Dog bite victims ::

Nationwide, the rate of dog bite injuries is on the rise. The cost of treating these injuries is rising even faster. In 2003, the average dog bite claim was $19,162. In 2011, the cost rose to $29,396. According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites account for over one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims, costing nearly $479 million in 2011, up 16.1% from the previous year. As a whole, the cost of the average dog bite claim is up 53.4% since 2003.1

Who pays the medical costs?

1 of every 6 dog bite injuries requires medical care; 1 of every 14 requires emergency care.2 The question of "Who pays?" is determined by state law. Some states are governed by a One Bite rule, which requires victims to prove the dog owner knew or should have known of the dangerous propensities of the dog (such as by a previous bite) in order to receive compensation. Nearly 30 states impose statutory strict liability making a dog owner legally liable to a victim who was bitten.

Tennessee is a strict liability state, but contains a "residential exclusion" that omits liability when the attack occurs on the dog owner's property unless the victim can prove the same burden of proof required by the One Bite rule. This exclusion prohibits the majority of dog bite victims from receiving compensation -- over 50% of all dog bites occur on the dog owner's property.3 Thus, Tennessee is known as a "mixed dog bite statute state," along with New York and Georgia.

The usual method of getting medical reimbursement is through the dog owner's homeowners insurance policy, most policies provide $100,000 to $300,000 in liability coverage.4 If the dog owner is a renter and uninsured, the victim is usually out of luck unless the landlord or property owner can be held liable. This is also true for victims of attacks by pit bulls, rottweilers and other known dangerous dog breeds, as many insurance carriers refuse to insure these breeds at all.

If the dog owner is insured, the victim can expect several years before payment. Dog bite injuries take time to heal. Settlement negotiations with an insurance company usually start after healing completes. In the meanwhile, the victim incurs many costs. If the injuries required hospitalization, the victim can expect to stay 3 days.5 If surgery was required -- as it often is for attacks involving facial and bone injuries -- a victim's first night in care can easily reach $20 thousand dollars.

Types of injuries inflicted by dogs

Injuries inflicted by dogs can be devastating, especially to young children. The small height of a child almost always results in facial injuries. Repairing these injuries may require immediate reconstructive surgery with additional surgical procedures over time. Techniques such as skin grafting and microsurgical repair also may require multiple procedures, as do scar diminishment treatments, such as: dermabrasion (sanding of the skin) and pressure scar modification.

According to a 2010 study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the most common principal diagnoses for dog bite-related hospitalizations included skin and subcutaneous tissue infections (43.2%), open wounds of extremities (22.1%), and open wounds of the head, neck, and trunk (10.5%). Other chief diagnoses included fracture of upper limb, infective arthritis and osteomyelitis, septicemia, crushing injury or internal injury and fracture of lower limb.6

Psychological damage

Nearly all dog bite victims suffer psychological injury, including Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Even with treatment, fear of another attack may never fade. Each time a victim walks down a sidewalk, strolls through a park or visits a dog owner's home, the trauma returns. Man's best friend -- to the irony and horror of a dog bite victim -- is fully integrated into our society. Stories abound, particularity about senior citizens, who are terrified to leave their home after a serious dog attack.

In an article published by The Mercury News, Angela Silva talks about her life after a horrific dog attack. In September of 2007, a neighbor's pit bull suddenly charged into Angela's garage in Fremont, California as she was cleaning out her car. The dog lunged at her 7-month old child. In an act of quick thinking, Silva placed her son into a nearby garbage can to protect him and used her left arm as a shield. The pit bull shredded through Silva's arm before help arrived.

Nearly four months after the attack, Silva told the Mercury News that she has yet to take a walk outside and that she gets "fresh air" by sitting on her porch behind a new wooden fence that her boyfriend built. To further distance herself from the dog's owner, who lived next door, Silva moved several neighborhoods away. But even in her new home, Silva said she still has a stack of medical bills she is unsure how to pay and continues to have dreams filled with mad, vicious dogs.7

Human relationship damage

Nearly all dog bites involve a complex mixture of human relationship bonds. A dog bite victim frequently knows the owner of the dog, who may be a family member, relative, neighbor or friend. Many dog owners minimize the seriousness of injury inflicted by the dog or blame the victim for the attack. While blaming the victim is a universal phenomenon, it is nearly always the case in dog attacks. This may be true because dogs are a metaphorical "extension" of their owner.

Most states do not automatically euthanize a dog after it inflicts its first, second or even third bite to a person. This sets up an adversarial relationship when the dog owner is a neighbor. Too often, once the dog is returned home after a quarantine period following the bite, the owner defies leash and constraint laws.8 Victims in these instances become imprisoned in their own home. Even if authorities can witness and cite the dog owner for violations, it's usually just a small monetary fine.

When the attack stems from a dog owned by a family member, even more disturbing results can occur. After years of a strong bond, relationships are often left in shambles, and for the primary reason that the dog can't be blamed, yet neither can its owner. The human relationship damage is always two-part. The first part occurs just after the attack. The second part occurs over a period of years as the victim tries to gain medical reimbursement through lawsuits or other means.

  1. Dog Bite Liability, Insurance Information Institute, May 2012.
  2. Nonfatal Dog Bite-Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments - United States, 2001, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 2003; 52(26): 605-610.
  3. Incidence of Dog Bite Injuries Treated in Emergency Departments (1992-1994) by H. Weiss, D. Friedman and J. Coben, JAMA, 1998
  4. Dog Bite Liability, Insurance Information Institute, May 2012.
  5. Emergency Department Visits and Inpatient Stays Involving Dog Bites, 2008, by Laurel Holmquist, M.A. and Anne Elixhauser, Ph.D., Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD., November 2010.
  6. Emergency Department Visits and Inpatient Stays Involving Dog Bites, 2008, by Laurel Holmquist, M.A. and Anne Elixhauser, Ph.D., Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD., November 2010.
  7. Scares Serve As a Reminder of Good, Bad in Others, by Lisa Fernandez, The Mercury News, December 16, 2007.
  8. Some cases involve serious harassment. The family victimized by the dogs' owners in this case moved to an undisclosed location prior to filing a civil complaint against them. Woman sues pit bull owner, others, by Donna M. Perry, Sun Journal, May 7, 2008 (www.sunjournal.com)