Much of the law involving animal attacks and dog bites is surprisingly similar throughout the United States. There are some important but nuanced differences, as well, among the states. But most are like Ohio in holding domestic pet owners fully responsible for injuries caused by their animals.
Victims of an animal attack or dog bite usually have a claim against the owner. Our office has represented many clients with terrible injuries, involving serious bites and even catastrophic mauling. Larger animals, especially certain dog breeds, even cause bone fractures as a result of their crushing jaw power. The extent to which these injuries cause extreme pain and scarring, including disfigurement, cannot be understated. Most victims sustain severe emotional trauma that never fully heals.
Successful representation of animal attack claims
Most animal attack claims are against the homeowner’s insurance policy of the person who controls the vicious animal. And statistics bear out what is seen in our practice, that nearly 80 percent of biting dogs belong to a family member or friend of the dog owner. Moreover, about half of vicious dog bites take place on the dog owner’s property.
Sometimes it can be difficult to specifically identify the owner of the animal. This puts a premium on time – you must quickly find the animal and clarify ownership of it. At the same time, it is vital that all evidence be preserved, especially the names of witnesses. Photographs and video of the scene, and certainly of the fresh injuries, must be recorded. The police report, animal control records and medical records must all be obtained.
As a general rule, plastic surgery is required. For adults it is often one or two years post-trauma before a surgeon can evaluate the scope or projected success of scar revision procedure. Children, because they are developing, often need about ten years before scar revision can be considered. In the meantime, they must go through their most delicate, self-conscious years while disfigured.
The most dangerous dogs
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta has ranked the most dangerous dog breeds in the order of the number of serious maimings caused by them:
- Pit Bull
- German Shepherd
- Alaskan Malamute
- Doberman Pincher
- Chow Chow
- Great Dane
- St. Bernard
These breeds are responsible for a disproportionate number of the dog bite victims each year in the United States. Some insurance companies will not even issue homeowners coverage for families with one of these dogs. They know that the actuarial risk is simply too great.
Although fatal injuries are rare, the states of Texas, Georgia and Tennessee lead in the number of deaths caused by dogs. Various theories have been suggested to explain this.
Children are often the victims
It is particularly sad that many victims of animal attack, especially of dogs, are children. For them, getting bitten by a dog is the 5th most frequent cause of emergency visits. The median age of child dog bite victims is 15 years; boys age 5 to 9 have the highest incidence rate.
Children often have difficulty gauging a dog’s capacity for abrupt violence. Many kids have never been properly trained in how to approach a strange pet. And because children often have their heads closer to the proximity of an animal’s jaws, many of the injuries suffered by children involve their faces. In fact, 77 percent of the time the face is the dog’s target, especially the lips, nose and cheeks.
Many dog bites could have been prevented with better supervision of the animal. Ohio law makes the owners and keepers of dogs strictly liable for any injuries caused by their pets. This means that fault does not even have to be shown – just ownership and control.
We have represented many animal attack victims, for over 30 years, in the Cincinnati and southwestern Ohio area. Most of these claims have involved significant losses:
- Ambulance and hospital expenses
- Medical expenses including specialist physicians
- Orthopedic care
- Extensive debridement, skin grafting and cosmetic procedures
- Plastic surgery revision
- Psychological care and emotional counseling
- Medication expenses
- Lost school days or lost wages
There are nearly 5 million animal attacks on humans, every year, in the United States. This is sad and unnecessary. And many of the owners of these animals never do assume responsibility for the harm they have allowed to take place.
In nearly every case we have handled, there has been significant emotional trauma on the part of the victim – deep and long-lasting upset. This is true irrespective of whether they have been an adult or a child.