There is a classic scene in one of the Pink Panther movies with Inspector Clouseau where he enters a shop and sees a little dog. He asks the shop owner if his dog bites. The shop owner says “no.” Inspector Clouseau promptly bends over to give the little dog a pat and, voila, the dog bites him. Inspector Clouseau looks angrily at the shop owner and exclaims, “I thought you said your dog doesn’t bite!” The shop owner says, “My dog does not bite!” As the shop owner points to the little dog in the shop he says, “That is not my dog.”
It doesn’t take an inspector to know that as long as there are dogs, there will inevitably be dog bites. This article is all about dog bites and what to do if you are involved in a dog bite incident.
There are approximately 75 million dogs in the United States. Dogs bite about 4.5 million people every year, and approximately 800,000 of them receive medical treatment for their injuries. Approximately 368,000 people end up in the ER each year due to dog bites (that’s 1,088 a day!). Dog bite hospitalizations have gone up approximately 86% since 1993. Getting bitten by a dog is the fifth most common reason a child has to visit the ER each year. 50% of all dog attacks are against children 12 years old or younger. If you’re a postal worker, consider yourself warned, as the old cliché is correct: 2,851 postal workers are bitten by dogs each year, per the U.S. Postal Service. The average cost of treatment for dog bites is $18,120.00, per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Still, only 1/3 of 1% (3 or 4 people out of a 1,000) receive compensation for their dog bite injuries.
Okay, now that you are sufficiently scared by the above statistics, please note that most dogs do not bite, and live up to their billing as man’s best friend. Still there are things you can do to protect yourself legally if you own a dog, or that you can do if you are bitten by a dog.
What to do if you or someone you know is bitten
First, if you or someone you know is bitten by a dog, you should seek immediate medical treatment. Second, the police should be called. It is essential to notify the police so they can make a public record of the bite. Too often, dangerous dogs that have attacked multiple people go unreported until they seriously injure someone. Also, the police will do a lot of the investigative and follow-up work such as identifying the owner of the dog and finding out if the owner of the dog has homeowner’s insurance. They will also disclose whether the dog has previously attacked. Third, contact an attorney as soon as possible after the bite, to conduct further investigation and initiate a claim with the owner’s insurance (if they have it).
Once a claim is opened, your attorney will investigate the claim, collect your medical records, and provide the insurance adjuster with information regarding the dog attack. In some jurisdictions, if a dog has previously attacked someone or another animal, you may be eligible for double the amount of your damages. Recoverable damages include medical bills, pain and suffering, scarring or disfigurement, wage loss, and/or psychological trauma (which is very common for young victims). Your attorney will negotiate with the insurance company and then inform you of whether the insurance company is making you a fair offer. If the attorney deems the offer to be unfair, he or she may recommend you file a lawsuit to obtain fair compensation for your injuries.
What to expect if your dog bites someone
Obviously the last thing you want Fido to do is to bite someone, but if it happens, here is a list of what could happen to your dog and you. First, depending on the jurisdiction, your dog could be quarantined. You also may be ordered to show documentation that your dog has received all of its shots so make sure you have verification from the vet (or the vet’s number handy) if the situation arises. In some jurisdictions, if your dog has bit multiple times and has been deemed dangerous, the dog could be put down.
If your dog has caused an injury, there will likely be a claim placed with your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance company. If you don’t have homeowner’s insurance or renter’s insurance, please make sure you get covered right away. Most jurisdictions use a strict liability legal standard or something close to it which means you will be liable for your dog if it bites someone. If you are without coverage, an injured party could take you to court, get a judgment, and then attempt to garnish your wages or your bank accounts. It’s best to let the insurance company pay. After a dog bite claim, your insurance company may drop you, or they may insist that you get rid of your dog. All of the above are incentives to try to prevent a dog bite in the first place.
How to prevent dog attacks
We will never be able to completely eradicate dog attacks, but there are things you can do to help avoid them. First, educate yourself and your children about behavior around dogs. Make sure they know that despite their cuddly appearances, they can be sometimes dangerous. The American Humane Society states that studies have shown education to be the number one prevention tool to avoid dog attacks.
If you are a dog owner, never chain your dog. Dogs that are chained are 2.8 times more likely to bite. Chaining a dog creates anxiety, makes them more protective and makes them feel more vulnerable. For other tips on how to reduce dog bites, go to the American Humane Society’s website at:
If you or someone you know has been bitten by a dog, please contact WFJ immediately. Our expertise and world class service will ensure that your legal rights are protected.
Attorney Michael C. Demo