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You Know About Dog Bite Laws, But What About Cat Bites?

by Marilyn Olson

Dog-bite lawsuits are common, and states have laws on the books that deal specifically with this situation. However, those laws don't necessarily extend to bites and scratches from other animals, particularly cats. That can create a problem because a cat scratch or bite is very common -- the sharpness of cats' claws and their ability to change quickly from gently purring to "Get away from me now" has led to many a minor injury, even for owners the cats supposedly love. So, if you've gotten a scratch or bite that became infected, or worse, developed into cat scratch fever, what are your legal options?

Additional Unpredictability

One thing to note is that you can't extrapolate out from dog-bite laws. Cats have that additional layer of unpredictability that means that no one can really say how a cat will react to a certain person. People who know a particular cat well can guess that the cat will likely be friendly or hostile, but in the end, even the nicest cat can go into a bitey rage if someone keeps bothering it. Pull the sweetest cat's tail, and that cat will turn into a defensive flying-claw machine.

Prior Knowledge Is Still Important

However, if the injured person or the cat's owner know of prior behavior that could indicate a bite or scratch is likely, then that's different. If the owner knows that the cat hates being petted, for example, but the owner doesn't tell someone who tries to pet the cat, then the owner could be liable. It does depend on the entire situation, but legally, that is a key bit of knowledge that could make the injured person's case stronger.

At the same time, if the owner's only experiences with the cat are one of gentleness, and then the injured person provokes the cat, it's understandable that the cat would react badly. In this case, the owner would likely not be responsible.

"One Bite" Laws May Apply

There are many bites and scratches that come out of nowhere. The owner had no idea that the cat would do that, and the injured person had no idea. Assuming there was no provocation, the owner might not be liable because of "one bite" laws. These basically say the animal can bite someone once before the owner has to treat the animal as one that will willingly bite or scratch. In other words, once that animal attacks one time, the owner is then on notice that this animal has to be treated as one that can hurt people. The owner has to keep the animal away, warn others, and so on.

If you've suffered an injury from a cat, you need to speak to a personal injury lawyer before you take any other non-medical steps. You and your personal injury attorney have to go over the situation carefully to figure out whether or not you have a case.