Dog Bites & Injuries On Monday, March 9, 2020
by Attorneys Charles P. Reed and James E. Ringold of Loughlin FitzGerald, P.C.
The summer is a great time for dog-owners and dog-lovers alike, with great weather to bring a dog out on the town. You should, of course, be careful when interacting with dogs, particularly unfamiliar dogs. However, no matter how you act or how sweet the dog may be, there is always a danger that the dog may hurt someone. They might bite you, scratch you, knock you down, or harm you some other way. If a dog does wind up hurting you or a family member, there are a few simple—but important—things to keep in mind, which can help put yourself in the best position possible for the days, weeks, and months afterwards.
Immediately afterwards, have the owner or whoever was handling the dog secure the dog, so he or she does not cause any further harm. If this person is not immediately apparent, try to get to a place of safety—such as inside your car—to avoid further harm. You should also call 911 as soon as possible, both so they can get you medical help and so they can contact the appropriate authorities, such as Animal Control, to document what happened.
Also, while bites might be your first thought for an animal attack, bites are not the only way a dog can hurt you. They can scratch you; they can knock you down; or you might fall while running away from a dog, without it even touching you. No matter how you are hurt, you should take these steps to ensure you get the help you need and deserve.
Once you are out of immediate danger, you should collect as much information as you can. Whether you write things down with a pen and paper or take notes in your phone, this information can be invaluable down the road. Write down a description of the dog; get its name if you can; and get the name of whoever was handling the dog, along with the name of the dog’s owner if they are not the owner. Take note of where you are and, if the dog emerged from a property—such as if it ran out from a back yard—write down the address of the residence or business where it came from. This information can be critical to filing a claim and determining who is at fault.
Your phone can also be a big help with another step: photograph everything. Your injuries, the dog, anyone else involved, the area where the attack happened, etc. You can always describe what happened to you after the fact, but there is often nothing better than a photograph to demonstrate the severity of your injuries.
When the authorities arrive, tell them what happened. If any part of your body is hurting, be sure to tell them that too. They should document your complaints in their report, and a record of your problems immediately after the accident can be a big help in removing any doubt that the attack caused your injuries.
Ask for medical help and take it if the authorities offer it. Even if you think you are ok in the moment, you may still have adrenaline from the attack masking your pain. Animal attacks can also come with hidden dangers that you, as a layperson, cannot easily evaluate in the moment. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that 10-15% of dog bites result in an infection. You should absolutely have a doctor check you for this possible infection, so that you can begin treatment as soon as possible.
There is also nothing unusual or embarrassing about getting treated, many people unfortunately go through the same thing every day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that just under 350,000 people suffered non-fatal injuries from unintentional dog bites in 2017, constituting the 14th leading cause of non-fatal injuries in the United States that year. That’s nearly a thousand non-fatal injuries just from dog bites every day, to say nothing of scratches, knock-downs, etc.
Keep track of the name(s) of any facility that treats you. If the doctors write you a prescription, fill it, take it as prescribed, and keep track of that too. If they recommend follow-up care or refer you elsewhere, go there (and document it) as well. Your biggest job after an injury is to get better. If a doctor prescribes you antibiotics, be sure to take the entire course of medicine as described, don’t stop part-way through. Taking all of the antibiotic, as directed, helps prevent the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
How the Law Works
If you were attacked while on the job—such as making a delivery or working at someone’s home— Worker’s Compensation should pay your medical bills. In that event, notify your employer immediately of the accident.
However, whether or not you were on the job, you should contact a local, experienced personal injury attorney to ensure you are fairly compensated for your injuries. Connecticut law is clear: if you are injured by a dog, you are owed compensation. Often called the “dog-bite statute”, our law imposes clear liability (with very few exceptions) on the owner or “keeper” of a dog for any harm that the dog causes. The legal term for this is “strict liability”. The point of this law is clear: if someone chooses to have a dog, they are responsible for its actions.
We all know what an “owner” is, but whether someone counts as a dog’s “keeper” in your particular situation is a technical legal question that an experienced lawyer can answer for you in detail. However, as a general matter, a keeper is someone who was controlling or possessing a dog in a manner similar to that of an owner. The law looks to various factors—such as who was responsible for feeding the dog at the time of the attack, giving it water, or keeping it in their home—to answer this question. So, if Karen is dog-sitting for Owen for a week—keeping his dog at her apartment while feeding, watering, and walking the dog—and the dog attacks someone? Either Karen (as keeper) or Owen (as owner) might be held responsible. This is why it is important to get as much information on the people around the dog at the time of your attack, so that down the line your lawyer can identify who is legally responsible.
Some states have laws that include a so-called “one free bite” rule, which can make harder to bring this type of claim in those states. That rule says that an owner can only be liable if they knew the dog had a “dangerous propensity”. That type of rule can potentially bar a lawsuit over a dog’s first attack. However, do not let these other states’ laws confuse you: Connecticut’s dog-bite statute does not include this “one free bite” rule. In Connecticut, a dog owner is responsible for that dog’s actions, no matter how sweet or docile it may have been in the past.
Statistics show that children are at a particularly high risk: the American Academy of Pediatrics found that as many as 1 out of every 100 pediatric ER visit in the summer is due to an animal bite. If a dog harms a child, their parent can bring suit for them, on their behalf.
Most claims for dog attacks are brought under the dog-bite statute, but it is not necessarily the only avenue available to you. For example, we just talked about how Connecticut holds dog owners and keepers responsible even if they did not know their dog had vicious tendencies. However, Connecticut law also allows you to make a separate, more serious claim for a more limited range of dog attacks: where an owner did know that their dog is dangerous, but did not warn you or control their dog. This is far less common and far harder to prove, but the law may impose further damages as punishment for such a badly behaving owner. Also, even if they are not the owner or keeper of the dog, a property owner (like a landlord) may be responsible for a dog attack if (i) they know a vicious dog is kept on property they control and (ii) that dog hurts someone while they are on that property. This is also a less common scenario, but such a claim may help a skilled lawyer to hold someone responsible who has the resources and insurance.
Insurance is generally your best chance to be made whole from the attack. Most commonly, the homeowner’s or renter’s insurance for the dog’s owner or keeper will end up compensating you for your injuries. Alternatively, a business’ or a landlord’s insurance might end up footing the bulk of the bill. Overall, an experienced personal injury attorney can help make sure that you find each and every insurance policy that ought to be held responsible.
Hire a Skilled, Local, Personal Injury Attorney to Help You With Your Claim
Once you have recovered from the initial shock of the attack, we strongly suggest that you contact a local personal injury attorney to represent you. A qualified attorney can protect your interests, handle the insurance adjusters, answer your questions, and help you get the full compensation you deserve for your injuries. Other than talking to police or your doctors, you never want to give a statement without first retaining an attorney.
Personal injury attorneys like us work on what’s called a “contingency” basis, meaning we are paid a percentage of whatever you receive if and when you win your case, plus any costs we advanced while prosecuting your case. This means you owe nothing up front or along the way. A local attorney is particularly helpful, making appointments and meetings quicker and easier.
If you or your family is unfortunately the victim of such an attack, we know there are many options out there. We here at Loughlin FitzGerald—a firm with deep Wallingford roots—would be honored if you considered us. Please feel free to call us—Attorney Charles Reed, a Martindale-Hubbell AV-rated personal injury attorney with nearly 30 years of experience, or his colleague Attorney James Ringold, a fellow Wallingford resident—at 203-265-2035 to discuss your case.