Dog Bite Claims: A Closer Look

On Behalf of | Oct 19, 2020 | Injuries, Uncategorized

In 2019, homeowners’ insurance companies spent about $800 million to resolve dog bite claims. That figure has increased substantially in recent years. Rising medical costs and a better understanding of dog bite injuries are largely responsible for the rising settlement costs. Furthermore, the often gruesome nature of these injuries and the generally vulnerable nature of the victim prompts many insurance companies to settle these matters quickly.

The financial settlement figures might be slightly higher in Kentucky. The Bluegrass State has one of the most victim-friendly dog bite laws in the country. This law’s wording drives up a claim’s settlement value.

In addition to the economic, legal, and medical factors, a Lexington personal injury attorney’s unique skill set also comes into play. Lawyers are good litigators and good negotiators. They do not immediately take the first offer and they do not make unreasonable demands. Instead, a Lexington personal injury attorney knows when to compromise and when to stand firm.

Dog Bite Injuries

As mentioned, many dog bite victims are vulnerable victims, like small children. As a result, the initial knockdown could cause serious injuries, including broken bones and a head injury.

Accidental fall broken bones usually heal completely. But injury-related broken bones usually do not heal completely. The fractures are much worse. So, the victim often permanently loses at least partial use of a body part, like a shoulder.

Likewise, head injuries are always permanent. After brain cells die, they never regenerate. Risky surgery and intense physical therapy can reduce the symptoms, but they can never cure the injury itself. 

Furthermore, when dogs bite, they usually cause tearing lacerations and deep puncture wounds. The lacerations usually require reconstructive surgery. Even then, substantial scarring usually remains. The deep puncture wounds usually cause internal bleeding. Such blood loss is difficult to detect and even more difficult to control.

Finally, dog bite wounds have extremely high infection rates. In healthy adults, bacterial infections are normally manageable. But for vulnerable victims, any bacterial infection could be life-threatening.

Available Legal Options

The aforementioned nature of Kentucky law gives victims several legal alternatives. All of them have some pros and cons. Additionally, the victim/plaintiff always has the burden of proof in these situations. Some common legal theories include:

  • Strict Liability: Section 258.235 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes states that “Any owner whose dog is found to have caused damage to a person, livestock, or other property shall be responsible for that damage.” That’s one of the most simple and straightforward strict liability laws in the country. The downside is that many pet owners view broad laws like this one as financial penalties.
  • Scienter (Knowledge): If the owner knew the animal was potentially vicious and the animal attacked someone, liability might also attach. Evidence of knowledge includes previous bites and pre-bite behavior, like aggressive barking and sudden lunging. Damages are usually higher in scienter claims, because the owner is at least partially at fault for failing to control the animal. But this doctrine is obviously only applicable in some situations.
  • Negligence: The ordinary negligence doctrine is often useful against non-owners. For example, a schoolteacher is arguably negligent if he allows children to play near a strange dog. Negligence per se is the violation of a safety law, which in this case is usually a leash law or other dog restraint law.

Damages in these claims usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Insurance Company Defenses

The provocation defense is usually available in all dog bite claims, including strict liability claims. Frequently, everyday provocation is subjective. Sudden moves or loud noises can be considered provocative. Furthermore, provocation is not always malicious, and not always intentional.

Legal provocation is much different. Legal provocation is always intentional and usually malicious. The victim must inflict so much physical pain on the animal that a violent response is justified. In other words, in a Fayette County court, “provocation” is almost synonymous with “torture.”

If the owner displayed a warning sign, like “Beware of Dog,” the assumption of the risk defense is easier to prove. This defense applies if the victim voluntarily assumed a known risk.

Most people voluntarily approach dogs. But the insurance company bears the burden of proof, and the burden of persuasion, on the second element. The victim must have been able to see the sign, read the sign, and fully understand what the words meant.

Dog bites often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.