In March of this year, we wrote about the dangers associated with dog bites but since then we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of inquiries from potential clients relating to dog bite cases. This fact is concerning to us, so we thought another primer on the issue was warranted given the sheer number of bite cases we are seeing.
Dogs are commonly referred to as man’s best friend, and for good reason. The ancient relationship began with wolves hunting and living side by side with our primitive ancestors and continues to this day with modern-day dogs being cherished members of millions of families worldwide.
With approximately 80 Million dogs residing in the United States, dogs are among the most commonly owned pet species. Although most dogs never seriously bite or physically harm anybody, some dogs are not socialized properly and pose a risk of biting or injuring people. Every year roughly 4.7 million dog bites occur in the US, resulting in 800,000 bites which require medical attention.
Most of us have little fear of dogs, and in turn, rarely think of the consequences of dog bites even though these injuries can be very serious. Dog bites/attacks can and often do result in serious injury and even death. Despite the common view that our dogs are gentle and loving pets, we cannot forget that they are descendants of powerful and aggressive predators and still hold the vast majority of their ancestors’ genes.
Luckily there are many precautions both dog owners and the public can take to avoid dog bites. It is also important to understand your local laws determining when one is liable for injury caused by a dog.
Who Is Responsible When A Dog Bites?
When an individual is bit or injured in some way by a dog, that individual may sue the owner or keeper (a person responsible for the dog but not necessarily its legal owner) for compensation.
Half of all states have what is called “strict liability statutes”, which means that the owner of the dog is automatically liable for any injuries it may cause. Massachusetts is a strict liability state. In these states, the victim does not need to prove negligence outside of the exceptions outlined by the statutes. The exceptions vary state by state but often include when an individual is trespassing when the dog is provoked, and when the dog is a police or military dog on duty. Some states also exclusively apply strict liability to bite injuries.
Basically, what this means is that in these states, if you are walking your dog and it bites another person, or if it bites a guest at your home, you are automatically liable for any damages period. An owner may also be liable if their dog causes an injury indirectly or unintentionally, for example, if a dog caused a bike crash or caused someone to fall. Liability for the dog owner also applies if another animal or dog is bitten/injured.
If you are traveling and are bit in a state without strict liability statutes, or in cases when strict liability statutes do not apply, for the victim to prove negligence of the dog owner they must show that the owner failed to meet their reasonable duty to control the behavior of their dog. They also must show that the failure of duty directly caused the injury.
Many elements are considered when analyzing whether the owner acted reasonably in fulfilling that duty, among them being the history of the dog and the owner’s knowledge of what danger it may pose to others. In many cases, victims turn to a common law principle commonly referred to as the “One Bite Rule”.
This principle states that owners are to be held responsible for any injuries only if they had known that their dog was dangerous beforehand. For example, if the owner had known that their dog is territorial, aggressive, or had bitten before and had not taken the proper precautions to avoid injury, they very well may be liable.
Other factors that come into play is giving reasonable warning to the public such as a “No trespassing” or “Beware of Dog” sign within sight. Courts may also find the owner took reasonable precautions if their dog is confined onto one’s property by chain link fence or by being leashed.
Types of Compensation
If victims of a dog bite/injury can prove either strict liability or some level of negligence on the part of the dog owner, they may be awarded a range of compensation depending on the nature and extent of their injuries.
The most obvious compensation that a victim is eligible for following a dog bite/injury is for their medical expenses. The victim may also receive compensation for any physical or emotional suffering they endured because of their injuries as well as any loss in their earning capacity. One area of damages we see often in dog bite cases is permanent scarring. When a dog bites a person there is almost always scarring that results. We have represented many clients where the predominant injuries are severe puncture wounds that have left noticeable and permanent scarring. These types of injuries often result in significant recoveries because of their lifelong impact on the client.
An experienced dog bite attorney can help present a victim’s damages in the most compelling manner possible which is crucial in obtaining a full and fair result. With offices in Chelsea and Salem, MA, Spada Law Group provides Boston quality legal representation without the commute into the city with free on-premises or validated parking. We are here to answer any questions you may have. Call Spada Law Group today at 617-889-5000 to discuss your situation. The consultation is free and there is absolutely no obligation to hire us. We are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm.