A Dog Bit Me. Can I Sue the Owner?

Personal Injury Lawyer Brookhaven, GA

Dogs are man’s best friend — until they bite. While most dogs are gentle and happy to make new friends, dog bites are far from rare. According to the data most recently published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 4.7 million dog bites occur each year. The CDC reports that nearly 1 in 5 dog bites require medical care.

The most recent statistical analysis conducted by the CDC found that in just one year, more than 368,000 people were treated in Emergency Rooms for dog bite injuries. A larger number were treated in clinics or doctor’s offices.

The dog bite injury rate was highest for children between the ages of 5 and 9. Children tend to be more trusting and less cautious than adults, making them more vulnerable to dog bites. Children are at greater risk of being bitten in the face than adults, simply because children are smaller and more likely to have a face-to-face encounter with a biting dog.

Dog Bite Injuries

In all ages combined, the most common areas of the body bitten by dogs are:

  • arm/hand (45.3%)
  • leg/foot (25.8%)
  • head/neck (22.8%)

Adults are much more likely to be bitten in the arm or leg, while almost 65% of children under the age of 4 are treated for dog bites to the head or face.

Dog bites are traumatizing, particularly when a young child is bitten in the face or ears. Scarring from dog bites may require cosmetic surgery. Reconstructive surgery may be necessary over a period of years as a child grows.

Dog bites typically inflict puncture wounds, although bites can also lacerate the skin, particularly when a dog shakes its head after biting, causing skin to be torn away. Even when injuries are confined to puncture wounds, however, deep dog bites carry the risk of infection.

While rabies is no longer a typical outcome of dog bites, the bacteria in a dog’s mouth can easily be transferred into a bite victim’s body through puncture wounds.  Common infections include:

  • Clostridium tetani bacteria can cause tetanus. Symptoms of tetanus include muscle spasms, stiff neck muscles, difficulty swallowing, and lockjaw.
  • Pasteurella bacteria can cause swelling, reddening, and intense pain in the location of the bite. Bite victims with weakened immune systems are at risk of developing serious diseases after being infected with pasteurella.
  • MRSA bacteria cause Staph infections that are resistant to antibiotics and difficult to treat. MRSA bacteria can cause lung, skin, urinary tract, and bloodstream infections.

Infections may require prolonged treatment. In severe cases, dog bite infections may require hospitalization. Infections also increase the likelihood of permanent scarring.

Other injuries that may result from dog bites include hematoma, broken bones, and crush injuries. Some dog bites result in the amputation of fingers, ears, or other body parts.

Responsibility for Dog Bites

Different states have adopted different approaches to liability for dog bites. The ancient rule that “every dog is entitled to one bite” has been substantially modified in most states. The rule was premised on the notion that dog owners had no reason to know that their dog was dangerous until the dog bit someone. Owners in states that still follow the rule are liable for a dog’s second bite, but not necessarily for the first one.

The “one bite” rule may prevent dog bite victims from recovering compensation for their injuries unless they can prove that a dog was known to have vicious tendencies. Since dog owners typically conceal that evidence, the rule can prevent deserving victims from recovering compensation for their injuries.

Many state legislatures have passed laws requiring dog owners to be responsible for their dog’s behavior. States that have adopted some form of “strict liability” hold dog owners responsible for failing to control a dog that bites someone, even if it is the dog’s first bite.

Details of strict liability laws vary. Sometimes an exception is made when the victim provokes the dog. Sometimes trespassers bitten on the dog owner’s property are not covered.

States (like Georgia) that do not impose strict liability on dog owners allow victims to recover compensation when a dog owner is negligent. While evidence that a dog bit someone in the past will establish the dog owner’s negligence if the owner fails to prevent a second bite, evidence of other aggressive behavior (such as snarling or lunging) may also demonstrate a dog owner’s awareness that the dog is dangerous.

In addition, dog owners can be negligent by allowing a dog to roam beyond the owner’s property without being under the owner’s control. Even in states that apply a negligence standard, a careful investigation of the facts will often make it possible for bite victims to recover compensation. All this and more is information you can get from an experienced personal injury lawyer Brookhaven, GA residents rely on at Butler Law Firm.