What Do You Need to Know About Dog Bites?

Dog bites happen hundreds of thousands of times in the US each year. Here's what you need to know to protect yourself and preserve your rights.
White dog sticking snout out from a chain link fence

Dogs are man’s best friend for good reason. They bring a whole lot of  love and joy to their families. People who own dogs tend to be happier people who enjoy life more. Petting our dogs can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, alleviate loneliness, and boost our mood. Dogs make us laugh and comfort us when we are sad. 

We can have strong bonds with our adorable canine companions that make life better in countless ways.

However, when they are not properly cared for, trained, or monitored, dogs can become dangerous, at times. Unfortunately, innocent people, even family members, can and do get injured. 

 

What is the law on dog bites?

 

Under the dog bite laws, you are strictly liable. You do not have to be found negligent or be found having breached some duty you owed someone else. All that has to happen is—your dog bites someone.

Dog bite litigation is on the rise. More and more people are taking dogs with them. Dog bites are much more common now than they once were.

 

South Carolina dog bite statute

 

Dog bites fall under a strict liability statute in SC. This means if your dog bites someone, that person is where they ought to be, and the dog was not provoked, you are liable for that bite.

In SC with regards to any other tortious or wrongful act, the law would require that before you could be held liable, the other side would have to establish.

  1. You had a duty to do something or not do something
  2. You breached that duty

 

If someone is seriously injured by another person’s dog, dog bite laws exist to protect victims and help them receive the compensation they deserve for their injuries and medical bills. You don’t need a dog bite attorney lawyer for minor injuries that don’t require a trip to the ER or hospitalization. But for more significant injuries that involve medical expenses, it’s wise to consult a personal injury lawyer.

 

Check your homeowner’s insurance policy if you are a dog owner

 

Before you deal with your insurance company for a dog bite caused by your own pet, look at your policy to see what breeds of dogs they covered and what they cover. Make sure you understand your responsibility and what that could mean for you financially if you own a dog and your dog severely injures someone in the future.

Aggressive black dog in woods

How to prevent dog bites

Many dog bites are preventable. Any dog can bite someone. It’s important to understand dogs so we can avoid bites for ourselves and our children.

  • Don’t approach a dog you don’t know.
  • Don’t leave young children unsupervised with a dog.
  • Avoid touching a dog that is eating or nursing her puppies.
  • Approach dogs slowly and allow them to come to you.
  • Avoid teasing dogs.
  • Avoid wrestling and roughhousing.
  • Socialize your pet as a puppy.
  • Take behavior training classes.
  • Don’t provoke a dog by grabbing them, hitting, pulling their fur, or yanking their tails.
  • If a dog becomes aggressive, break eye contact and slowly, calmly move away.

Be aware of the telltale signs that a dog is about to bite. If you see a dog growling with ears pinned back, the fur standing up on the back of the neck, the whites of the eyes showing, and/or yawning to display his teeth, be alert. Or if a dog stops moving if you touch her and stares directly at you, it could be a warning sign to back away.

What to do if a dog bites you

According to the CDC, one out of every five dog bites requires medical attention. You may be able to treat a more superficial injury at home. But if you don’t know the dog, bleeding is severe, the person develops a fever, or there are other signs of infection (redness, swelling, pus) at the injury site, the victim needs to see a doctor or head to the emergency room right away. 

Treating a dog bite injury at home:

  • Stop any bleeding with a clean towel.
  • Elevate the injured body-part if possible.
  • Wash the bite with warm water and soap.
  • Bandage the wound with a sterile bandage.
  • Apply an OTC antibiotic ointment daily as directed.

 

If you have a serious injury, once you have received medical treatment, contact a personal injury attorney before you speak to the dog owner’s insurance company.

Reporting dog bites in South Carolina

 

If a wild, stray, or animal that hasn’t been vaccinated for rabies bites or scratches you, let your doctor know. Health providers are required to report any animal bites that need medical treatment by the end of the next working day. This includes bites from pets, farm animals, exotic pets, wild animals, and strays.

 

The doctor must report the injury to DHEC (the Department of Health and Environmental Control in SC) using an Animal Incident Report Form according to S.C. State Code of Laws Section 47-5-90.

 

Dog bites can cause major injuries

 

Dog bites can break the skin, cause major bleeding, muscle damage, and even break cartilage or bones. Many injuries occur on people’s lower extremities, hands, necks, or faces. 

 

Here are a few of the most common injuries a dog bite can cause.

 

  • Cuts/puncture wounds/lacerations
  • Infections
    • Cellulitis
    • Rabies
    • Tetanus
  • Crushed or broken bones
  • Avulsions (tear injuries)
  • Death

 

Dog bite wounds can cause permanent damage like:

 

  • Nerve damage
  • Muscle damage
  • Severe scarring

Dog bite statistics

 

Most people are bitten by a dog they know like a friend or family member’s dog. Or even the family pet in their own home. It’s important to know that most dog bite injuries that require an ER visit occur in children, often infants. Dog bite fatalities can result in criminal charges for the owner.

 

Dog bite numbers in the US

 

Here are some sobering statistics we should all be aware of.

  • About 4.5 million dog bites occur in the US each year and tens of millions occur annually around the world
  • About 800,000 bites per year require medical attention
  • Homeowner’s insurance companies paid almost $797 million in dog-bite related injuries in 2019
  • Close to 30,000 people needed reconstructive surgery because of dog bites in 2018
  • From 2005-2019, dogs killed 521 Americans

 

What causes dogs to bite?

 

Dogs usually bite for a reason. If we can understand the reasons, we may be able to prevent bites.

Some of the most common reasons dogs bite people

  • Protecting someone or something
  • Pain
  • Prey instincts 
  • Unneutered (which increases aggression in male dogs)
  • Chained or tethered
  • Fear
  • Abuse
  • Illness

 

What breeds of dogs cause the greatest injuries and legal problems?

 

  • Pitbull breeds  (22.5% of reported bites)
    • tend to cause the most litigation problems even though they are not the most aggressive dog breed. 
    • Most serious injuries
    • Most expensive medical procedures required
    • Most deaths
  • Mixed breeds (21.2% of reported bites)
  • German shepherds (17.8% of reported bites)

 

According to the AAHA, “The findings showed that dogs with short, wide heads who weighed between 66 and 100 pounds were the most likely to bite… The researchers point out that the circumstances that cause a dog to bite vary and may be influenced by breed behavior tendencies and the behavior of the victim, parents, and dog owner.”

Do you really need a dog bite lawyer?

 

For people to get all the compensation they deserve for serious dog bite injuries, they need an experienced personal injury attorney. Sometimes medical costs can be astronomical in these cases. Especially when multiple surgeries are required over time. This is not something people should try to handle alone with an insurance company.

 

We have seen some horrific cases involving dog attacks. Very often they involve children with facial wounds. Animals tend to go after the face of a young child and cause really bad injuries. It doesn’t have to be a certain breed of dog. This could even happen with a small dog. When a small child is with a small dog, the damage to the face can be significant.

 

If you are the parent of an injured child, insurance companies want to swoop in and resolve these cases quickly. They realize facial scarring is serious business to juries in SC and to anyone who realizes what the injuries will do to a child. Some of these children will have to live with terrible consequences for the rest of their lives because of their scars.

 

At Burriss and Ridgeway, we have plastic surgeons we work with who can look at scars for us and see if something can be done, like laser treatment or skin grafting. We never settle a dog bite case without getting a plastic surgeon to evaluate the scar to determine what surgical procedures will need to be done in the future. Under the law, you can recover for medical expenses you have already received but also for probable future medical expenses.



Looking for a dog bite attorney in South Carolina?

 

We service the entire state of SC and cover personal injury cases (including dog bites), domestic matters (Divorce, adoption, child custody), and criminal defense cases including DUI defense.

 

We’d love to put our years of experience, compassion, and knowledge to work to see if we can help you and your family.

 

Please contact us today and schedule a free consultation.

 

We have offices in Lexington, Orangeburg, and Columbia, SC. And we can often meet virtually, as well. 

 

Related

What Should I Expect from My Personal Injury Lawyer?

When Should I File a Personal Injury Claim?

What Is a Personal Injury Lawyer?

 

Resources

 

Dog Bites by www.webmd.com

Dog bit statistics from dogsbite.org

30 Crucial Dog Bite Statistics Everyone Should Know by petpedia.com

Report Animal Bites to DHEC

S.C. State Code of Laws Section 47-5-90.

New Study Identifies Most Damaging Dog Bites by Breed by AAHA.org (American Animal Hospital Association)

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