Thousands of people seek medical treatment for dog bite injuries each year. While many dog bites are superficial wounds, they carry a significant risk of infection, and some people are seriously injured or even killed when dogs attack.
Most states in the nation have some form of legislation that has been put in place to prevent dog bite injuries, including leash laws, laws preventing the sale of certain breeds, and even vicious dog laws that require the animal to be kept in an enclosed area or muzzled and impose criminal penalties on the dog’s owner if a dog with a known history of aggressive behavior bites someone. For legal guidance contact our dog bite lawyer.
What Is a Dangerous Dog Law?
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), aggression in dogs is a combination of a lack of appropriate training and socialization of the animal as well as a genetic predisposition to be wary of strangers, predatory of smaller animals, or aggressive toward other animals and a lack of supervision by the dog’s owner.
Dangerous dog laws hold dog owners accountable for failing to supervise their dogs or encouraging aggressive or predatory behavior. However, in more than half of the states in the nation, municipalities and organizations are allowed to create laws targeting specific breeds of dogs, which is something the ASPCA is against, as this type of legislation rarely considers the disposition and training of a particular dog and also fails to place the blame for dog bites on the owner for allowing their dog to be off-leash in public areas or failing to post warning signs letting visitors know to beware of the dog’s potential to be aggressive, as well as encouraging aggressive behavior.
Dangerous dog laws can vary significantly from state to state. For example, in Georgia, if someone has a dog off-leash and off-property that animal control authorities have deemed dangerous, the state can euthanize the dog and charge the owner with a felony with fines of $10,000 and imprisonment of 10 years, according to Michigan State University’s Animal Legal & Historical Center. Research published by the Connecticut General Assembly reveals how several other states define dangerous dogs in their laws, including:
- California: A potentially dangerous or vicious dog is defined as one that has engaged in behavior off the owner’s property at least twice in the preceding 36 months that required someone to take defensive action to avoid being harmed; has bitten someone, causing injury; or has killed a domestic animal on its owner’s property twice in the past 36 months. Owners of potentially dangerous or vicious dogs must register their animal with their city or county, keep the dog indoors or in an enclosed pen that the dog cannot escape and children cannot enter, and keep the dog leashed and under control when it is off the property. If a potentially dangerous or vicious dog attacks someone, the state can euthanize it or impose conditions on the owner to protect others.
- Florida: A dangerous dog is one that has bitten, attacked, or endangered a person on public or private property; has severely injured or killed a domestic animal while off its owner’s property; was used or trained for dog fighting; or has chased or aggressively approached someone on public property. In Florida, the local animal control authority must investigate all reports of incidents involving dangerous dogs, and must impound or securely contain the dog during this investigation. It cannot be sold or given away during the investigation. A hearing is held within seven days, and a determination is made based on the result of the investigation as to whether to classify the dog as dangerous. If the dog is dangerous, it will be required to be vaccinated and spayed or neutered if needed, and can also be tattooed for identification purposes. The dog’s owner may exercise them only in enclosed areas and must muzzle and leash them when off the property. If the dog attacks someone, the owner can face fines and even imprisonment.
- Illinois: This state places a distinction between dangerous dogs that approach someone in an aggressive manner, and the owner can be ticketed for a public nuisance if they allow the dog off the property, and vicious dogs. A vicious dog is defined as a dog that has been found to be dangerous on at least three occasions; attacks or bites a person or another animal without provocation; or has a history of viciousness, dangerousness, and unprovoked behavior. Owners of vicious dogs must keep the animal in an enclosed area with a fence at least six feet high. A local animal control agency can impound a vicious dog found outside of its enclosed area and will not return it unless the local or state animal control agency has approved its enclosure.
Are Breed Restrictions Considered Dangerous Dog Laws?
While 22 states prevent local ordinances that specifically name certain breeds in their dangerous dog laws, others allow these breed restrictions. For example, according to the publication Wag!, Miami, Florida, prohibits buying, keeping, or bringing pit bulls into the city. In San Francisco, dog owners can only have spayed or neutered pit bulls, and the owner must obtain a permit from animal control. The New York City Housing Authority bans pit bulls, Dobermans, and Rottweilers on all of its properties. Prince George’s County, Maryland, bans all bully breeds.
What Actions Can a Dangerous Dog’s Owner Take to Avoid Dog Bites?
The ASPCA supports dangerous dog laws that require the dog’s owner to protect others, including:
- Requiring a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist to evaluate vicious dogs and completion of training that behaviorist recommends.
- Spaying or neutering the animal, as most dog attacks involve an animal reproductively intact.
- Secure and human confinement that allows the animal adequate protection from the elements and space to exercise without allowing them unsupervised contact with the public.
- Restraint on a leash and direct supervision by someone over the age of 18 when the dog is in public.
- Muzzling prevents the dog from biting people but does not interfere with the animal’s vision or ability to breathe.
- Microchipping so that the owner of a dog that has bitten someone in a public area can be quickly identified.
If a person suffers serious injuries due to a dog bite, getting medical care is the first step to ensuring their safety and health. According to American Family Physician, up to 20 percent of all dog bites become infected, with crush injuries, puncture wounds, and injuries to the hands being more likely to become infected than scratches and tears to the skin.
While dogs carry several dangerous types of bacteria in their saliva, one of the most important considerations when treating dog bite injuries is whether the dog could be infected with rabies.
Beyond the risk of infection, dog bites result in many other injuries that are significant enough to require medical treatment, including lacerations that can result in scarring, broken bones, and even damage to the eyes or throat that make it difficult for the injured person to see or breathe.
Determining the Identity and Vaccine Status of the Dog
In most states, if a person is bitten by a dog, the bite will be reported to the local animal enforcement agency. This agency will investigate the incident and also attempt to locate the dog and the dog’s owner.
If the dog was not vaccinated against rabies, the agency can impound it to monitor their health for up to 10 days after the incident, and the victim of the attack will be required to undergo rabies treatment to avoid contracting this deadly infection. Depending on the dog bite laws in the state where the attack occurred, the dog’s owner can face criminal consequences for allowing the attack to occur.
Potential Consequences Faced by the Dog’s Owner
In addition to potentially being charged with a crime and fined or imprisoned due to a dog attack, the dog’s owner can also face civil consequences for failing to protect others.
Some states follow strict liability rules concerning dog bites. This makes the dog’s owner liable for compensating the injured party for the expenses and impacts of their injury, even if the owner did not know the dog’s potential to be aggressive.
In strict liability cases, the injured party does not have to show the owner’s negligence; they simply have to prove that the at-fault party was the dog’s owner that caused their injury.
Other states, however, follow a one-bite rule. This means that a victim can only hold an owner civilly liable for injuries incurred by a dog they had reason to know was vicious — essentially allowing the dog to bite someone once before the owner must compensate victims for the costs and impacts of their injuries.
Filing a Dog Bite Claim to Receive Compensation
If someone has been injured by another person’s dog, whether on public or private property, speaking with an experienced dog bite injury lawyer is a crucial part of seeking compensation through a dog bite claim.
Homeowner’s policies held by the owner typically covers dog bites. However, it is important to note that many policies exclude coverage of certain breeds or can exclude coverage of injuries sustained as a result of dogs that have already been determined to be vicious.
A skilled attorney can listen to the details of the case and help the victim to understand if they are eligible to file a claim to seek compensation for expenses such as medical bills, lost wages, permanent loss of earning capacity, or property damage related to the attack (such as torn clothing or a broken phone).
Additionally, if eligible, the claimant can also seek compensation for the psychological impacts they incurred due to the attack, such as physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, inconvenience, and more.
If the attorney and the injured party decide to work together on the claim, the attorney will obtain information about the liable dog owner’s insurance to determine how much coverage is available to compensate the claim. They will value the claim based on the expenses and impacts incurred by the claimant.
When you file a claim, the insurance company that services the dog’s owner’s policy will assign a claims adjuster to determine:
- If the at-fault party’s insurance policy provides coverage for dog bite injuries.
- If the insured was liable for the attack.
- How much compensation is owed to the claimant due to the insured’s liability?
The insurer can accept, deny, or offer to settle the claim. If they do not compensate the claim, it can be filed as a personal injury lawsuit within the statute of limitations for this type of claim in the state where the dog bite occurred.
Because dog bite lawyers work on a contingent fee basis, the bite victim does not have to pay for the attorney’s services until/unless their claim is compensated.
Contact a Dog Bite Lawyer in the Event of an Injury
If you struggle with health or finances after a dog bite, contact an experienced personal injury attorney in Augusta as soon as possible. A lawyer can help take the burden off your plate while protecting your rights during the challenging claims process.