Dogs bite over 4.5 million people in the United States each year, but most of those bites do not require medical attention.
However, a dog bite may cause a serious injury. Of the 368,245 people who were admitted to emergency rooms for dog bites in 2001, approximately 6,000 required hospitalization. About two in five dog attack victims are children, who are more likely to sustain serious injuries due to their smaller size. Over 500 Americans were killed by dogs between 2005 and 2019.
How to Treat a Dog Bite in 7 Steps
If a dog bites you and the injury does not appear serious, you should still exercise extreme caution. A dog’s mouth contains over 700 different species of bacteria, including C. canimorsus which can cause potentially fatal sepsis if it enters your bloodstream. That is why it is advisable to follow these seven steps whenever a dog’s tooth punctures your skin:
- Wash the wound with soap and warm water.
- Stanch the bleeding with a clean cloth.
- Apply a topical antibiotic cream such as Bacitracin or Neosporin.
- Dress the wound in a sterile bandage.
- Seek immediate professional medical attention.
- Change the bandage regularly.
- Watch for signs of infection.
If the bite causes facial injury or significant tissue damage, seek medical care immediately. Time is of the essence in treating tissue damage, and a physician’s ability to minimize the resulting disfigurement diminishes quickly by the passage of time. If stiches are necessary, even a day’s delay can greatly and permanently affect the appearance of resulting scar.
If a dog bites you and the injury includes a deep puncture, heavy bleeding, broken bones, badly torn skin or any other serious symptoms, then the steps you should take are more straightforward: apply direct pressure to stop the bleeding and seek immediate medical attention.
You may also wish to pursue compensation for the damages – not just the bodily injury itself, but also the wages you lose for having to miss work, the pain and suffering you endured, the humiliation of “wearing” a permanent disfigurement, and any other measurable expenses you will incur as the result of the attack. This begs the important question:
Can You Sue the Owner of a Dog That Bites You?
Yes. In most states, the dog owner is held responsible if their dog bites and injures someone. For example, Minnesota Statute 347.22 states:
If a dog, without provocation, attacks or injures any person who is acting peaceably in any place where the person may lawfully be, the owner of the dog is liable in damages to the person so attacked or injured to the full amount of the injury sustained.
Civil courts typically treat dog bite cases differently from car accidents and slip and fall injuries. In cases like those the plaintiff has to prove the defendant’s negligence caused their injury. Conversely, when a dog bites without provocation, liability is, with very few exceptions absolutely assigned to the defendant. (Dog owner of other “harboring” the attacking dog. This is called strict liability: the defendant is liable regardless of whether or not they were aware of the dog’s propensity to inflict harm.
A dog bite case’s lower standard of liability is advantageous to the claimant, as it makes it difficult for the dog owner to deny liability for the injury. Strict liability also makes it difficult for the dog owner’s insurance company to contest liability. Homeowners insurance policies typically include both personal liability and medical payments coverages that take effect when the policyholder’s dog inflicts an injury to someone. Homeowner’s or renter’s insurance is of particular benefit if the claimant is a friend of, or related to the dog’s owner, as they can receive full compensation for their injury without bankrupting someone they care for in the process.
It is important to note that a dog owner’s homeowners insurance policy usually covers damages when their dog inflicted an injury outside of their property, such as at the park or on a sidewalk. However, not all dog bites fall under the blanket of strict liability. Exemptions may include cases in which the victim was trespassing on the dog owner’s property, attacking the dog owner, or intentionally provoking the dog.
Should You Hire an Attorney If a Dog Bites You?
If you decide to pursue legal recourse following a dog attack, it is highly advisable to engage an attorney. An attorney will screen you from communication between you and the dog owner and/or their insurance provider. I will assist you in correctly value your claim and provide the medical records and other evidence you need to substantiate your claim. I will negotiate on your behalf, and endeavor to make sure you receive fair compensation for your injury and losses.