Common injuries suffered by dog-bite victims:
Dog bite victims can sustain everything from small cuts and scratches, to life-threatening injuries which can have devastating effects. Some of these can affect a person’s ability to function normally for the rest of their lives, both physically and emotionally. Common injuries resulting from dog bites include:
- Scar tissue damage: If a dog rips into your skin it can cause scarring, which may take years to decrease and may be permanent. This can have a major effect on a person when the scar is more severe and in a visible area such as the face.
- Infections such as Rabies and Tetanus: Rabies is a life-threatening virus that spreads through the saliva of infected animals. It causes inflammation of the brain while breaking down the central nervous system. Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to fever, confusion, paralysis, and vomiting. Tetanus is a dangerous bacterium that causes tightening of muscles throughout the entire body. It requires a medical diagnosis and must be treated by as soon as possible.
- Death: In the most severe cases, dog bites can result in injuries which cannot be overcome, and end up killing a person. While these cases are rare, it is important to acknowledge and understand the potential threat that a truly dangerous dog may pose.
“One-Bite” vs. Strict Liability Rules for Dog Bite Injury Cases
Laws determining liability for a dog bite vary from state to state, but there are essentially two basic kinds of laws: liability when the dog owner knew or should have known the dog might bite someone, and liability regardless of what the owner knew or should have known. This article discusses the difference between these two legal concepts in the context of a dog bite case, and includes state-by-state statutory rules.
”One Bite” Laws
Prior to the twentieth century, a dog owner was only held liable for his dog’s biting someone if the owner had reason to know the dog might bite. This was called the “one bite” rule because it generally meant that a dog was allowed “one free bite” before it would get its owner in legal trouble.
In modern times, the one bite rule does not necessarily allow a dog one free bite. If an owner knows the particular breed is dangerous, or if the particular dog might be prone to biting because of its general character or recent events, he could be liable for the dog’s first bite.
The focus is on whether the owner knew or should have known that the dog might bite, and whether the owner took necessary precautions based on that knowledge. For example, if a relatively aggressive dog recently underwent surgery and the owner did not warn a house guest not to pet the dog, the owner might be held liable if the house guest aggravated the area of the dog’s surgery and was subsequently bitten.
Whether the owner knew or should have known the dog might bite can be a very complicated and contested question. The plaintiff will need to provide enough evidence to convince the jury it was “more likely than not” the defendant knew or should have known, and the defendant will need to argue why the plaintiff’s evidence is insufficient or provide contradictory evidence.
The kind of circumstantial evidence the plaintiff might rely on includes: the dog’s breed, what the owner used the dog for (i.e. protection), how the owner trained the dog, neighbors’ experience with the dog and/or warnings from the owner, and how extensively the owner typically restrained the dog.
Strict Liability Dog Bite Laws
Many states have enacted “dog bite” statutes that provide specific rules for dog bite cases. Most of these statutes create a form of “strict liability” for dog bites. Strict liability means that the defendant is held liable if a certain event occurs, regardless of whether the defendant could have done anything to prevent the event.
The typical strict liability dog bite statute says that the defendant is liable if his dog bit a plaintiff and:
- The plaintiff was legally allowed to be where he was when the bite occurred, and
- The plaintiff did not provoke the dog.
If a strict liability dog bite statute applies, what the owner did or did not know about the dog prior to the bite is irrelevant. Note that the dog bite statutes are not the same in every state that has them. Some only apply to bites that occur on public property, some allow the defense that the plaintiff was warned, and some apply specifically to dog bites while others apply to domestic animal attacks generally.
Regardless of the variations, the most important aspect of the strict liability dog bite statutes is that a winning case is easier to predict, the plaintiff will have a much easier time proving and winning a case at trial, and a defendant is therefore much more likely to settle early on if it is clear the statute applies.
Dog Bite Injury Claim Basics
Dogs bite more than 4.5 million people each year, with one out of five dog bite victims needing medical treatment. We teach our kids how to prevent dog bites, yet children are more likely to be bitten than adults. Sadly, dog bite injuries to children tend to be more severe.
Damages: No matter where you live, to recover compensation for a dog bite claim you’ll first have to prove the dog attack caused harm. Your total damages will directly impact the amount of your final settlement.
Damages for dog attacks can include the cost of ambulance transport, medical treatment, nursing care, physical therapy, lost wages, mental health services, and out-of-pocket expenses for your care and treatment.
You can also include travel expenses and parking costs to get to treatment, the replacement cost of clothing and personal items ruined in the attack, and an amount for your mental anguish, pain and suffering.
Exceptions: A dog bite victim will probably not be eligible for compensation if:
- The victim was bitten by a police or military dog on duty
- The victim was trespassing or committing a crime at the home or business of the dog’s owner
- The victim is a veterinarian or veterinary worker bitten on the job
Precautions After A Dog Bite Occurs
There are several scenarios in which a dog bite might take place. If someone else’s dog bites you, your child or your dog, consider the circumstances. Do you know who owns the dog? Is it a puppy? Is the dog exhibiting strange or aggressive behavior?
If you know who owns the dog and the owner is present, exchange names and contact information. Obtain information from any witnesses, as well. Ask the owner if they can show proof their dog has an up-to-date rabies vaccination. If you do not know who owns the dog, you may need to get a rabies vaccination, which could cost more than $3,000.
What To Do After A Puppy Bites You
If a puppy bit you, stay calm and try not to react. A puppy is still a baby, and it may bite because it is teething, or trying to establish its dominance. A bite from a puppy is not likely to be the result of aggression.
Though it will probably be a minor dog bite, a puppy bite might still hurt, and it may break the skin as well. If the bite results in a superficial wound, follow the steps outlined below to treat it.
What To Do After An Unknown Dog Bites You
If you do not know the dog — or the owner of the dog — who is responsible for the bite, you will want to act to protect yourself from any possible disease or rabies the dog might have. Avoid trying to hold or catch the dog on your own. Instead, call 911 right away, then they or you can contact animal control. You want to clean the injured area so you can avoid transmitting bacteria that could cause an infection, and get proper medical attention and a rabies vaccination right away.
What If Your Dog Bites You?
If your dog bites you or a member of your household, it may be an upsetting experience, but it is best to try to remain calm. While you do not have to worry about contacting the police or taking down someone else’s information in this situation, you should still think about the circumstances around the bite. Was it accidental? Was the dog playing? Or, was he fighting with another dog and you got in the way? In this situation, don’t discipline the dog after the bite occurs. The dog will not understand the connection between the biting and the subsequent discipline.
There might be medical or behavioral reasons for the bite. Your dog may be concealing pain or injury, and perhaps you got too close and the dog reacted by nipping at you. If you suspect that could be the case, make an appointment with your veterinarian. If your dog bit you because you got too close to something valuable to him, like his favorite napping spot, toy or food bowl during mealtime, it’s possible the dog is starting to show signs of aggression. You may need to work with your dog to try to eliminate aggressive behaviors, and it might require enlisting the help of a professional dog trainer.
Four Things You Need To Know If Bitten By A Dog
- If you are bitten while in a public place and bitten by a dog running at large, the dog owner will generally be held responsible as long as you were not provoking the dog;
- If you are on the premises of the dog owner (i.e. home, farm, owner’s driveway, etc..) and get bitten, you will have the legal duty to prove that the owner knew the dog had “dangerous propensities.” This means that the dog had a prior history of aggression or viciousness that has been witnessed by someone, or the owner has admitted to. Owners rarely admit to these type of things, so you have to find out what the owner knows through their own friends and neighbors. This is not always an easy task, especially for owners you do not know very well.
- You need to have appropriate coverage for this type of scenario with your own homeowner’s insurance. Call your agent and ask if you have the correct type of coverage that will cover you if someone else’s dog bites you and does not have any, or enough, insurance coverage;
- You only have one year (unless you are a minor) to file your claim. After that, you are out of luck.