would arise. There are insurance policies (often under homeowners insurance) that cover dog bite claims. Whether or not you decide to file an insurance claim, contact your insurance agent promptly after the incident. This avoids being forced to pay out of pocket if there are any time limitations on making a claim with the insurance company.

Although this is a scenario no one would want to have happen, it is best to be informed as to the laws in your state as well as a plan of action should an incident occur.