Dog bites are an ever-increasing problem, and it is children who most often suffer from attacks. The Center for Disease Control estimates that, nationwide, more than 900,000 dog attacks each year require medical attention. Bites are often caused by negligence or recklessness, and serious injury or death may result. Injuries may include but are not limited to, permanent scarring, nerve damage, infections at the site of the wound, and psychological scars, especially in children. Law provides for money damages to cover a significant variety of losses including medical bills, pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of consortium, humiliation, embarrassment, impaired enjoyment of life, and future medical bills.
Damages can be recovered through Dog Bite Laws or through Common Law.
A dog bite victim can recover compensation under a special statute. Protections afforded by the dog bite law expand upon those provided by common law. There can be a liability even if there was no vicious behavior prior to the attack, and even if the owner had no reason to believe the dog would behave in a violent way.
In addition to a dog bite statute, those injured by dogs can also recover under the common law. However, the plaintiff must prove that the dog owner’s negligence caused the injury. In the law, negligence is defined as a lack of ordinary care. Ordinary care is what a reasonably prudent person would have provided in similar circumstances. Lacking ordinary care, damages can be sought from a defendant for his/her negligence under common law.
Realize that an owner also can incur liability for non-bite injuries. Injuries suffered by an animal are also addressed.
Liability can also be imposed on one that is not the actual dog owner, such as a landlord. The dog bite law does not address non-owners, but common law does. Those that don’t own the dog, but are caring for it, harboring it or keeping it in any way can be held liable under the principle of ‘Scienter’. However, a non-owner must be proven to have had foreknowledge of a dog’s vicious propensities. Otherwise, a non-owner cannot be held liable.
After An Attack Seek Medical Help
If you, your child, family member, or an animal that you own is the victim of a dog bite, seek immediate medical attention, and gather and preserve evidence. Immediate efforts to sterilize the affected area with hydrogen peroxide or alcohol are important to limit the chance of infection. Wrapping the wounded area with gauze bandages can limit the degree to which bacteria can enter the wound. if there is bleeding, elevating the area to reduce bleeding can be helpful.
The American Humane Association reports that over 4.7 million dog bites are sustained every year. A majority of these bites occur near a victim’s property with an about the equal number being caused by dogs that are chained and by dogs that are unleashed. Residents enjoy stricter laws regarding owners’ liability and can generally be compensated for injuries that they sustain after they are bitten by a dog.
Dog Bite Laws
Each state is allowed to set its own laws regarding personal injury claims, including statutes and case law pertaining to dog bites. Some states have a “One Bite” rule in which the first bite that a dog makes will not result in liability against the dog owner. In these states, the dog owner’s knowledge of his dog’s history of violence or propensity of violence is determinate of his liability. Texas laws do not act in the same manner. Texas has a strict liability law regarding owners’ liability. If a dog bites a person who is legally on the property, the dog owner will be held liable for the injuries that the victim sustains. If the victim was contributed to the dog bite due to his own negligence, the percentage of his negligence that contributed to the dog bite will reduce the jury award by the same percentage. If a person exercises control over the dog but is not the owner, he can also be held liable for the injuries that result.
Types of Injuries Related to Dog Bites
Dog bites can result in several serious injuries. 71% of injuries occur in the arms, hands, legs, and feet. Victims may have large, gaping wounds that are caused by dog bites. They may incur lacerations. They may develop permanent scars due to the dog bite. They may also be infected by bacterial or rabies infections. Many dog bite victims also sustain psychological trauma because of a dog bite and may have a fear of dogs for the rest of their lives.
Types of Damages Related to Dog Bites
The owner or person in control of the dog can be required to compensate the victim for his injuries. The victim can recover medical expenses, including the expense to visit the emergency room, surgeries, plastic surgery, and prescription medicine. Income that victims lost due to having to seek medical treatment and to recover from the wounds can also be compensated. Victims can also recover for pain and suffering and any mental distress that resulted due to the sustained dog bite.
Actions After Sustaining a Dog Bite
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that over 800,000 people seek medical treatment after sustaining a dog bite each year. Nearly half of these victims required treatment in an emergency medical services center. Injured victims may receive preventative treatment for Rabies and Tetanus. Many victims retain the services of personal injury attorneys and dog bite injury claims represent over $1 billion in jury awards and settlements each year.
Owner’s Liability For Dog Bite Injuries
Liability Varies from state to state.
State Laws, as well as numerous local laws and rules, determine if the owner or others are responsible for dog bite injuries. (” owner” is used to refer to the dog’s owner, as well as the dog’s custodian, caretaker, keeper, harborer or anyone else who may be liable)
Statutory strict liability: a legal principle applies in most states holding that a dog owner is strictly liable and will always be held responsible for the injuries their dog causes to others even if there was no reason for the owner to know that the dog was dangerous (with certain exceptions such as if the victim was trespassing). Under these governing laws, in order to prove liability, there is no requirement to prove any fault or negligence by the dog owner: one does not have to prove that the dog owner knew of the dog’s propensity for biting or reasonably should have known the dog to be dangerous order to achieve compensation.
Dog bite strict liability statutes exist in the following states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
One Bite Rule (also known as “One-Free-Bite Rule”: The balance of states have put in place a higher standard of proof in order to hold the dog owner liable for the dog bite injuries: under the “one bite” rule the owner is not liable for the first bite injury unless it was caused as a result of owner’s negligence. Any time a dog bite occurs after that “one free bite”, the owner is held to strict liability for harm caused by the known dangerous dog. The “one-bite states” are as follows: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wyoming.
Tests for A Dog’s Dangerous Propensities in One Bite States: The test for determining an owner’s negligence-of whether the owner “reasonably should have known about the attacking dog’s dangerous propensities-is not always straightforward, and the determination could vary by jury. Some of the indications used to demonstrate a prima facie case of owner’s knowledge, apart from the obvious indication of past records of attacks or bites are: if the dog was used as a guard dog, if signs are posted all over the property warning all to beware of a dangerous dog, if everyone in the neighborhood sees the dog barking violently, jumping up against the fence, growling, and just generally demonstrating an angry truculent personality; if the dog is kept fenced and muzzled.
“One Bite Rule” States do Not Literally Require That A Dog Have Bitten Previously to Hold The Owner Liable:
The “one-bite rule” language should not be taken literally. Therefore, dog owners definitely can and have been held liable for dog bite attacks even if their dog had never bitten anyone previously (ie. Take the case of a vicious guard dog that has been carefully muzzled and fenced and on a leash his entire life, and thus has never bitten anyone. If one day the owner recklessly decides to let the guard dog free and it violently mauls the first person it sees, that owner would almost certainly be held liable-despite it being the dog’s first bite ever.) Conversely, even if a dog had bitten someone 10 years ago when it was younger, if a dog had mellowed to the point where it had not shown any aggressive tendencies for the past ten years, a jury could very likely hold the owner not liable if the dog suddenly without warning ends its ten years of docile behavior and decides to bite the mailman. In this case, even though there was a prior bite, the jury may find no liability.
Injuries from Dog Bite Attack or Injuries Incurred While Running Away from a Dangerous Dog. It should be noted that most “strict liability” rules only apply to actual dog bite injuries. It is often necessary to allege additional recovery theories under common law or negligence theories in order to recover from non-bite injuries arising out of a dog bite attack. In the event the dangerous propensity test has been met to show owner’s negligence, a dog’s owner can also be held responsible for non-bite injuries such as bruises, broken bones, and other miscellaneous injuries incurred even if the dog never actually touched the victim, such as in the case where victim narrowly escaped from an attack dog by running in his car and breaks his hand against the car door in a rush to escape the attack. There can be owner liability for indirect injuries of this type.
Exceptions to Liability: There are certain circumstances where a dog bite victim may not be able to recover, regardless of what state or city the dog bite attack occurs. Generally, if a victim was bitten while trespassing, while provoking or attacking the dog, while committing a crime, while providing professional services to the dog (like a veterinarian) or if the dog was a police or military dog on duty.
Local and city rules and ordinances requirements for dogs often impose other mandatory requirements on dog owners such as licensing requirements, the limit of the number of dogs/pets per household, leash requirements, vaccine and other shot requirements such as distemper, cleanup of dog waste droppings anywhere except the dog owner’s private property
“Negligence Per Se” Violation of Leash Laws, etc.
There is a presumption that a dog bite attack that occurs during the time of a violation of a local ordinance or rule such as violating a leash law, automatically renders the owner responsible for any injuries caused by a dog during such violation. Although there are exceptions to this, generally this “per se” negligence principle is applied by the courts. The “per se” negligence principle is also applied to hold dogs liable for damages caused if the dog is committing trespassing on another’s property without permission (express or implied), or if the dog is off the owner’s property or is running free in violation of a law prohibiting such actions.
Defenses are available in dog bite attacks.
The actions of the victim just prior to the dog bite attack are an important factor in determining whether the victim can hold the dog’s owner liable. Often no viable claim exists if, just prior to the dog bite attack, the victim attacked, kicked or otherwise provoked the dog, or if the victim as trespassing, committing a crime, or the dog was a professional working with the dog.
Statute of Limitations: Note these very strict procedural restrictions on bringing a claim-they are designed to prevent a person from waiting too long to take action on their claim.
There is a time limit for bringing a dog bite claim for your injuries and this is called a “statute of limitations”. It is the time deadline by which the victim of a dog bite attack must bring a claim against the dog’s owner or other responsible party. The specific “statute of limitations” time deadline varies from state to state, and one must be very careful to read the correct statute of limitations that applies to the circumstances of one’s case. The general time to bring a case is from one to six years (it can vary if it is a government entity being sued or a child victim in the dog bite attack) and it generally runs from the time of the dog bite incident. Courts are very strict in requiring compliance with these time limits you are advised to act promptly in order to ensure that your rights to recovery are not lost forever for missing the deadline. In addition, there are several states with a confusing tricky statute of limitations under which an apparent two-year statute of limitations for dog bites may apply only to certain dog bite liability theories while other theories may be governed by other shorter statutes. So beware that all the possibly governing statute of limitations are researched and noted that no avenue of compensation is lost inadvertently.
Court Cases Involving Dog Bite Attacks:
At times, owners of dogs can be held criminally liable for the acts of their dangerous dogs.
Owner of Vicious Attack Dogs Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison for Murder
A Supreme Court reinstated a second-degree murder charge against a woman who was convicted as the owner of two guard dogs that viciously attacked and killed a 33-year-old woman lacrosse coach in the hall of her apartment building. She died from 77 wounds to her body from the vicious attack while, according to the court records, the dogs’ owner was present and did nothing to try to stop the attack, “showing a conscious disregard for human life. A lower court had reduced the charge to involuntary manslaughter in 2002, but this reduced sentence was overturned. The now imprisoned owner had adopted the two deadly guard dogs from her adopted son, a prison inmate white supremacist who had been planning to start a guard dog company.
Criminal Charges Brought Against Owner Of Two Attack Boxers
Criminal felony charges were brought against the owner of two boxers who attacked a veterinarian and mother walking her sons. The woman had been walking with her two sons when she saw one of the boxers heading to attack her 8-year-old son. She said maternal instinct caused her to immediately jump on the first attacking boxer to protect her son and moments later, a second boxer appeared and the two boxers together mauled her as her two boys climbed a fence to safety. She said the two boxers treated her like a “chew toy”, and as the two attacked her, it was a complete blur of screams, growls, pain, and lapse of consciousness. One boxer dragged her across the gravel while the other one lunched on her side. The vicious attack stopped when the wife of the dog’s owner came out of the house with a rake and started banging it and yelling at the dogs to stop. The victim was hospitalized for six days after the attack by the two dogs receiving treatment for bites over most of her body. She was sutured in twenty different areas for bites on her head, right ear, legs, and arms. She suffered a severed bicep, a hole the size of a fist in her leg, and all together incurred over $150,000 in medical bills. Her insurance only paid $100,000 of the bills, leaving her obligated to pay the additional $50,000. The felony charges are being brought because animal control had warned the owner previously of the dangerous nature of the two boxers after they bit someone else in 2004.
Civil Liability Cases: Dangerous Dogs: 63-Year-Old Woman Attacked by A Pit Bull Terrier
A 63-year-old woman weighing 127 pounds was viciously attacked by a 3-year-old male Pit Bull Terrier named Dozer who weighed 80 pounds. The attack was over in seconds as the dog’s owner heard the attack and came running to stop it…saving the woman’s life according to bystanders. The woman says she was saved because she had the presence of mind to turn her back toward the pit bull terrier because she wanted to protect her face from the attack. It was a smart move. The dog gashed her thigh then bit into her arm causing 12 stitches and future surgery. “He was trying to kill me, I am just glad he didn’t get my face”, she said. Animal control officers have placed Dozer in quarantine and have issued citations to the owner for failing to license the dog, and for having a dangerous dog that caused serious injury to another. Under local ordinances the boxer could be kept even if found to be a dangerous dog but only if strict rules were followed such as the construction of two fences, a warning notice regarding the dangerous dog, and that Dozer could only go outside with an adult, a leash and a muzzle at all times.
Important Facts You Should Know About Dog Bites
A virtual epidemic of dog bite incidents is occurring: The number of dog bite attacks increases every year. There are more than four and a half million dog bite incidents yearly, one occurring every 30-40 seconds, with over 1000 dog bite injury victims going to emergency rooms and another 2000 receiving some kind of non-medical treatment for dog bite injuries each day. Financial losses exceed one billion dollars a year. Due to increasing dog population, increase in urban high-density living and the corresponding increase in the interaction between dogs and people in sidewalks and narrow environments, and the popularity of highly dangerous attack breed dogs, the number of dog bite attacks just keeps rising. Each person has a one in fifty chance of being bitten each year and that chance is increasing as all the factors leading to higher dog bite attacks coincide.
Over half dog bite injuries occur in the home with the attack caused by either the family dog or friend’s dog.
Half of those injured are children usually under ten years old; the majority of these injuries to children occur in the face and neck area of the body.
According to the US government, the most dangerous breeds with the highest risk of biting are the following: Doberman Pinschers, Alaskan Malamutes, Chows, St. Bernards, Akitas, Pit Bull Terriers, Rottweilers, German Shepherds and Huskies. Other reports include wolf-dog mix, and American Bull breeds as particularly dangerous.
Rottweilers, Wolf-Dog mix and pit bulls are responsible for a large percentage of the dog bite attacks each year: over 75% of the dog bite attacks that cause bodily injury to the victim; over 70% of the attacks on children; over 80% of attacks on adults; over 75% of attacks that cause maiming of the dog bite victim.
Most dog bite victims each year statistically are children, the elderly and postal service workers.
How and where do dog attacks occur?
One-quarter of attacks occur while the dog is chained
one-quarter while the dog is loose in the yard
20 percent while the dog is inside the home
17 percent while the dog is roaming off property
Puppies, more than adult dogs are likely to commit attacks.
You should never allow a child to be alone with a dog, even one that seems friendly. Dogs can become territorial, frightened, threatened, or attack for any unexplained reason at all, unrelated to the child, and such attacks are often of the child’s face and neck and extremely severe.
You should never approach a strange dog in the dog’s territory, near a dog’s puppy, family, or food.
You should refrain from holding your face close to a dog’s face, startling a dog, or teasing or provoking a dog, especially if the dog is eating, sleeping, or with its puppies.
You should refrain from running from a dog that is attacking you, try to stand still, or if the dog has knocked you over, cover your head and face and roll into a ball; try not to act threatening to a dog by staring it in the face.
Note: These statistics are based upon reports issued by the US government and other research agency reports.
Information on Common Treatment of Dog Bite Injuries
Plastic surgeon guidelines on dog bite injury treatments state that the first priority is to ensure the bleeding has been stopped. In certain severe cases, especially among children who are often bitten in the face and neck, check must be made regarding hemorrhage from blood vessels around the head and neck must be checked.
Next, treatment must be carefully administered to prevent infection from occurring. The bites can present in the form of skin punctures, lacerations, cuts, crushing wounds, and fractures caused by the powerful jaw muscles of certain dogs. Plastic surgeons are often called in due to the fact that the dog bite attacks more often than not involve punctures, scarring, and disfigurement to the face, throat, nose, cheeks, and thus require the highest of specialized care. After cleaning, the wound is washed with a saline solution and a catheter is attached to allow irrigation to puncture wounds in order to limit infection.
Subsequent to irrigation, depending on the nature of the injury, the wound could be sutured or closed with tape. The wounds with higher liklihood of infection should receive antibiotic treatment while the lower risk wounds may be sutured unless infected. The following are considered high-risk dog bite wounds: any dog bite wounds in which the treatment has not occurred for over twelve hours, wounds involving the foot, ligaments, hands, tendons, bones, or punctures. Sometimes skin that is severely damaged from the bite must be cut, require grafting, reattaching, multiple surgeries involving removing skin from other parts of the body to attach to the wounded area.
Infections associated with dog bite wounds include sepsis, septic arthritis, osteomyelitis, tenosynovitis, and others. Tetanus records of the victim must be checked to ensure recent timely tetanus shots which must be administered, along with a check on rabies vaccination for the attacking dog, so that appropriate required vaccinations if any, can be administered to the victim.
Emotional and Psychological Trauma From the Dog Bite Attack
Even after the physical injuries from the dog bite wound have healed you will still very likely be experiencing psychological trauma from having gone through the frightening experience. Are you still reliving the frightening dog bite attack in your thoughts? Due to the vicious, sudden and surprising nature of many dog bite incidents, victims usually suffer from emotional trauma and this trauma often requires treatment by professional doctors and therapists who can assist you in best dealing with the emotional scarring and the post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) that often occurs. Especially among children who are often victims and who also may be traumatized by being witness to close personal attack of a loved one, the child will demonstrate anger, withdrawal, depression, all immediately or shortly after the incident. These are all normal emotional reactions to an extremely frightening and traumatic event that create long-lasting memories in a child’s brain. Scientific studies have led many doctors to conclude that a single severely violent frightening incident like a dog attack can lead a child to develop PTSD because a child is always looking at the environment and acting to maximize its comfort and survival. A severe event like a dog bite attack will often be construed as a general data input that all of life in general can and will be painful, frightening, and uncertain, especially if the child viewed a loved one being subject to severe and sudden attack by dogs. The child assumes such violent attacks will happen again, without warning like the first one. The child will replay the event continuously in its mind re-experiencing it and suffer from nightmares, flashbacks and general distress, often triggered by encounters or viewing of dogs similar to the injuring dog. In certain cases, the child may internalize the incident such that it is interpreted to mean the child is itself bad and brought it on through its own actions. These PTSD traumas can in some cases last through adulthood becoming an integral part of the adult personality. These PTSD symptoms may appear in a child or young adult immediately or not for several weeks or months after the dog bite attack. Alternatively, PTSD may diminish and resolve itself after time passes, but mental health treatment by a professional trained in helping children to cope with such occurrences is often recommended for at least a 12 week period generally required to alleviate the PTSD symptoms, through play therapy, and other psychotherapy treatments, sometimes assisted with medication. Children rely on support from family and friends to assist in recovery, to reduce depression, anxiety, and trauma of the PTSD disorder.