When you dropped your daughter off at a friend’s house for a birthday party did you even see that large dog in the driveway?

The sounds of her screams still send chills down her back. And even though it has been over a year that scar is still a reminder of that awful day. What rights do you have under dog bite law?

Scope of Danger from Dog Bite

Nearly one in three American households has a dog as a pet, which totals some 53 million dogs.1 And with so many families sharing their homes with dogs, can we always count on dogs being man’s best friend? A review of the facts on dog bites or attacks might surprise you. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year. Nearly a million people who were bitten needed medical care: 466,000 were treated in doctor’s offices or clinics, 334,000 went to the hospital emergency room for their injuries, and 6,000 needed to be admitted to the hospital for even more extensive treatment.1

Who were the most likely to be bitten by a dog? Kids. Children made up nearly half of all victims of dog bites. The most vulnerable ages are (can you guess?) children between the ages of five and nine. Why? Well, when kids are just being kids, running, yelling, jumping, grabbing, pulling, and pushing, at this age they are at eye-level with most dogs.1 These typical behaviors put kids at risk of being attacked and bitten by dogs. But even adults who are calmly jogging, biking, or walking in the neighborhood may find themselves confronted with a dog attack.

Protecting Your Family—Preventing Bites

How can you reduce the risk of your family dog biting someone? The CDC offers some suggestions beginning with your choice of dog—how to match the dog breed to the “personality” of your family. Start by giving your dog proper training to help reduce the risk of aggressive behavior. Statistics show less aggression in dogs that are neutered or spayed, so make an appointment with the vet as soon as you can. You can also reduce opportunities for aggression by limiting aggressive play (like wrestling) and never leaving a dog alone with a baby. And if your dog even once shows signs of aggressive behavior, run—don’t walk!—to your veterinarian for advice on a good trainer.

So what about those dogs in the neighborhood? How do you reduce the risk of attacks from strange dogs? Talk to your kids about what to do if they are confronted by a dog.

  • For starters do not approach an strange dog
  • Stand still like a tree if a dog approaches you
  • Don’t run from or yell at a strange dog
  • Roll yourself into a ball if a dog knocks you down
  • Do not look at a dog in the eye—no direct eye contact
  • Leave alone any dog that is sleeping, eating, or tending to puppies
  • If you want to pet a dog, let it sniff you first

So if, despite your best efforts, your child is bitten by a dog, what do you do?

A Dog Bite—First Medical Treatment

A dog bite is not just frightening for the victim and those who witnessed the attack. It’s a true medical emergency. Most bites result in a puncture of the skin, so they require a doctor’s evaluation and treatment. The first priority is getting the best medical care for your family member. The site of the bite should be examined and cleaned. Stitches may be necessary. It is important to keep all doctor’s appointments and comply with all doctor’s orders.

Document the Injury

Be sure to carefully document the injury from the attack by taking pictures of the bite and the affected area. You should also take several pictures throughout the healing process. If there were any witnesses to the attack, secure their names and contact information.

Report the Attack to the Authorities

Check out your city and local ordinances and dog bite law to determine the reporting requirements to the animal authorities. At the very least, you should contact the local police and make a report of the attack. If your locality has an animal warden the police may involve them. The police can issue a quarantine citation to the dog owner.

Dog Owner

It is important to determine who owns the dog that attacked you or your family member. A homeowner’s insurance policy will often provide compensation for this type of injury, though some policies will exclude some breeds.

Dog Bite Law in Ohio

There are two separate theories of legal recovery against a dog owner for an attack:

  • Strict liability means that you do not have to prove fault (see Ohio Revised Code 955.28(B)). The law requires proof that the defendant was in fact the owner or keeper of the dog; proof that the dog’s behavior was the cause of the injury; and proof of injuries or damages caused by the dog bite, including scarring, disfigurement, past medical treatment, future medical treatment, pain and suffering, and any limitations in movement of the limb or body part.
  • Common law negligence action requires you to prove that the defendant owned or kept the dog, the dog was vicious, the defendant knew of this viciousness, and the defendant kept the dog in a careless or negligent manner after becoming aware of the vicious nature of the animal.

Local ordinances governing dog bite law may also apply, but they often deal with criminal penalties.

Some common defenses against animal bite charges involve proving that the victim trespassed onto the property or teased or tormented the dog.

Bring a Lawsuit

I begin every dog bite law case with a thorough investigation of the facts, interviewing witnesses, going to the scene, and gathering details of the medical treatment. I have handled many dog bites and attacks and would be available to meet with you to discuss your possible case. There is no charge for the initial consultation. A dog attack can be a traumatic event—one you are sure you will never forget—but don’t wait to get started. A good investigation of your claim is best begun as soon as possible to preserve all available evidence.

1. JAVMA, Vol. 218 No. 11, June 1, 2001

Nancy Iler - Ohio Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Lawyer