Man's best friend is consistently not friendly to the bottom lines of American insurance companies. The insurance industry reportedly pays out over one billion each year in dog bite claims. In 2005, the average insurance claim paid for a dog bite was $21,000.
Even the most fervent dog lover must appreciate the need to promptly and accurately notify animal control and law enforcement after a dog bite. Injuries suffered by victims of dog bites are often serious and permanent, including facial scarring. Additionally, the victims of dog bites are in most cases young children. The appropriate enforcement of a community's animal control laws help protect us, our children and our pets from further harm.
What to Do After a Serious Dog Bite
After a dog bite, and after ensuring your safety, contact animal control and Law enforcement to have the matter investigated. Take pictures. Make contact with witnesses. Clearly identify the owner of the dog. Tactfully request that the dog be taken into custody.
Now is the time to ask the dog owner about vicious or dangerous propensities, past incidents, past complaints, past injuries, and anything the owner did to control or prevent the attack. For your health concerns, obtain the dog's entire history of veterinarians, kennels, previous owners, trainers, and breeders. Also obtain the addresses of all prior locations where the owner and dog have lived. Investigate the property where the dog lived. Look near fence lines for signs the dog raced back and forth. Look for bite marks on the fence. Look inside the house for signs of damage and aggression by the dog. Ask neighbors for their opinions of the dog's behavior. Don't forget to ask the mailman as well.
Pursuing Dog Bite Claims
Consider retaining an attorney to represent you in your claim. Although it may seem obvious that you should recover as a result of your injuries and losses from being bitten by another individual's dog, pursuing a dog bite claim can often be legally complex.
A dog bite claim can be brought under common law, state law, or local ordinance violations. The defenses available to the dog owner will vary depending upon which claim may be legally appropriate to pursue in the circumstances. Although the "one-bite" rule has been discontinued in many jurisdictions, it continues to be the case that liability may only result when an animal can be proven to be "vicious" or "dangerous", and the injury resulted from the animal's "vicious or dangerous" propensities. Furthermore, it may be a requirement that the animal's owner or keeper knew or had reason to know of these propensities but failed to take reasonable care. Although state law or local ordinances may appear to offer "strict liability" in circumstances of a dog bite, the interpretation and enforcement of the laws or ordinances may still allow certain defenses.
Depending upon the location of the dog bite, restrictions may pertain to particular dog breeds, specifications as to dog enclosures and visible warning signs, and the requirement for annual training and registration.
Defenses to a dog bite claim usually involve allegations that the injured victim also had prior knowledge of the potential danger and violent propensities of the dog and that the victim voluntarily accepted the risks. Issues of comparative fault may also be raised, i.e. the victim was trespassing, the victim provoked or incited the dog, or the victim was warned to stay away from the dog prior to the attack.
Even in situations where liability may be proven, recovery for your injuries and losses may still prove to be difficult. Not all dog owners carry the homeowner's insurance or renter's insurance that may provide coverage for the incident. Courts generally do not hold third party property owners, landlords, or management companies liable unless such owners, landlords or management representatives knew or had reason to know of the dog's vicious or dangerous propensities.
And, as in the case of other circumstances resulting in substantial annual payouts and losses for insurance companies, there is a determined effort by our nation's insurance companies to exclude coverage for dog bites. Although methods of excluding coverage vary, some companies are starting the exclusion process by withholding coverage for specific breeds of dogs, including Pitbulls, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Chows, German Shepherds, and Bulldogs.
Losses from dog bites can include medical bills, lost wages, present and future pain and suffering, present and future mental distress, physical injuries, and permanent scarring and disfigurement. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depending on the severity of the dog attack, may be expected. Consequential injuries and damages to your family and your spouse may also occur.
Contact an Experienced Injury Attorney
Individuals who have suffered injuries as a result of a dog bite should consult with a competent injury attorney to assist them in pursuing a legal claim for recovery.
Holder Susan Slusher, LLC handles serious injury and wrongful death cases in St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Columbia, Camdenton, Lake of the Ozarks area and throughout Missouri and mid-Missouri. Contact attorney Michael S. Holder at (573) 710-4716 for a free initial consultation.