Dogs are a huge part of American society. According to the 2021-2022 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 69 million U.S. households have a dog as a pet, and the Insurance Research Council reported that 21% of American families adopted a dog in 2020. Early 2020 also saw a massive increase in the number of dog bites and dog bite insurance claims, coinciding with the start of pandemic lockdowns. A State Farm survey revealed a 21.6% increase in dog bites in March 2020 compared to March 2019, and recorded more dog-related injury claims in March 2020 than in any other month in 2020.
Unfortunately, children are most at risk from dog bites. According to the CDC, a child is much more likely to be bitten by a dog than an adult, and when they do suffer a dog bite, their injuries are more likely to be severe. It is not just unfamiliar or provoked dogs that pose a risk to children. The CDC reports that “most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.”
The consequences of a dog attack can be severe, whether the victim is a child or an adult. 1 in 5 dog bites require medical attention, and if a dog knocks down a victim, such as a cyclist or elderly person, it can cause serious injuries. Victims can be left with lacerations, broken bones, infection, scarring, and emotional trauma. The cost of medical bills alone are a burden for victims of dog attacks and their families. Many people are left wondering what to do after a dog bite, and how to handle the problems that have been forced upon them.
What should you do immediately after a dog bite?
Get Out! Stay Out! It may be the slogan for fire safety campaigns but it applies to dog attacks too. If you have been bitten by a dog, you should try to get yourself to a safe place where you are not at risk of further attack. This may simply mean that the dog is under control by its owner or in a contained area, or you may need to put a barrier between you and the attacking dog, such as a fence, wall, door, or closed gate.
Attend to your injuries and those of other victims as soon as possible after a dog bite. Even minor injuries can lead to infection and can be serious. The CDC recommends that for minor wounds, you should wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, apply an antibiotic cream, and cover the wound with a clean bandage. For deeper wounds, the recommendation is to apply pressure with a clean, dry cloth to stem the bleeding, and see your healthcare provider immediately. If you cannot stem the bleeding, or you feel weak or faint, you should call 911 for medical attention. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that you should be prepared to tell the treating doctor about the victim’s tetanus vaccination status, the dog's vaccine status (or contact information for the dog's veterinarian), the dog's owner, and if you know that the dog has bitten before. Even if your injuries seem minor, you should see your healthcare provider. You may require antibiotics, a tetanus shot, or rabies shots. Remember to follow your doctor’s instructions to ensure proper healing.
Request proof of rabies vaccination, owner contact details, and veterinarian details from the dog’s owner. It is very important to know whether or not the dog’s vaccinations have been kept up to date. The owner should be able to give you the dog’s rabies vaccine license number. A veterinarian who is familiar with the dog's vaccination records and history will be able to provide crucial information for your healthcare team. Your healthcare provider may also need to consult with your state or local health department to help you decide if you need treatment known as rabies postexposure prophylaxis (PEP).
Report the dog bite. When you are attacked or bitten by a dog, you should report the incident to the police and local animal control agency as a matter of public safety. In some instances, your healthcare provider may do this for you. It is especially important to report a dog bite if you do not know the dog’s rabies vaccination status, or if the dog appears sick or is acting strangely. A police report will also be important evidence in any legal claim or insurance claim.
Gather evidence. Information about the dog and how the dog bite happened is important to your medical care, and to an insurance claim or other legal claim arising from the dog attack. You should keep a record of as many of the following as you can:
- Owner name and contact details
- Dog name and vaccination status (including rabies vaccination license number)
- Veterinarian name and contact details
- Witnesses of the dog attack (name and contact details)
- Photos from the scene of the dog bite
- Police report of the dog bite
- Your own notes about the dog attack (including whether or not the dog was provoked, teased, or properly restrained)
- Medical records
- Medical bills (including pharmacy expenses, transportation expenses, therapy bills, etc.)
- Record of absences from work
You do not HAVE to have all of the above evidence to be successful in a claim or negotiation for a dog bite. All of these pieces of information can strengthen your claim but you can still succeed in getting compensation if you do not have them.
Contact an experienced Delaware dog bite lawyer. Sometimes victims are reluctant to contact a dog bite lawyer. Perhaps they dismiss the severity of the bite, they do not want to cause problems for a dog owner they know, or because they are afraid of what will happen to the dog. A dog bite is a serious incident and can result in severe injuries. Even a dog bite that at first seems minor can develop into a more serious issue as a result of infection, scarring, or emotional trauma. A lawyer can help you to understand your rights and take action if you want. A reputable lawyer will offer you a free consultation to discuss your case without any risk or obligation. In most situations, as your lawyer will explain, you will not be making a claim against the dog owner but against their insurance company because dog owners typically have a homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policy that covers them for such incidents. A lawyer can help you to negotiate with the insurance company who will often try to deny or minimize your claim for the costs that you have incurred as a result of the dog bite.
What compensation can you get for a dog bite?
When you have been attacked by a dog, you may suffer physical and emotional harm that can impact your life in lots of ways, including financially. It is natural to think about how much compensation you might get after a dog bite, and wonder if it is worth the hassle of bringing a claim or even talking to a lawyer. Every dog bite claim is different and will result in different amounts of compensation. A good lawyer will talk to you about the specifics of your injuries and your claim, and give you realistic advice about bringing a claim but they should NEVER guarantee a dollar amount of compensation. The final compensation will depend on your negotiations with the other parties involved (likely an insurance company) or a judge or jury, if you end up at trial.
We do have some information from insurance companies about the average claim payouts for dog bites but they are not a guarantee of any compensation for your dog bite claim. The Insurance Information Institute reported that the average claim payment for dog bites was $50,245 in 2020, up 12.3% from $44,760 in 2019. The average cost per claim nationally has risen 162% from 2003 to 2020, due to increased medical costs as well as a trend upwards in the size of settlements, judgments, and jury awards given to plaintiffs. In total in 2020, insurance companies paid $853.7 million for 16,991 dog bite and injury claims.
The amount of compensation that you receive after a dog bite will depend on the circumstances of your case. Compensation for a dog bite is intended to cover your financial losses, and your pain and suffering as a result of the bite, such as:
Medical bills. You are entitled to be compensated for any medical expenses (current and future) resulting from the dog bite. These may include expenses such as emergency room fees, physician or other healthcare provider bills, pharmacy expenses, dental fees, physical therapy bills, counseling costs, plastic surgery expenses, or costs of transport to medical appointments.
Lost wages. You may have to miss work as a result of your injuries from the dog bite. You are entitled to compensation for your missed work days for recovery and for medical appointments related to your dog bite injuries.
Future lost earnings. If you have lasting injuries from the dog bite that affect your ability to do your job, you may be entitled to compensation for the reduction in your earning capacity.
Property damage. In some cases, you may suffer property damage, such as broken eyeglasses or a damaged bicycle, in a dog attack. You may be compensated for this property damage.
Pain and suffering. After a dog bite, you may suffer psychological harm, and may not be able to enjoy life as you did before the dog bite. You are entitled to compensation for this pain and suffering.
Punitive damages. It is not common to be awarded punitive damages in a dog bite case but they are sometimes appropriate. Punitive damages are intended to punish someone (typically, the dog owner) for behavior that led to the dog attack e.g. a reckless dog owner that allowed an aggressive dog with a history of biting to run off leash near other people.
If you or a loved one has been hurt as a result of a dog bite or dog attack, the dog bite attorneys at Morris James can help. Contact one of our experienced team members at your local Morris James office or use our online contact form today.