Articles Posted in Dog Bites

An article on MSN and a recent commercial from Farmers Insurance have brought to light the fact that over 1/3 of all homeowner insurance claims are related to dog bites. The average payout of this large number of claims is $30,000. This amount is not a surprise since victims of dog bites often suffer serious injuries including scarring. Even more frightening is the fact that a large percentage of dog bite victims are children.

Victims of dog bites are entitled to compensation for their personal injuries including medical bills, lost wages (if applicable) and pain and suffering. Damages for pain and suffering, especially if there is a scar can be substantial. Fortunately, as this article points out, most dog bites are covered by homeowners insurance in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Owners of dogs, especially breeds that are known to be dangerous, are responsible for controlling their pets and are, in most cases, liable for damages when their pet attacks someone.

If you are a pet owner, you should take steps to make sure that you have insurance to cover losses if they should bite someone. No matter how well behaved your family pet may be, animals may make mistakes and bite someone.In fact, a lot of attacks on children occur from the family pet. Do not take the risk of being responsible for huge damages. Make sure that your homeowners or renters insurance will cover your pet. If you own one of the ten breeds in this recent MSN article, you may find that you have to pay slightly more for insurance.

A controversial new law proposed in the Rhode Island senate seeks to protect the public from dog bites and other injuries caused by pit bulls. The law is controversial and unique in that it focuses solely on one breed, pit bulls. Breed specific laws are not common but those that do exist in other states tend to focus on pit bulls much like this law does.

black and white pitbull
My office has gained a reputation for handling dog bite cases so I am following this law with great interest. We have helped dozens of victims of dog bites in the past year alone, settling most cases for tens of thousands of dollars and more.

Dog bite injuries are very serious for a number of reasons:

A comprehensive thirty year examination of dog maulings and fatal dog attacks has shown an exponential increase in attacks. The study focused primarily on pitbulls who are notorious for the frequency and severity of their bites and attacks. The facts and numbers are indisputable.

During the first ten years of the study there was a total of 103 reported pit bull attacks in the United States. Fast forward to 2002 in which there were 86 attacks in that year alone (almost as much as an entire decade in the 80’s). Ten years later, in the our most recent year of 2011 there was a total of 295 attacks, roughly three times as many dog attacks as there were only ten years earlier. Amazingly, 26% of all attacks during this thirty year study occurred in the last two years alone! 41% of all disfigurements caused by pitbull attack occurred in the last four years of the study.

Consistent with other reports on dog bites and maulings, the majority of these attacks occur to children. Approximately 1/3 to 1/2 of all animal attacks, again confirmed in this report, occur to children. In 2011, 102 children were attacked and/or maimed by a pit bull.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has upheld the contentious “One Bite” law that Rhode Island still adheres to regarding dog bites. Although the majority of other States have switched to strict liability regarding dog bites (i.e. the owner always must take responsibility for the actions of his dog) Rhode Island still continues to allow owners one “chance” before they are necessarily responsible to a dog bite victim. Dog bites often cause serious injury and under Rhode Island law, determining fault can be quite difficult so it is important to discuss your case with an experienced dog bite attorney.

In the opinion, Chief Justice Suttell explains the current law well:

If injuries are suffered within an owner’s enclosed area, the strict-liability statute does not apply, but rather the common law continues to apply and dictates that the plaintiff first must prove that the defendant knew about the dog’s vicious propensities, a … requirement commonly known as the ‘one-bite rule’….

Dog bites are very common in the United States. On average, over four million people are bitten by dogs each year. Nearly a million of those people suffered an injury severe enough to require medical attention. Most concerning, however, is that roughly 80% of dog bite victims are children under 10. In fact, dog bites are one of the most common causes for visits to the emergency room by children.

There are a number of reasons why a child is more prone to attack from a dog. Children are at the animals eye level and are seen by the dog as less of a threat than an adult. Also, children, unaware of the danger, are more likely to taunt or tease animals which results in an attack.

A dog bite can have serious and permanent consequences. As dogs are prone to attack the face, it is quite common for a child to suffer facial scarring and/or injury to the eyes. In fact, one study indicated that when very young children (under 4) are attacked by dogs, injury to the eyes occurs in about 15% of cases.

dog bite can range from a minor scratch to a fatal mauling. No matter how serious the severity of the dog bite, any animal attack can be a traumatic experience. The law surrounding dog bites and negligence may be unclear and some may wonder how you can be compensated for an animal attack.

Rhode Island State Law is quite clear on the matter. If a dog bite occurs outside of a pet’s enclosure (i.e. outside the home in a public park or on a sidewalk) then the owner of the pet is strictly liable for any and all injury that the dog causes. Strict liability means that the circumstances as to why the attack occurred are irrelevant – the owner is always responsible!

If the attack occurred inside the home (the pet’s enclosure) then the homeowner is not necessarily liable. This may be a surprise to many people who think that a homeowner is obligated to control his pet at all times. However, if the pet is inside his enclosure and the owner has no reason to believe that the pet is a danger to anyone (i.e. the dog is not a pit bull, akita, or other dangerous breed, and the dog has never attacked anyone in the past) then the owner is not liable for the attack. If, however, the dog is a dangerous breed, or if the dog has bitten a victim in the past, then the homeowner is on notice that the dog is dangerous and is responsible for any injury suffered no matter where it occurs.

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