California second in nation for dog bite deaths

Dog attacks are seen in the news on a regular basis. More than 4 million Americans are bitten every year by dogs, and thousands require medical treatment, says the American Veterinary Medical Association. Unfortunately, California ranks second in the nation for dog bite fatalities. reports that out of an 8-year period from 2005 to 2008, 28 people were killed by dogs in our state. 82 percent of the attacks were by pit bulls.

While many pit bulls have made good pets, there have been enough dog attacks by the breed to prompt laws in San Francisco that require owners to sterilize their pit bulls, according to SF Gate. This is in an attempt to protect the public, as well as reduce the number of pit bulls in animal control shelters in the area and to reduce aggression in male dogs. Animal control authorities hope this law will result in fewer pets being abandoned, as well as protecting the most vulnerable members of society from being hurt.

Children are the most at risk from dog attacks

At least half of those receiving medical treatment for dog bites each year in the U.S. are children. Most of these attacks occur while children are playing with dogs they know; in fact, most victims of all dog bites were familiar with the dog, says the American Humane Association.

Last June, a 6-year-old boy who was living with extended family in Union City had been playing with the family dog, a pit bull, with his cousins. Authorities say the boy may have been attempting to climb onto the dog’s back and ride it when he was bitten in the head. The boy died of his wounds. The family said the dog was well socialized and had never had any problems with aggression in the past.

This tragic incident is the reason why it is so important to teach children how to interact with dogs, both those they know and unfamiliar dogs. According to the Humane Society of the United States, adults and children can avoid becoming the victims of dog attacks by:

  • Respecting the dog’s space and not disturbing it while it’s eating, sleeping or caring for puppies.
  • Paying attention to the dog’s body language and not approaching it when it’s growling or seems tense or scared.
  • Never approaching an unfamiliar dog.
  • Not petting any dog without letting it see and sniff you first.

If a dog seems likely to attack, it’s important not to turn and run – a dog’s natural instinct is to chase prey. Instead, people should remain quiet, keep their hands by their sides and avoid looking the dog in the eye. When possible, back away slowly until the dog is out of sight. If the dog attacks, curl into a ball with hands over ears and try to remain still.

Who is Ultimately Responsible if a Dog Bites Someone?

If you did something to provoke the dog, whether through accident or by doing something through ignorance, you hold some responsibility for the actions of the dog. Most dogs will not attack unless provoked in some manner, especially if you do something that makes the dog feel threatened. But the ultimate responsibility rests with the dog owner.

If you own a dog, you will be considered at fault whether it is determined you were negligent or not. California, as one example, classifies dog bites as a strict liability matter – you are considered to be in control of your pet at all times, and if the dog bites someone, all liability rests on you. And if your dog is of a breed that is consider more dangerous than most other breeds, you are responsible for taking extra precautions, even if your dog has never shown aggressive tendencies in the past. Again as regards California, you don’t get a “free dog bite”, and the victim does not have to prove any prior incidents nor “prior knowledge” on your part as to the potential for such an attack.

Additionally, owning a dog requires that you assume many responsibilities, certainly for feeding and properly caring for your pet, but to have sufficient insurance coverage, whether you are a renter or a homeowner. If you do not, you can be held personally liable for all financial damages suffered by anyone bitten or attacked and harmed by your pet.

What you should do if a dog bites

If you or a child has been bitten by a dog, the first thing to do, after receiving medical attention, is to get in touch with animal control authorities. Whether you know the dog’s owner or if the dog is a stray, it will need to be brought under control so other people aren’t hurt. Be sure to insist that these authorities complete and file a full report on the incident, and demand a copy of the incident report for future consideration. You also have a right to know if the dog has had all its vaccinations, especially for rabies. This information may prove crucial for medical personnel to have as treatment for your injuries progresses.

Remember that dog attacks can cause severe injuries in only a few seconds, and can result in expensive medical bills, and months or even years of recovery, especially when the victim is a child. If you or your loved one has been hurt by someone else’s pet, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your rights.