Two Fatal Dog Bites in One Weekend: Are our Children Safe?

This past weekend saw some sad examples of fatal dog attacks involving children, a somber warning for dog owners and parents. The first case involved a seven month old infant in Ohio who was attacked by a dog owned by his step-grandmother who was watching him at the time. The second case involved a four year old boy in Florida who wasmauled to death by pit bulls at his uncle’s home while his mother was inside. There are approximately 10 fatal dog bites among children per year nationwide. The vast majority of dog bites are from a dog known to the child as is true of the two cases above.

Dogs and Children: Safety Guidelines

Dogs are naturally pack animals, which mean that they live in a group with a social hierarchy. Pet dogs have to learn their place in the hierarchy of the household in which they become a part and that household may include children. Be aware that any dog can bite. Both children and dogs need to be trained on how to behave with each other. Just as you wouldn’t want a dog to bite your child, the dog doesn’t want your child to pull his fur or tail. Often a dog misinterprets games children might play, such as snatching away a toy. A child will not understand a dog’s signals either and will often approach a frightened dog or run causing a dog to chase and pursue them.

Despite most people’s best efforts to train and integrate a dog into their household, at the end of the day, the dog is still an animal and can be unpredictable. Therefore, precautions must be taken especially when your dog is around small children. First and foremost, never leave a small child alone with a dog. Supervision is required even if things have been going reasonably well. Both of the fatal attacks above could have been avoided if there had been proper supervision. Just as you shouldn’t trust your dog not to attack a child, you shouldn’t trust the child not to approach the dog. In the second case, it appears that the child released the dogs from their cages just prior to the attack.

Just as you would teach your dog how to behave around children, you need to teach your children how to behave around dogs. Instruct them not to get too close if the dog is eating or chewing a bone. Don’t yank their toys or play tug of war like games. Don’t stare directly into a dog’s eyes. Teach your children the signs of an angry dog. These include sounds of barking, growling and snarling (showing teeth), body language including flat ears, stiff legs, and upright tail.

The ASPCA offers the following tips on what to teach your children about being safe around dogs:

  • Children should not approach, touch or play with any dog who’s sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy or bone, or caring for puppies. Animals are more likely to bite if they’re startled, frightened or caring for young.
  • Children should never approach a barking, growling or scared dog.
  • Children should not pet unfamiliar dogs without asking permission from the dog’s guardian first. If the guardian says it’s okay, the child should first let the dog sniff his closed hand. Then taking care to avoid petting the dog on the top of the head, he can pet the dog’s shoulders or chest.
  • Children should not try to pet dogs who are behind a fence or in a car. Dogs often protect their home or space.
  • If a child sees a dog off-leash outside, she should not approach the dog and should tell an adult immediately.
  • If a loose dog comes near a child, he should not run or scream. Instead, he should avoid eye contact with the dog and stand very still, like a tree, until the animal moves away. Once the dog loses interest, the child can slowly back away until he’s out of sight.
  • If a child falls down or is knocked to the ground by a dog, she should curl up in a ball with her knees tucked into her stomach and her fingers interlocked behind her neck to protect her neck and ears. If a child stays still and quiet like this, the dog will most likely just sniff her and then go away.
  • Children should never try to outrun a dog. If a dog does attack a child, the child should “feed” the dog his jacket, bag, bicycle—or anything that he has for the dog to grab onto or anything he can put between himself and the dog.

Bitten: What to do following a dog bite

First seek medical treatment for your wounds. Your medical provider may be required to report the dog bite to the authorities. You should tell the authorities everything you can about the dog, its owner, and how the attack and bite occurred. It is important that the dog owner be contacted so that vaccination records can be obtained. Without this, you may be required to undergo post-exposure rabies shots. Animal control officers can often help locate a dog owner if you are able to provide enough information. Whether you need to seek medical treatment or not, the bite or attack should always be reported to the local authorities.

Take photographs of your injuries. This will not only help your medical providers if your wound becomes infected, but it will also preserve valuable evidence that you may need if you decide to pursue a claim against the dog owner.

How Attorneys Can Help

Dog bites are very traumatic and the victim is often left with both physical and emotional scars, as well as expensive medical bills. Without an experienced attorney, it is unlikely that the dog bite victim will ever receive compensation for the pain and suffering they have endured.

Massachusetts and New Hampshire are both strict liability states, which mean that the dog owner is liable for damages caused by his or her dog no matter what except in cases of trespass or torment of the animal. This means that liability is clear. You needn’t prove that your friend or neighbor who owns the dog was negligent, bad, guilty or otherwise. The law is black and white. The upside of this is that the case all comes down to the injuries and damages suffered by the victim.

Since most dog bites occur with a familiar dog, many people are hesitant to file a claim because they know the dog owner and want to preserve that relationship. Having an attorney can certainly help. Most dog bite claims are filed through home owner insurance and with an attorney representing the victim, the claim can be conducted almost exclusively between the insurance adjustor and the law firm. The purpose of filing a claim is not to financially ruin the dog owner but to prevent the victim from going into debt from medical bills and to receive compensation for their injuries, pain and suffering and scarring. Getting an attorney is not the same thing as suing. By hiring an attorney, the attorney and the insurance company will hash out the details and you won’t need to argue about money and reimbursement with the dog owner, who you often know. Claims are often settled without the need to go to court. Hiring an attorney will help you preserve all of your rights and maximize your recovery.

If the dog bite victim is a child and in the State of New Hampshire, an attorney is a must-have. In New Hampshire, any settlement for a minor child that exceeds $10,000 requires court approval. By hiring an attorney early on in the case you not only get the benefit of having an attorney assist you through the entire claims process, but the attorney will also obtain the necessary court approval after a reasonable settlement offer has been made and accepted. The attorney can, if you so desire, also help set your child up with an annuity or structured settlement so that your child can have access to the money at a later date or for college or other needs.

Have you or your child been attacked by a dog?

If you or a loved one has been bitten or attacked by a dog, the law is on your side. You are entitled to collect damages for your pain and suffering, emotional distress, lost wages, medical bills, rehabilitation expenses and scarring. An experienced dog bite attorney can assist you with maximizing your recovery.

Our dog bite attorneys have been handling dog bite and animal attack cases for over 35 years and are experienced with the life altering injuries and impact that such attacks may have on the victims. We have represented numerous young children who have been victims of dog bites as well and are familiar with assisting families in obtaining court approval of their settlements. We also represent adults. Some recent settlements have included $50,000 for an injury to the hand and $325,000 for significant scarring to the face.

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