The most recent USA survey of dog bites conducted by the CDC researchers concluded that in 2001, 2002 and 2003 there were 4.5 million American dog bite victims per year, and the number of dog bites requiring medical attention has increased 15 times faster than the increase in dog ownership: there are more than 850,000 dog bites requiring medical attention annualy in the U.S. n 2006, more than 31,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten by dogs.
In a twelve-month period from 1995 to 1996 at least 25 people in the U.S. died from dog attacks, 20 of whom were children. The annual average was 17 in the 1980s and 1990s; in the past 6 years it has risen to 31. Letter carriers suffer about 3,000 bites annually as they deliver the mail. These alarming conclusions show that this is a problem that is getting worse, not better. Children are most often the victims of serious dog attacks for several reasons. They are boisterous, loud and make unpredictable movements that can scare dogs. And what a child might see as an expression of love - a simple hug- can be an explicit threat to the animal.
Victims of dog bites can usually recover full compensation from the dog owner's homeowners or renters insurance policy: legal grounds for liability vary depending on state statutes, county and city ordinances and court decisions. In some cases people other than a dog owner can be held liable, such as a landlord who failed to rid his property of a known dangerous dog.
Every dog owner can be held liable if they knew before the incident, that the dog had a tendency to bite people without justification. This is difficult legal ground for the victim, because they must prove that the dog previously bit a person or acted like it wanted to bite a person, and that the owner knew of the dog's propensity to bite. This rule also covers injuries other than bites, and injuries inflicted by other domestic animals such as cats. Additionally, it is the basis for holding third parties such as landlords liable for dog bites. Texas adheres to the so-called "one bite rule", (Marshall v. Ranne, 511 SW 2d 255). This holds that a victim can recover compensation from the owner or keeper of a dog if :
(a) the dog previously bit a person or acted like it wanted to, and
(b) the defendant was aware of the dog's previous conduct.
If either of those conditions are not met, the victim cannot employ this doctrine as a ground for recovery.
Texas also permits a dog bite victim to recover compensation on the ground of negligence, or "the lack of ordinary care"; the absence of the kind of care a reasonably prudent and careful person would exercise in similar circumstances. For example, letting a stray dog into a day care center is negligence. To recover on a negligent handling claim, a plaintiff must prove:
- the defendant owned or possessed an animal;
- the defendant owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the animal from injuring others;
- the defendant breached that duty; and
- the defendant's breach proximately caused plaintiff's injury."
Additionally, the violation of an animal control law can result in liability on the part of the violator whether or not they own the dog. Counties and cities often have laws requiring dogs to be on leash, prohibiting them from being "at large" or from trespassing.
Texas does permit a dog owner to mount a defense based on the comparative negligence of the dog bite victim: the damages awarded by the jury are reduced by the degree of the plaintiff's negligence. Therefore if the victim's own conduct was 10% responsible for the incident, for example, the victim's compensation will be reduced by 10%.
The most important aspect of prosecuting a dog attack case is to secure evidence as quickly as possible. The best evidence that we seek to obtain immediately is the identity of the dog and its owner, photographs of the dog, identity of witnesses, witness statements, and photographs of the injuries and location of the attack.
- Make a report to the animal control authority; don't assume that a hospital report will trigger an investigation.
- Record the names of the dog owner or handler and all witnesses.
- Take photographs of the wounds before and after treatment.
- Get medical attention immediately. This is not only to document the cause and nature of the injuries, but to prevent infections that could lead to serious consequences.
- If the bite is to the face or requires hospitalization, retain a lawyer who has experience with dog bite cases.