Many of us share our lives with dogs, who provide such joy and companionship. But we also have to acknowledge the dark side.
Personal injury attorney Craig Swapp sees many of life's dark sides, including those moments our furry loved ones don't show their best behavior. So luckily he answered our questions about how common bites are, and when the owners are at fault.
How common are dog bites?
On average, 4.5 million people are bitten annually in the United States .
• Over half of dog bite victims are children under the age of 12.
• 1 out of 5 bites are serious, requiring medical attention.
• About 1000 people daily have injuries serious enough to require emergency room care.
• Last year, over 30,000 people required reconstructive surgery as a result of dog bites. 14 people were killed from dog attacks.
What are the most common injuries?
Dog bite injuries can range from mild to serious. A dog may nip your finger, or it can cause fatal injuries - depending on the situation. Common injuries that result from dog attacks include puncture wounds, face injuries, eye injuries, and scarring.
More than half of dog bite victims are children, who usually get bit on the face because of being on basically the same level as the dog.
We also see lots of tear wounds from the dog shaking.
Which dog breeds are most likely to attack, statistically?
The pit bull and rottweiler are two of the most notorious breeds for bites.
We're not here to bag on your dogs! You might have the nicest pit bull or doberman ever. We are just saying statistically, these dogs attempt the most dog bites.
Here's the latest Top 10 list of most common biters: 1) Pitt Bull 2) Rottweiler, 3) Presa Canario, 4) German Shepherd, 5) Husky, 6) Alaskan Malamute, 7) Doberman, 8) Chow, 9) Great Dane, 10) Saint Bernard
As a dog owner…is there any instance when you are not liable for your dog biting another person or pet? For example, are you off the hook if you have a "Beware of Dog" sign?
The short answer? No. There are very few instances that the dog owner is not responsible for a bite, without there being some egregious circumstance. This is because Utah has a strict liability law, meaning that, by owning or caring for a dog, you accept full liability - usually through your homeowner's insurance - in the event that the dog attacks.
Some states have the "one bite exception," but not Utah.
Back to the "Beware of Dog" sign; ignoring it and entering a dog's enclosure are common ways that a victim may assume risk.
(Exceptions may include small children who cannot read or poor placement of the sign.)
Can you tell us more about specific dog attack laws in our state?
1) Every person that owns or keeps a dog is liable for damages caused by the dog, whether on or off one`s property (including taking dogs for a walk).
2) The plaintiff is not required to prove that the dog was vicious or mischievous or that the owner or keeper knew of its propensities.
3) The amount of liability is determined by comparative fault. Therefore, any fault on the part of the injured person may reduce the amount of damages awarded.
4) Where any injury has been committed by two or more dogs acting together and such dogs are owned or kept by different persons, all such persons are considered liable.
What about local leash laws?
Specific leash laws are dictated by city or county ordinances. Here is a common local leash law:
Every dog shall be leashed at all times except only when it is inside the residence of its owner, or upon the property of its owner that is enclosed by a fence. A dog will be considered to be leashed only when the leash is six feet or less in length or is a retractable leash, and is being grasped by an adult (provided that if the dog is less than 20 pounds then the leash may be grasped by a person who is competent to handle the dog and is over 12 years of age.)
If you are walking your dog without a leash, and your city or county has a leash law, you can be held responsible for anything bad that happens as a result of your dog being off the leash. If it chased a child who was riding a bicycle, and caused the child to have an accident by falling off the bike or crashing into something, you would be held liable for that.
What about fenced dogs?
A dog shall not be considered enclosed by a fence when and if the dog can pass through, under or over the fence, or the gate of the fence is not securely latched. A dog that can snap or bite a person through a fence shall not be considered enclosed by the fence. An electronic fence shall not be considered to be a fence, and an electronic leash shall not be considered to be a leash.
What if a person provokes a dog?
If the dog was provoked, the owner is generally not liable. Provocation need not be malicious. Accidentally stepping on the dog's tail or attempting to hug a strange dog may be sufficient to prove provocation.
What if someone trespasses on my property without my permission?
In most jurisdictions, trespassing on the part of the victim is a legal defense. However, trespassing laws are not always simple. Unless there are fences and warning signs across the property, an implied invitation for salespeople and others to approach the front door may be assumed. A child entering the fenced back yard generally constitutes trespassing, unless your jurisdiction has attractive nuisance laws. A dog, like a swimming pool, may be considered an attractive nuisance. In that case, the homeowner is responsible for securing the property to prevent injury to children.
What if I am bitten when invited into someone`s home?
A general rule is that a dog owner who could reasonably expect someone to be on the property is probably going to be liable for any injury that person suffers. This rule is particularly important when it comes to children. Even a dog owner who does not explicitly invite a neighborhood child onto the property will probably be held liable if it's reasonable to know the child is likely to wander in—and dogs are a big attraction to children. In other words, there is a legal responsibility either to prevent the child from coming on the property or to keep the dog from injuring the child.
Have other Fido-related questions? Get advice and learn more by visiting craigswapp.com or by calling 800-404-9000.