Dog Bite Facts
Most dogs are friendly and good-natured. They love to be around people and please them. When a dog bites or attacks someone, there may be a good reason for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that the victim may suffer serious harm.
For anyone who has never encountered a vicious dog or been a victim of or witnessed a dog attack, it can be hard to believe. But the facts show that dog bites happen all the time and that they cause significant medical issues:
- Nearly five million people suffer dog bites per year in the U.S.
- In 2018, 36 fatalities resulted from dog attacks
- Approximately 1% of all emergency room visits in the U.S. are related to injuries involving dog bites.
- Dog bites cost more than $50 million per year.
- In 2015, over 28,000 dog bite victims received reconstructive plastic surgery.
- Children are the most common victims of dog bites.
- The breed of dog is not usually a factor in bites. In most cases, the breed is unknown.
What Causes Dog Bites?
Studies show that most dog bites come from non-family dogs. More than 70% of bites involve dogs that are present on a property but not part of the household. This means that a significant cause of bites is the lack of socialization of dogs with people. They do not know how to behave or react appropriately. Several other factors and situations explain dog bites:
- Stressful situations for the dog, such as a child being too rough or teasing the dog
- When the dog feels threatened or afraid
- Protection of owners or puppies
- When a dog is sick and doesn’t feel well
- Play bites that turn rough because the dog is out of control
- When a male dog is not neutered, causing more aggression
How to Prevent Dog Bites
In many cases, dog bites could and should have been prevented. Responsible dog ownership is the most critical factor in keeping people safe from dog bites. Responsible ownership means socializing dogs early and often with people and other dogs, teaching them basic obedience, keeping dogs leashed or fenced, spaying and neutering dogs, and providing them with appropriate outlets, such as exercise and toys.
Even family dogs can bite, so these responsible measures protect the family as well as other people. Victims of a bite from someone else’s dog have no control over how the dog is raised or cared for. Anyone can take steps to reduce the risk of suffering a bite or attack:
- Avoid contact with dogs you don’t know.
- Ask permission before interacting with someone’s dog.
- Avoid interrupting a dog eating or playing with a toy if you don’t know them.
- Never allow children around dogs without supervision, even the family dog for small children and babies.
- If approached by a strange dog, avoid eye contact, and remain calm and still. Slowly move away.
- Let dogs sniff and get comfortable before petting.
- If you do pet a new dog, do so under the chin or lower neck. Petting on top of the head may seem like a threat.
Medical Treatment for Dog Bites
If a dog has bitten you or someone with you, get medical attention as soon as possible. Even a small bite can spread disease or cause an infection. In emergencies, call 911 or go to an emergency room.
Until you can get medical care, practice basic first aid. Wash the wound with soap and water for several minutes. Use a clean cloth and pressure to slow or stop bleeding. Use an antibiotic cream and wrap the wound with a sterile bandage.
Once you see your doctor, you can get additional care. You may need a tetanus shot or a course of antibiotics. Some bites require stitches. Most dog bites are minor, and the typical potential complication is infection. More serious bites or attacks could lead to significant injury or illness:
- Deep tissue wounds with muscle damage
- Nerve damage
- Broken bones
- Severe, difficult-to-treat infections
- Disfigurement and scarring
Who is Liable for a Dog Bite?
The owner is the person responsible for the dog, although in some cases, a handler, such as a dog walker, may behave negligently and have some liability. In most cases, the liability goes back to the dog owner. Some states have laws of strict liability for dog bites. This means that the owner is automatically liable for a victim’s damages, regardless of negligence.
Negligence in a dog bite may include factors such as knowing a dog is capable of biting or failing to keep a dog under control or on a leash. States with a one-bite rule find owners liable only if they knew or should have known their dog was dangerous. It’s important to consult with a lawyer to determine your state’s laws and to determine if you have a valid claim against the dog owner.
A bite is not the only behavior that indicates an owner should know their dog is dangerous. Barking at strangers, behaving in a threatening way, fighting with other dogs, previous complaints, chasing people, and other behaviors can count as the “one-bite,” the requisite knowledge that their dog could bite someone.
What to Do After a Dog Bite
Your medical care is the most important consideration after a dog bite. After you have received care, or if your injury is not an emergency, take these other steps so you can resolve the situation:
- Get Information from the Owner
If possible, talk to the owner of the dog at the scene to get information. For your health and treatment, find out if the dog is current on vaccinations and if it has any known diseases. Get the owner’s name and contact information.
- Talk to Witnesses
Talk to anyone who witnessed the incident. They could provide valuable evidence if you decide to take legal action against the owner. Take notes on what they saw happen and gather contact information.
- Document Evidence
Take your own notes on the incident while it’s still fresh in your mind. Document your injuries by taking pictures and keeping medical records and bills. File a report with local animal control. That report can also serve as evidence.
- Contact a Dog Bite Lawyer
It’s possible to take legal action to recover damages without a lawyer, but you have a better chance with an experienced lawyer. Find a firm or an attorney specializing in personal injury and dog bites.
A dog bite can be a scary situation. It can also cause harm, injury, and lasting health problems, not to mention high medical bills. Know your rights and your legal options, and talk to a personal injury, dog bite lawyer if this happens to you.