When a dog bites someone, it is easy to blame the dog. However, the dog likely does not have any financial resources from which the victim can be compensated. Therefore, the law imputes responsibility on the dog’s owner. Dog bites continue to be a widespread problem with approximately 4.5 million dog bites occurring each year. Many of these incidences result in the victim needing medical treatment, including hospitalization or reconstructive surgery. Children and mail carriers are often the target of choice. In response to this continuing epidemic, state laws and municipal ordinances seek to crack down on these expensive and dangerous incidences. In some locales, a dog owner is held strictly liable for the actions of his or her dog, meaning that the victim does not have to prove that the dog owner was negligent or that he or she knew about any of the dog’s vicious tendencies.
Common Causes of Dog Bites
Dogs may bite for a variety of reasons. Often, biting is a response in reaction to an environmental factor. Some common causes of dog bites include:
• Fear: Some dogs bite because they are afraid. A dog may feel threatened by a trespasser, an unknown person or the presence of another animal and will attack in order to protect itself.
• Protection: Many dogs are trained to protect the property. They may feel territorial. Their territorial nature may emerge when it is triggered. Another common reason why dogs bite is to protect their masters or puppies. Dogs may also feel territorial over their food, so if a dog feels like someone is interfering with its food, it may lash out.
• Sickness: In other instances, dogs bite when they are sick. They may be irritable and may snap at sources of irritation, including children.
Preventing Dog Bites In Utah
There are a number of steps that individuals can take to protect against the occurrence of dog bites. These include:
• Avoiding Unfamiliar Dogs: If a person is not familiar with a particular dog, he or she should not approach it or assume that the dog is friendly. Even “nice” dogs can sometimes lash out when it its territorial instinct or fear is triggered. Children should let an adult know if there is a stray dog or if a neighborhood dog appears to be acting strangely so that the proper interventions can be put in place.
• Avoiding Disrupting the Dog: Individuals may also be able to avoid injury if they avoid making disruptions to the dog. They should leave animals alone when they are eating so that the dog is not interrupted during its meal. They should also avoid disrupting the environment. Like children, animals thrive on routines and on consistency. Therefore, animals should not be disturbed when they are eating, sleeping or caring for their pups.
• Not Antagonizing the Dog: Individuals also should not antagonize a dog. This includes avoiding any violent contact with the dog, including hitting him, shoving him or otherwise hurting him. Dog owners and those playing with dogs should not encourage aggressive play. In many locations, it is a viable defense for the dog owner to avoid financial liability if the individual injured was antagonizing the dog and then got injured.
• Confronting a Dog: If a dog appears menacing but has not yet attacked, individuals can take steps to prevent a dog bite from occurring. They should be still and avoid making any sudden moves. They should not run from the dog and should avoid making loud noises. They should not panic and should avoid direct eye contact with the dog. Individuals should also avoid any aggressive stances or actions that may appear aggressive to the dog.
Different Legal Standard for Different Animals
Many states have enacted “dog-bite laws,” which impose strict liability on dog owners for injuries caused by their dog. Strict liability means that the dog owner is liable for injuries caused by his or her dog, regardless of whether or not the owner was personally at fault. If there is no dog-bite law that imposes strict liability on the dog owner, the injured party must prove that the owner knew (or should have known) that his or her dog was vicious. Regardless of whether there is a dog-bite law or not, an injured person might not be able to recover if the dog owner shows that the injured person provoked the dog, and sometimes if the injured party was trespassing. People who have wild animals as pets are often subject to strict liability because wild animals are considered inherently dangerous. For this reason, even if the pet owner tries his or her best to protect people from his or her wild animal, if a person is injured by the animal, the owner can still be held liable. Horses and other domestic animals, on the other hand, are generally treated under the standard rule of negligence. Thus, the owner will usually be held liable if he or she knew (or should have known) that the animal had dangerous tendencies.
Proving a Dog’s Vicious Propensities
In states that do not have strict liability for dog bites, the injured party needs to prove that the animal had vicious propensities that the owner knew or should have known about. There are various factors that a plaintiff can use to help his or case in proving that the dog had vicious propensities. A good way to show that the owner knew that the dog could be dangerous is if there were previous complaints brought to the owner’s attention. If the owner didn’t do anything after receiving the complaints, he or she could be held liable for injuries because of his or her negligent behavior. Actions by the owner, such as often confining or muzzling the dog, could also be used as indications that the owner was aware that the dog could be dangerous.
Why Do Dogs Bite?
Most often dogs bite people when they feel threatened in some way. It’s a natural instinct that is still present in domesticated dogs, no matter how nice they are. That is why it’s important for everyone who interacts with dogs to understand what may provoke this aggressive behavior.
• Dogs may bite in defense of themselves, their territory, or a member of their pack. Mother dogs will fiercely protect their puppies as well.
• Startling a dog, such as waking one up or a child suddenly approaching from behind, can provoke a dog bite.
• Running away from a dog, even if it’s during play, can provoke it to bite. They may think it’s part of the fun at first, but even that can turn to aggression quickly.
• Dogs who are in a fearful situation may bite whoever approaches them. This may be something as severe as being abused or abandoned, or it may be something you perceive as ordinary, such as a loud noise.
• Injury and illness are a common reason as well. If a dog is not feeling well, they may not even want to be approached or touched by their favorite people.
Dog Bites and the Law
Dog bite laws can vary greatly depending on the local jurisdiction. It is important that you research the laws in your area, so you know what to expect. The following conditions typically apply in dog bite cases:
• You will need to show proof of your dog’s rabies vaccination history.
• A quarantine period may be required. The period will likely be longer if the rabies vaccination is not current.
• Depending on the situation and your dog’s history, it is possible for your dog to be designated a “dangerous dog.” You may have to comply with specific laws regarding the handling of your dog.
• Laws may require that your dog is euthanized if your dog is considered “dangerous,” if the injury was very serious, or if a fatality occurred. Also, you could be held legally responsible and face criminal charges.
Your Role After a Dog Bite
The dog bite victim may choose to press charges or file a civil suit against you. In either case, you should immediately hire an attorney. While you may or may not be legally ordered to cover the victim’s medical expenses, it is a good idea to offer up front to pay. This shows the victim that you are accepting responsibility for your dog. It may even help you avoid a messy lawsuit. Above all, it is the ethical thing to do, even if you have an explanation for the dog bite. In reality, proving your dog was provoked or somehow justified will be difficult unless it can be proven that the victim was committing a crime. This simply may not be an argument that is not worth having. If you are fortunate enough to get to keep your dog, it is your responsibility to prevent this type of thing from happening in the future. Take steps to prevent your dog from biting again. In most cases, a dog bite can be easily prevented by taking the proper safety measures. If you are able to determine what triggered the bite, try to keep your dog from getting into the same situation. Work with your dog to adjust its reaction to the trigger. It is absolutely essential to work on training and socialization with your dog as soon as possible after the bite. The best plan is to contact a professional trainer and possibly a veterinary behaviorist. Many dogs with aggression can be helped through training, socialization, and behavior modification. Sadly, in some cases of major aggression that cannot be reversed, the most humane thing to do is euthanasia. Of course, this is the last resort.
How to File a Dog Bite Report
Whether you’re an avid dog lover or you shy away from all four-legged creatures, no one ever wants to be attacked by one. Unfortunately, it happens more often than you may realize. If you or a loved one have been attacked by a dog, it’s important to file a dog bite report with your local animal control agency as soon as possible.
Why File a Dog Bite Report?
Sometimes a dog bite victim doesn’t want to file a report because he or she is friends with the dog’s owner, afraid of the owner, or doesn’t want anything to happen to the dog itself. However, authorities strongly suggest or require victims of dog bites to report these incidents to the local animal control agency for a number of reasons, including the following:
• It provides legal documentation which helps if you need to file an insurance claim or a lawsuit against the owner. Filing a report will help you obtain records regarding the dog’s owner, the dog’s history, and vaccination information. The investigation may also provide evidence you can present to the insurance company or during a lawsuit.
• It helps local authorities enforce state and local dog bite laws. A dog bite report triggers an investigation into the incident, and if the dog is categorized as dangerous, the owner may be required to carry special insurance or take extra precautions to ensure the public’s safety. They may also face fines or even criminal consequences if they fail to comply.
• It helps protect others from being attacked by the same animal. Someone is more likely to take extra precautions once the authorities are aware of the dog’s dangerous behavior, especially if they are required to do so by law. In more extreme cases, a particularly vicious dog may need to be put down in order to avoid devastating attacks. Local animal control agencies also help protect dogs that are being abused or neglected, so filing a dog bite report may be in the animal’s best interest as well.
How to File a Dog Bite Report
After sustaining a dog bite, you should first seek medical attention. Dog bites can lead to infection and even rabies in some cases. You should also document your injuries and the circumstances surrounding the incident. Take pictures of your wounds, write down what you remember from the incident, and speak with others who witnessed the event. After these initial steps, research your local animal control agency to find out how to file a dog bite report in your area. The animal control agency may be a division of the local police department, the humane society, your county’s health department, or some other entity. Some have forms you can fill out online or submit via fax, while others require you to call in to initiate the report process. Lastly, you must cooperate with animal control’s investigation into the incident. Local agencies may issue subpoenas, interview witnesses, and hold hearings to determine what happened and whether or not they need to exact penalties or remove the dog from the owner’s care.
What to Do If a Report Has Been Filed Against Your Dog
If a dog bite report has been filed against your dog, you will need to cooperate with the investigation conducted by the animal control authority. However, you should also consider contacting a dog bite attorney. As a result of a dog bite, you could be sued, your insurance rates can go up, your dog could be taken away from you, and you could face fines or even criminal charges in more extreme cases. A dog bite attorney will know the applicable dog bite laws in your state and the legal defenses that may be available to you.
Criminal Penalties for Owners of Dangerous Dogs
Dog owners could face fines or jail time for violating legal restrictions on keeping dangerous dogs. They may also be charged with serious crimes if their animals attack and severely injure people. It’s every dog owner’s nightmare: Your pet mauls someone, seriously hurting or even killing them. Although dog bites are fairly common, they rarely result in severe injuries or death. When they do, there’s generally evidence that the owner failed to take precautions despite knowing that the animal presented a grave danger usually because it was trained to fight or had already attacked or menaced people. In situations like that, dog owners will probably be liable to the injured people in civil lawsuits. They may also face criminal charges, under laws aimed at dangerous dogs or general criminal statutes.
Penalties Under Dangerous Dog Laws
At least 39 states in the U.S. have “dangerous-dog laws” laws that are intended to protect the public from dogs that are dangerous or vicious. In order to save the animals from being euthanized, owners must generally meet certain conditions, ranging from keeping the dog confined or muzzled to buying liability insurance or a special license. In many states, it’s a crime to violate these restrictions, particularly if the dog hurts someone. Penalties range from fines to prison time for a felony. For example: In Utah, if a dog that’s been declared dangerous is found at large or injures someone, the owner will be guilty of a misdemeanor. However, it will be a felony if the injury is serious or involuntary manslaughter if the dog kills someone.
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It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you!
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506
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