Mostly due to rising medical expenses and a better understanding of animal attack injuries, the average dog bite monetary settlement has almost doubled since 2003. Settlements are generally even higher in Kentucky, where the laws are very victim-friendly. Altogether, the nation’s homeowners’ insurance companies pay about $700 million a year to resolve these claims.
Since so much is at stake and the deck is stacked against them, insurance company lawyers often fight these claims tooth and nail. So, unless you have a dedicated Lexington personal injury lawyer on your side, it is almost impossible to obtain a fair-sized slice of the aforementioned financial pie.
Dog Bite Injuries
Many animal attack victims are small children. Physically and emotionally, the injuries these victims sustain are often catastrophic.
The injuries begin before the bite itself. When a large dog, like a rottweiler, lunges at a small child, the knockdown often causes a head injury and broken bones. The broken bones normally heal given sufficient time and proper treatment. But the head injury is usually permanent, as outlined below.
A dog’s teeth usually cause both tearing lacerations and deep puncture wounds. Those lacerations usually require extensive reconstructive surgery at a specialized treatment center. Even then, significant scarring and other disfigurement is common. The puncture wounds often pierce internal organs and cause uncontrollable blood loss.
Additionally, about half of all dog bite wounds become infected. Common infections include pasteurella, rabies, tetanus, and sepsis.
Emotionally, many victims deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Contrary to popular myth, doctors now know that PTSD is a physical brain injury. Trauma creates a chemical imbalance. As a result, these victims experience symptoms like nightmares, heightened awareness, depression, and flashbacks. These symptoms do not go away on their own. They get worse unless a qualified doctor treats them.
To obtain fair compensation for these serious injuries, victims basically have two legal options. There are pros and cons to each one.
Kentucky has one of the broadest and simplest strict liability laws in the country. Owners are liable for physical and emotional attack injuries as a matter of law. According to the statute, “Any owner whose dog is found to have caused damage to a person, livestock, or other property shall be responsible for that damage.”
In this context, “strict liability” means “basically strict liability.” The comparative fault defense, which usually involves provocation, is available. More on this defense below.
Strict liability claims are relatively easy to prove in court, but sometimes, damages are limited. Many pet owners consider strict liability laws punitive against owners. And, most people in Fayette County either own dogs or closely sympathize with dog owners.
These issues do not apply in negligence claims. In fact, the opposite is often true. Many pet owners want to punish negligent owners, especially if there is any indication of animal mistreatment. The obvious downside to a negligence claim is that it is only available in certain situations. In this context, there are three different types of negligence:
- Ordinary Negligence: Essentially, ordinary negligence is a lack of care. Both owners and non-owners can be negligent. Owners might allow a large dog to play with a small child, or a schoolteacher might allow children to play near a large dog.
- Scienter (Knowledge): Under the common law one-bite rule, owners are liable for attack damages if they knew the animal was vicious. Evidence of knowledge usually includes pre-bite behavior, like aggressive barking and sinister growling.
- Negligence Per Se: Most municipalities have leash laws, fence laws, and other animal restraint laws. If the owner violated such a law and that violation substantially caused injury, the owner could be liable as a matter of law.
Negligence claims also introduce the possibility of third party liability. For example, in the aforementioned schoolteacher case, the school district would be liable for the teacher’s negligence.
Insurance Company Defenses
We touched on comparative fault/provocation above. This defense is available in both strict liability and negligence claims.
Provoking an animal is an intentional act. People do not accidentally provoke dogs. Sudden movements and loud noises are not legally provocative. In fact, in this context, “provoking” is almost synonymous with “torturing.”
If the jury determines both parties were at fault, they must divide responsibility between them on a percentage basis.
Assumption of the risk is a negligence defense. It excuses wrongful conduct if the victim voluntarily assumed a known risk.
This defense usually involves a “Beware of Dog” or other such warning sign. Such signage makes it easier to establish the defense, but a sign alone is not enough. Insurance company lawyers must prove the victim saw the sign, could read it, and could understand what it meant.
Animal attack victims usually are entitled to significant compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. After-hours visits are available.