Dog Bites and Liability Issues
Dog bites are a serious issue, not just for the person who is bitten, but also for the health and safety of the dog and the dog owner's property.
Preventing Dog Bites
The large majority of pet dogs will never bite anyone, but it's always important to remember that dogs are animals first and pets second, and any dog can and will bite in the right circumstance. Preventing dog bites is relatively easy for most dogs. Early and continued socialization, good management, and consistent handling and training all go a long way to preventing dog bites. As already mentioned, children must know how to behave around dogs, both those they know and strange dogs.
Although the number of dogs has stayed relatively steady, around 65 million, the number of reported bites has increased dramatically, from about 585,000 in 1986 to about 800,000 in 1994 according to www.dogbitelaw.com.
Dogs that have already bitten someone are much more likely to bite again than dogs who have never bitten. It is a serious liability issue to have a biting dog, not to mention the physical and emotional damage a serious bite causes. Liability can take several forms. For example, a person who is bitten can sue the dog's owner for personal injury. In addition, pets are considered personal property by law. A person whose dog, cat, or other pet is injured or killed by a dog can sue the attacking dog's owner for property damage. In some states, the owner may not be liable for the first bite of a dog without a violent history if the dog's owner takes reasonable measures to control their dog. In other states, however, the owner will be liable for a bite regardless of the dog's favorable history or the careful steps undertaken to prevent the situation from repeating itself. Dogs that have already bitten have to be managed very carefully so they're not in the position to do it again. Don't make excuses for a biting dog — “But he's so sweet most of the time” — it doesn't really matter why he bites, it just matters that he doesn't have the chance to do it again.
What to Do if Your Dog Bites Someone
If the unthinkable happens and your dog does bite someone, the first thing you have to do is to remove your dog from the situation and securely contain him. Next, check on the victim to see if the bite requires medical attention. Any bite that breaks the skin is a potentially dangerous bite, due to the risk of infection, and should be checked by a doctor. If the bite is serious enough to require medical attention, you should immediately contact your insurance carrier, your lawyer, and a dog behaviorist.
Laws regarding dog bites vary widely from state to state, but you can always be held civilly liable for any damages caused by your dog. You absolutely must not allow your dog the freedom to bite another person. Serial biters don't survive very long. If you feel that you can't deal with your dog's problem, you can't just give someone else your nightmare without being honest about his history. In fact, you could be sued if you knowingly place a biting dog with someone else without disclosing the information. The sad truth is that people are not knocking down shelters' doors hoping to adopt a biting dog, so there is a good chance you or someone else will have to euthanize your dog if he has a history of serious bites.