You may have heard of Wag!, the app that connects dog owners with walkers and groomers in their immediate area.
Wag! functions similarly to apps such as Uber and Airbnb, as a product of the new “gig economy” made possible by the internet and smartphones. We have written about Rover’s pet care services previously, and some of what we wrote in that article will apply here, but Wag! is a bit different.
For many dog owners, and for those looking to earn a little extra money doing something they love, Wag! is a great solution. Unfortunately, there have been a few Wag! horror stories in the news recently.
- In 2015, a dog in Brooklyn was lost while being walked by a Wag! walker, and later struck by a car and killed.
- More recently, Wag! got in a spot of hot water after being accused of trying to buy off a dog owner whose pet was lost while being walked by Wag!, and even sending a cease and desist letter to the customer when they complained publicly. (Fortunately, the dog was later found.)
- In another incident, a dog was killed after slipping its collar while on a walk, after the Wag! walker ignored an instruction to keep the dog on a harness.
- Not all Wag! mishaps involve the dogs themselves, either. In a rather disturbing example of this, a Wag! customer in Texas only recently was disturbed to find her walker’s wallet in her bed.
The vast majority of Wag! walks do not end in disaster. Still, given the unpredictability of dog behavior, what should you do when the worst happens on a Wag! walk?
Wag Dog Bite Insurance
According to Wag!’s help section on its website, Wag! insures homeowners for up to $1 million in property damage, although it also cautions that a booking must be made directly through Wag! to be eligible for such insurance.
On its Terms of Service, Wag! denies liability for “indirect, incidental, special, exemplary, punitive, or consequential damages,” including personal injury, resulting from the use of its services.
The Terms also say that “(i)n no event shall Wag!’s total liability to you in connection with the services for all damages, losses, and causes of action exceed five hundred U.S. dollars.” At the same time, however, “the limitations and disclaimer in this section do not purport to limit liability or alter your rights as a consumer that cannot be excluded under applicable law.”
Their policy is not exactly clear. If you have a case of significant injury or property damage, you may need an attorney to help you.
Wag! Walkers Are Contractors, Not Employees
Another point that has a significant effect on how Wag! personal injury cases are litigated: Wag! walkers are classified as independent contractors, not employees.
This is a significant legal distinction, because a company’s legal accountability to, and for, its employees is different from that of its independent contractors. Legal precedent is still established on this matter, but it may limit the company’s liability significantly.
This will not make a lawsuit against Wag! or one of its walkers impossible, however. If you were bitten by a Wag! dog, you still may be able to file a claim against Wag! or the pet/property owner, depending the details on the case.
Liability in Dog Bite Cases
There are a few different standards for dealing with dog bite cases, depending on where you live.
One of these standards is strict liability. This means that the dog owner is responsible for all injuries caused by their dog. Unlike in most other types of personal injury cases, in a strict liability case you do not need to prove negligence; it is enough to show that the defendant owned the dog that bit you.
Other jurisdictions have a slightly more lenient rule, which may make it harder for you to recover damages. This is known informally as the “one free bite rule,” and this rule stipulates that a dog must have shown some previous sign of aggression (including a previous bite, or another action such as snapping or growling) before the owners can be held liable for the dog’s actions.
The defendant in the lawsuit will also vary based on jurisdiction; in some cases, the owner will be responsible, but in others, responsibility will be shared with the dog’s “keeper” who was responsible for the dog at the time (which, in the case of Wag!, would mean the walker).
Finally, some jurisdictions have breed-specific legislation which places special restrictions on breeds with a reputation for violence, such as pit bulls. This, too, will vary.
What to Do After a Wag! Dog Walking Accident or Injury?
Your first focus should be seeking medical attention for yourself, the dog, or other injured people or pets.
If there has been a bite, then you may wash the bite with soap and water and apply a bandage, but you should still see a doctor as soon as possible (and make sure to get the dog’s medical info, or you may need to get a preventative vaccine for rabies).
If you suspect that your dog is injured or ill, then look for signs such as limping, wounds, changes in behavior, or apparent pain in certain areas, and take them to a vet as soon as possible. Since pain and illness can affect a dog’s temperament, you may need to muzzle your dog temporarily.
The next thing you should do is gather evidence of the injury, if you are able to do so. At the scene of an accident, you should take photos and request the contact information of any witnesses who may be able to provide a statement later. Medical records are also valuable pieces of evidence, so be sure to save all of these.
If there has been only property damage and no bodily injury, the situation will be less urgent, but you should still gather all the evidence that you can.
After an accident, you should contact Wag! If they do not respond to your complaint in a productive manner, you should speak to a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
You should also speak to a lawyer immediately if you have a significant injury to any human or dog, or extensive property damage. Call TorkLaw to schedule a free consultation. Our experienced dog bite attorneys can help you make sense of the complexities and get you the compensation you deserve.