For many Americans, life is not complete without a dog or a cat, but pet ownership is not without its risks. Sometimes our domestic animals bite or attack other people. While virtually any animal can cause injury to humans, dog bites are the most common type of animal attack. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs every year, resulting in an estimated 800,000 injuries that require medical attention. Children are the most frequent victims of dog bites, likely because they spend more time playing with dogs and are inexperienced in reading canine behavior.
Regardless of its size or breed, any dog is capable of biting if provoked, threatened or scared. Ultimately, the responsibility for properly training and controlling a dog rests with the owner or keeper. Depending on the circumstances, an individual who is bitten by a dog may be entitled to receive damages from the dog’s owner or the owner’s insurance company.
The Insurance Information Institute estimates that dog bites cost insurance companies $356.2 million in 2007, with the average dog bite claim totaling $24,511. Some homeowner and renter insurance policies now limit exposure by providing liability coverage up to a certain amount, leaving the dog owner responsible for all damages above that limit.
There are several legal avenues for establishing liability in dog bite cases.
- Common law. Traditionally, many states followed the “one-bite rule,” which was derived from court decisions rather than explicit laws. Under common law principles, a dog owner is responsible for a bite or attack if the owner had reason to believe that the dog was likely to cause that type of injury. Basically, the rule allows “one bite” before a dog owner is expected to know that the dog is potentially dangerous.
- Dog bite statutes. Many states, including Rhode Island, have replaced the common law with statutes that address dog bites. Rhode Island’s dog bite law, G.L. § 4 13 16, holds dog owners strictly liable for any injury — including a bite or other wound — that occurs outside the dog’s enclosure. Under that law, the dog’s owner or keeper may be held liable for any injuries even though he or she is not at fault for the incident. The Rhode Island law also requires the dog owner to pay double damages — and put the animal down — when a second attack occurs outside the dog’s pen or enclosure.
- Negligence theory. Even when the statute does not apply, a dog owner may be responsible for a dog bite or attack that occurs because the owner was unreasonably careless or negligent in controlling the dog.
The Rhode Island dog bite lawyers of Gemma Law Associates, Inc., know that being bitten or attacked by a dog can be a traumatic and life-changing event. It can cause physical injuries, emotional scarring and lasting fear. If you or a loved one has been bitten by another person’s dog, you may be entitled to compensation for your injury. This can include medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and in some cases punitive damages. Do not let an irresponsible dog owner take advantage of you. We serve clients throughout Rhode Island and we can help you. Contact us today.