Dogs are the most widely owned pet across the United States: approximately 69 million households own at least one dog. Many people think of their dogs as members of the family. Unfortunately, more than four million dog bites occur in the US every year. Dog attacks result in severe and repeated bites and extensive injuries. Dog bites are painful, but they also leave victims emotionally traumatized. Often, the injured person needs reconstructive surgery and psychological treatment.
If a dog bit you, you need to know your rights. If you have questions after reading this post, contact a dog bite lawyer near you for more information.
Dog Bite Laws
Dog bite laws vary from state to state in wording and interpretation. They may be state statutes, county ordinances, or local ordinances that provide a remedy for a dog bite or harm caused by a domestic animal.
Many states have a rigid standard of fault called strict liability. Under these laws, the owner is liable when a domestic animal attacks, bites, or injures someone. As a general rule, a dog does not get “one free bite” in a statutory strict liability state. There is no requirement to prove the owner was negligent. Currently, 36 states have some version of the strict liability law.
For example, in Florida, a dog’s owner is liable for a dog bite if the injured person is on or in a public place or lawfully in a private place, such as the owner’s property.
It does not matter:
- If the dog’s bite was unintentional
- If the owner tried to prevent the attack
- If the dog has ever bitten someone before
- If the dog’s owner knew about the dog’s ability to bite
Except when the victim is under six years old, there might be an exception to the strict liability rule if the owner had an “easily readable” sign with “Bad Dog” displayed on their premises.
Pennsylvania dog bite laws are complex. Pennsylvania also has a strict liability law. However, both statutory and common law, based on past cases, hold that a dog’s owner should be liable for damages caused by the dog.
Dog owners are responsible for injuries other than dog bites. Sometimes a dog pounces on a person trying to get away from the dog. Dog attack analysis shows that dogs usually try to disable victims by attacking their limbs and knocking them to the ground. Dogs can easily knock children or older adults off their feet. Once the person is down, the dog may attack their throat, neck, and head. Because children are smaller and frequently sit or play on the ground, they are more likely to suffer facial injuries.
Some areas have breed-specific dog bite laws. These control the ownership and handling of specific breeds of dogs considered dangerous.
Liability for Dog Bites
When a dog injures a person, the owner or caretaker is responsible for the resulting injury.
Other parties may be liable as well, like:
- A property owner is generally responsible for the safety of guests, whether they are visiting for business purposes or personal business.
- A person who takes care of another person’s dog, such as a professional pet-sitter or dog walker, may be liable for the victim’s injuries and losses.
- A kennel, pet store, or grooming facility may be legally responsible when a dog bite occurs in or around the facility. This is especially true if the facility’s staff fails to follow safety protocols.
- Someone who is not the dog’s owner but has care or control of the animal may be liable.
- If the dog’s owner is less than 18 years old, the parents of the minor may be liable.
- If a landlord knows that their tenant has a dangerous dog on the premises and does not do anything to prevent an attack, they may be responsible.
Exceptions to Liability for Dog Bites
If the injured person teased, provoked, or abused the dog, such as by hitting or kicking it, those actions may preclude liability. In such situations, the dog is naturally trying to defend itself, so owners would probably not be liable for dog bites.
Another possible exception to the rule occurs if the victim was trespassing or committing a crime when the dog bit them. In addition, some laws provide an exception for situations involving vets, the police, or the military. For example, suppose the victim was a veterinary professional treating the dog at the time of the attack, or the dog was assisting the police or the military. In that case, the owner might not be liable for bites.
Workers’ Compensation and Dog Bite Injuries
Workers like mail carriers, delivery people, or repair people are frequently in danger of dog bites when performing their job duties. Dogs bite over 5,000 postal service employees each year. We do not usually think of dog bites as work injuries, but they can be; you are eligible for worker’s compensation benefits if a dog bites you while on the job. In addition to a worker’s compensation claim, you may also have a third-party case against the dog owner for negligence. For example, depending on circumstances, negligence may include not using a leash, fencing in the yard, or muzzling the dog.
Injuries from Dog Bites
Dog owners are liable for any dog-related injuries that occur. These may be a dog bite, scratch, injuries from a fall, or damage caused by the weight of the dog’s body. Tragically, dog bites frequently kill infants and young children. Infants and preschoolers often suffer facial injuries from dog bites, and older children sustain injuries to the extremities. If you do not know who owns the dog, you may not know whether it received vaccinations. Dogs attack using their teeth and nails.
Therefore, common injuries resulting from dog bites include:
- Puncture wounds
- Permanent scarring or disfigurement, often in the face
- Head injuries or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
- Emotional distress, including PTSD
Dog bite wounds can also be easily infected. Infection occurs in approximately 10 to 15 percent of dog bite injuries.
Serious infections may include:
- Pasteurella multocida and Pasteurella canis: These bacterial organisms that can live in dogs’ mouths. The bacteria is found in more than fifty percent of dog bite wound infections and cause an infection called cellulitis. Victims often suffer from swollen glands, joint pain, and limited mobility. The infection is dangerous for those with weakened immune systems.
- Capnocytophaga bacteria: This is a common type of bacteria found in pets’ mouths. It does not affect the dog but can spread to humans through bites or saliva. Most people show symptoms anywhere from 1 to 14 days. There are many symptoms, some of which present within hours after the bite and some days later.
- MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus): is a dangerous, antibiotic-resistant type of staph infection. Dogs and other animals may have asymptomatic MRSA, but the infection is life-threatening in humans.
- Rabies: This disease spreads through direct contact with an infected animal’s tissue or saliva. Domestic dogs cause most human rabies cases. This disease is rare but extremely dangerous.
- Tetanus: This disease, which a dog bite can transmit, may result in rigid paralysis.
Damages for Dog Bite Wounds
In states that do not have strict liability dog bite statutes, you may have to prove negligence to receive compensation.
To prove a negligence case, you will need to show:
- The person owned or had control over the dog that bit you.
- The dog bit you when you were in a public place or lawfully visiting private property.
- You suffered harm.
- The dog’s actions injured you.
Common examples of damages in a dog bite case include:
- Current and future medical expenses
- Loss of income or future earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Reduced quality of life
If the victim died due to the attack, family members might be able to file a wrongful death suit.
In that event, damages may include:
- Funeral expenses
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of financial support
- The pain and suffering of the surviving family members
However, many states limit damages to medical damages from the dog bite. Speak with a lawyer in your area to determine which damages you may recover in your case.
Factors That May Lead to A Dog Bite
Many dog owners fail to see early signs of aggression in their dogs. One study published in The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association identified many controllable factors contributing to dog attacks.
The study reported:
- There was no one capable of intervening in nearly 87 percent of all fatal dog attacks.
- The victim had no relationship with the dog in 85 percent of attacks.
- The owners failed to spay or neuter their dogs in almost 85 percent of incidents.
- Due to age or physical condition, the victim could not manage the dog in 77 percent of the cases.
- The owners kept the dogs as resident dogs rather than family pets in 76 percent of the cases. Resident dogs are isolated from regular, positive human interactions.
- The dog owners mismanaged the dog before the attack in about 37 percent of the incidents.
- The dog that attacked a person was abused or neglected by its owner in almost 21 percent of the cases.
Elements That Affect Your Dog Bite Case
Various factors may affect a bite victim’s settlement. One major factor is the nature and extent of the victim’s injuries. The age of the injured person is also important. Typically, a judge or jury awards larger settlements to minor children because children are less likely to be able to defend themselves, dog bites often cause permanent emotional damage, and adults are expected to be more aware than children.
The extent of the owner’s negligence may affect the compensation awarded. For example, someone who has a dog with a history of biting and does not take special precautions to contain the dog may be considered grossly negligent.
Other factors include the actions of the victim leading up to the attack, such as provoking the animal, the victim’s actions after the attack, such as failing to obtain medical treatment, and the amount of insurance available. Homeowners’ insurance may cover damages in some circumstances as part of liability coverage, but some policies exclude dog bite coverage.
What To Do After a Dog Attack
After a dog attack, the top priority is to seek medical attention. Even if the injury seems minor, it may require vaccinations or antibiotics. Remember to keep records of your medical treatment and expenses.
Report the incident to the police or local dog control officer. They may have access to registration and vaccination records that might affect your medical treatment.
Collect any evidence as soon as possible. If the owner of the dog is present, obtain their insurance information. Take pictures of your injuries. Keep contact information for any witnesses to the attack.
Then, contact a personal injury lawyer without delay. Like all personal injury cases, dog bite cases have a statute of limitation, which is the time limit for filing the lawsuit. The law may bar you from filing a lawsuit if you miss the deadline.
Most people do not even think about the possibility of a dog bite until it happens. No one should take a dog bite lightly. Stitches, antibiotics, and rabies shots are expensive. Some health insurance policies do not pay the cost of reconstructive surgery for those who need it. The physical and psychological scars can last a lifetime.
If a dog bit you or someone you love, consult an experienced, compassionate lawyer right away.