In my last blog post, I talked about steps dog owners can take toward lessening the risk of dog bites through training, neutering and effective restraint methods.
It’s also important for both dog owners and victims of dog bites to understand the legal standards for pursuing dog-bite complaints in New York state as it relates to establishing responsibility when a dog bite occurs:
- A plaintiff may not recover for injuries sustained in an attack by a dog unless he or she establishes that the dog had vicious propensities and that its owner knew or should have known of such propensities.
- A dog’s vicious propensities may be evidenced by prior vicious behavior such as biting, growling, snapping or baring its teeth, and an inference that the owner is aware of such a propensity may be raised where, for example, the dog is maintained as a guard dog or is restrained by the owner out of a concern that the dog will put others at risk of harm.
- The breed of a dog, alone, does not create a triable issue of fact as to the dog’s propensities, but may be considered together with other factors.
Sadly, there is no guaranteed way to completely prevent a dog from biting. As reported on the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) website:
- 4.7 million people in this country are bitten by dogs every year.
- Children are by far the most common victims.
- 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites each year.
- Children are far more likely to be severely injured; approximately 400,000 receive medical attention every year.
- Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
- Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website further expands on these alarming statistics:
- In 2006, more than 31,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten by dogs.
- Who is most at risk?
- Children: Among children, the rate of dog-bite-related injuries is highest for those ages 5 to 9 years, and children are more likely than adults to receive medical attention for dog bites than adults. Recent research shows that the rate of dog-bite-related injuries among children seems to be decreasing.
- Adult Males: Among adults, males are more likely than females to be bitten.
- People with dogs in their homes: Among children and adults, having a dog in the household is associated with a higher incidence of dog bites. As the number of dogs in the home increases, so does the incidence of dog bites. Adults with two or more dogs in the household are five times more likely to be bitten than those living without dogs at home.
According to a recent ABC News report, the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Interaction of Animals in Society sought to identify which dog breeds were more dangerous than others.
Researchers conducted the study based on a series of criteria including:
- Owner aggression
- Stranger aggression
- Aggression toward other dogs
- Rivalry with other dogs.
According to the study’s scoring, researchers concluded the following breeds were the 15 most dangerous:
- Chow Chow
- Giant Schnauzer
- Jack Russell Terrier
- Llasa Apso
- Bull Mastiff
- Miniature Pinscher
- Old English Sheepdog
- German Shepherd
Since children are the most likely victims of dog bites, the CDC has the following advice for parents and their children:
- Do not approach an unfamiliar dog.
- Do not run from a dog or scream.
- Remain motionless (e.g., “be still like a tree”) when approached by an unfamiliar dog.
- If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and lie still (e.g., “be still like a log”).
- Do not play with a dog unless supervised by an adult.
- Immediately report stray dogs or dogs displaying unusual behavior to an adult.
- Avoid direct eye contact with a dog.
- Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
- Do not pet a dog without allowing it to see and sniff you first.
- If bitten, immediately report the bite to an adult.
Finally, the AVMA recommends these critical steps in the event of a dog bite:
- If the dog’s owner is present, request proof of rabies vaccination, and get the owner’s name and contact information.
- Clean the bite wound with soap and water as soon as possible.
- Consult your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room if it’s after office hours.
- Contact the dog’s veterinarian to check vaccination records.
After experiencing a dog bite, the first priority is to obtain medical attention immediately. Once you have received medical treatment and you feel that the dog’s owner did not properly restrain the dog that bit you, I’m always available to speak to you about what options and recourse you may have.
Bottom line: the health and safety of you and your family is the only priority when threatened or attacked by a dog that bites.