Usually, dogs are friendly creatures that make excellent companions. However, dogs can also bite. Here are the most frequently asked questions about dog attacks and dog bite injuries.
What Causes Dogs to Bite or Attack?
Dogs can bite or attack without warning. However, some of the most common reasons a dog will attack include:
A dog is protecting their food
A female dog is protecting her litter of puppies
A dog is protecting his or her property or owner
A dog feels threatened
Can I Have a Dog Bite Case Even If My Physical Injuries Were Minor?
If a dog attacked you and you incurred any lost wages or medical bills as a result of the incident, you may have a case even if your injuries are minor or the dog never actually bit you. Psychological damages may also be compensable depending on your case.
Typically, the owner of the dog is responsible for the injuries and property damage that their dog causes.
If the dog is at a veterinarian’s office and a vet tech gets bit, their employer may be responsible for damages if they failed to provide a safe working environment.
If the dog is in the care of an animal shelter or humane society, the city, town, or privately run shelter may be at fault.
What If I Don’t Know the Owner of the Dog Who Bit Me?
If you don’t know who owns the dog that bit you, it may be more difficult to obtain compensation in a dog bite claim or lawsuit. It may be possible to track down the owner or responsible party with the help of an experienced dog bite law firm.
Do I Need to Go to Court to Win My Dog Bite Case?
No. Litigation is not always – or even often – necessary to receive the full and fair settlement you deserve after being attacked by a dog.
Usually, the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance company is the entity that pays for the claim. This makes it easier for people who were attacked by their friend’s or neighbor’s dog to obtain the financial restitution they need.
How Much Compensation Can I Get from My Dog Bite Case?
How much financial compensation you can obtain depends on many factors, including the severity of your injuries, medical treatments that were needed, any permanent scarring (especially on the face), psychological trauma, and if the victim is partially or fully disabled and either no longer able to work in the manner they once did or at all.
How Long Will It Take to Obtain a Final Settlement?
If you can reach a settlement agreement with an insurance company, this could take just a couple of months. If you need to pursue litigation, your final settlement could take multiple months or even more than a year.
How Can a Dog Bite Attorney Help?
A dog bite lawyer who has a proven track record of success with dog bite cases can be an invaluable asset in a dog bite case. Your attorney can help you identify responsible parties, calculate current and future damages, and advocate for your best interests throughout every step of your case.
Were you or a loved one viciously attacked by a dog? Mazow | McCullough, PC can help. Call today for a consultation at (855) 693-9084.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Robert Mazow and Kevin McCullough of the law firm of Mazow McCullough, a personal injury law firm with offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Robert and Kevin have a great deal of experience as dog bite attorneys, and today we’re talking about what to do if you get bit by a dog. Robert and Kevin, welcome.
Robert Mazow: Thanks John.
Kevin McCullough: Thank you, John.
John: So Rob, what should I do if I’m bit by a dog or maybe a family member is spit by a dog?
What If You Are Bitten By a Dog? First Steps: Get Medical Care
Robert: Well, John, it depends on the severity of the bite. The first thing you’re going to want to do is make sure that the wound is clean. You’re going want to get yourself obviously soap and water. Stop any bleeding with a clean cloth. If you have antibiotic cream, get that right on it and wrap the wound. Certainly if it’s something very severe, you’re going to want to get to the emergency room. Call your doctor. You want to make sure that you’re not getting infected. Lots of times we see infections come out of these dog bites because obviously the dog’s mouth is not necessarily clean. And if the wound hasn’t been cleaned properly, you’re going to get an infection. And that’s when things can get really bad.
Also, if it’s going to require stitches or some sort of a closure, you’re going to need to get to a doctor or an emergency room to make sure that that wound gets properly cleaned out and that the stitches are put in properly so that any wound that’s likely going to be permanent will at least have a cleaner look to it and won’t be raised and the skin won’t be as deformed as what might otherwise happen. So first and foremost, get that clean. And then the next step is going to be finding out what the history of that dog is to make sure that you don’t need to get anything more significant as far as medical treatment.
John: Right. So Kevin, maybe you can talk about that a little bit more. Aside from getting the medical care, what else should I do if I’m bit by a dog?
Gathering Information After Dog Bite
Kevin: Yeah. If you are the unfortunate victim of being bit or attacked by a dog or family member of yours has been bit or attacked by a dog, first and foremost, you want to gather as much information as you can concerning the dog and the dog owner or the handler of the dog at the time of the incident. And that may include getting some information from the dog collar if possible, recalling or getting a description of the color of the dog or the breed of the dog. If you’re able to take notes or write notes, regarding the dog owner and getting their name, address, contact information, all of those things you may be the last thing from your mind if you’re worried about a bite or a wound and keeping it clean or stopping the bleeding, things like that. But it is so important to gather that information concerning the dog and the dog owner.
You also want to be mindful of or aware of any witnesses to the incident. If there are people around you that may have seen what happened or how it happened, gather their name, phone number, address, email information, and again, depending on the severity of the incident, you may not be able to do all of that. So gather as much information as you can and also contact the police. Whether or not an incident is worthy of police involvement, let the police make that decision. I would certainly suggest in a dog bite event or incident to contact the police so that animal control can get involved. They may help with the information that I just mentioned as far as getting information on the dog and the dog owner or witnesses. But if at all possible, get the police involved.
And once you have the ability and you’re removed from the scene, some of the additional things to do beyond the medical care and the medical treatment, take photographs of the wound, document that wound and how it heals. Take pictures over time to show the healing process. A year or two years later when you may be presenting an injury claim, you’re going to want that documentation to be able to show an insurance adjuster or a lawyer or the dog owner the severity of that wound, how long it took to heal or get better or to close over time. I would also suggest, and we advise our clients if you’re comfortable doing it, keep a journal. Describe how you feel on a particular day, a pain level, something that you may not have been able to do, some events that you may not have been able to attend to because of the wound or the injury.
Keep track of any lost wages or missed time from work. Again, depending on the severity of the event. There’s so much that can be done beyond the medical treatment to document the event, to document the injury, and to document the progression or the injury getting better that are so important and become important once the healing is over and you’re trying to present all of this information and everything that you’ve gone through to the dog owner or the insurance company for the dog.
Robert: Right. And Kevin, you mentioned at the beginning there one issue that could be a question for people, which is that you should get the information of who the dog owner is, who the handler is, and those could be different. So, say maybe it’s a dog walker or just a neighbor of the dog owner who’s taking that dog for a walk or is taking care of that dog while that owner is away. Why is it important to make sure that you know who the owner was and who was actually handling that dog at the time of the incident?
Kevin: Great distinction there, John. Because the law in Massachusetts allows a dog bite victim to pursue a dog owner or the dog keeper, whoever was controlling that dog at the time of the event. And oftentimes that the keeper of the dog or the person that had the dog at the time of the event may not be the owner. So it is extremely important to find out who was in control of the dog at the time, and if it’s not the dog owner, to still gather that person’s information. You may have someone saying, “It’s not my dog, here’s all the owner’s information,” and not want to offer any information about who they are. But you still want to gather the information of who had the dog at the time because that would be the person responsible for the actions of the dog at the time of an event. So to be able to capture that information and pursue that person.
We all love our animals and if we go away on vacation, we may have an arrangement with a friend or family member or a professional dog walking service to make sure that the dog gets out and is able to get fresh air and walk. So it is something that happens, and it happens routinely where an event takes place or someone is bit and the person with the dog may not be the owner. So it’s a very good question. It’s a very good distinction to gather the information for both the dog owner and also the person that was in control of the dog at the time of an event or a bite.
When Should You Contact an Attorney About a Dog Bite?
John: Okay, and Rob, when during this whole process, should I consider contacting an attorney about a dog bite?
Robert: So much of it depends upon the severity of the bite. We tend to think you don’t know necessarily when you’re first bit how severe the dog bite might be. This could heal in a bad way. It could become infected, something more could result from this. So even if you have no intention necessarily to make an insurance claim or make a claim for damages against the dog owner or the dog keeper, there’s no harm in contacting their attorney. Certainly in an office like ours, it doesn’t cost anything because we work on a contingency fee. It’s just basically we would only get a recovery of a fee if we got a recovery of the damages for the victim.
It does not hurt to contact an attorney just to go through some questions, just to go through some issues you might have, to talk about documenting, to talk about medical records, to talk about medical bills, to talk about what the person might be entitled to recover for. So anytime shortly after that you get bit and once you’re making sure that you’ve got the proper medical treatment, no harm in contacting an attorney just to go through some questions if there are any.
John: Right. And Kevin, before you talked a little bit about documenting all of the aspects of what happened at the dog bite and incident, talking to the witnesses, getting their information and also documenting a little bit about the wound and how it heals. Can you talk a little bit more about that and how you should go about documenting the effects of your injuries in a dog bite case?
Kevin: Yeah, certainly, John. The dog bite victims and wounds that are a result from a dog bite, everyone is different, depending on the type of dog, the size or age of the victim, what area of the body was bitten, all of those things impact the recovery and the healing process. So if someone’s bit on the hand, how they can move or manipulate their hand for the next year or 18 months will be affected and will be impacted. And maybe they’re bit on the leg and how they’re able to walk or stand or sleep. Those are the types of things that are extremely important to document how the injury and the effect of the injury, how it impacts you on a day to day basis.
Someone who is a physical laborer versus someone who has a desk job, how they heal following a dog bite injury, a dog attack, are going to be completely different, and it’s important to have all of that documented for each specific injury in each specific case. I mentioned a few moments ago keeping a journal, and I think that’s a critical piece because when someone’s living through the recovery or going through the recovery process from a dog attack, they’re going through a difficult time and a difficult situation, and they’re fighting through that and struggling through that. But if they don’t document things and write all of that down as far as how they’re feeling, what they’re able to do, it’s hard to capture that a year or two later when you’re trying to explain to someone what you actually went through and how it affected you.
So however old you are when you’re bit, whatever part of your body gets bit, keep a journal, document what’s going on for you on a daily basis, how it affects you, the things that you’re able to do, the things that you’re not able to do, the things that you might be able to do slightly, but maybe alter how you do it. Those are extremely important when you’re trying to settle a case or evaluate a case or put a settlement range on a particular case to have everything documented, to be able to present it, and to be able to prove it. And having a journal allows you to immediately say, “This is what I went through, this is what my day to day actions were and what my life was like, and it wasn’t fun.”
John: Right. That’s really great advice. Kevin and Rob, thanks again for speaking with me today.
Robert: Thanks, John.
Kevin: Thank you, John.
John: And for more information on dog bite cases or other personal injury cases, visit the firm’s website at helpinginjured.com or call (855) 693-9084.
Robert Mazow and Kevin McCullough of personal injury law firm, Mazow McCullough, discuss FAQs on dog bite cases. They have offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire with extensive experience as dog bite attorneys.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Robert Mazow and Kevin McCullough of the law firm Mazow McCullough, a personal injury law firm with offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Robert and Kevin have a great deal of experience as dog bite attorneys, and today we’re talking about FAQs on dog bite cases. Robert and Kevin, welcome.
Kevin McCullough: Thank you, John.
Robert Mazow: Thank you, John.
Will the Dog Get Put Down After an Incident is Reported?
John: So Kevin, let’s start with you. If I report the dog bite or sue the owner, will the dog automatically get put down?
Kevin: The dog will not automatically get put down simply from reporting the incident and/or if the authorities are notified of an incident through a lawsuit. But there’s so much more that goes into that analysis. Because whether or not a dog will face a punishment or ultimately be put down due to a dog bite incident is really a result of that city or town where the incident occurs, as well as what the history of that dog may be.
I know, oftentimes, and it’s a human reaction and a natural response, that if you’ve been bit by a dog or attacked by a dog to be concerned about what may ultimately happen to the dog, but that could be [inaudible] out of your control.
It’s very important to report a dog bite attack or incident to the local police or the animal control officer so that they’re aware of the incident and that they can keep track of it. But what ultimately happens to the dog is really outside of your hands because, again, it depends upon what the rules and regulations are for the city or town where the incident occurs, and it really depends upon whether or not that dog has had any prior incidents or in fact has bitten anyone in the past.
Robert: I just want to add a couple things. It’s rare in our experience for a dog to be put down as a result of a single bite or an attack. I can’t say it doesn’t happen, and I’ll give you an example of one time that it did. But cities, towns, police departments, they are going to be reluctant to make that kind of a suggestion to put a dog down simply because of a bite. So I don’t think people should be concerned that if you make a claim or you put somebody on notice that the dog owner’s going to lose their dog as a result of it. Now, as Kevin said, it depends on the history of the dog, it depends on the viciousness of the attack, depends on the particular city or town ordinances involved.
We had a case a couple of years ago where a very dangerous, dangerous breed of dog attacked and killed a child. I mean, it was horrible. I mean, the police, in order to get the child at least free from the attack had to shoot the dogs. Now, of course, there wasn’t a process of going through the channels to put a dog down. But the cases that we have dealt with, it’s been very rare. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of any other cases where the authorities have required the dog be put down. They have required dogs be removed from the city, and they have required dogs be quarantined for a certain period of time. But to actually be put down is really the exception, not the rule.
John: Okay. Yeah, that’s important to know I think because there are a lot of animal lovers out there, and animal lovers get bit by dogs just like anybody else does. You don’t necessarily want to see that dog have to be put down, but like you said, you might not know that when you got bit by that dog, it wasn’t the first time that dog has bit five other people. If that’s the case, I might not even know that that happened; and in that case, maybe it makes sense for that dog to be put down if that dog has a strong history of bites that I might not even be aware of.
Kevin: Yeah, and that’s something that no one knows at the start of a case or a situation or an incident, John. As Rob mentioned, you can have one incident that can be extreme and gruesome and vicious that a dog could be put down, and other times it may be notifying the authorities, getting the medical treatment that you need, investigating whether or not you need to obtain maybe shots and getting records from the vet from where the dog gets its own treatment or shots. Sometimes, it’s a matter of putting all that information together that reveals this dog bit three, four, or five people over the last few years. Then you could get into a situation where a city or town takes action even if the dog bite victim doesn’t want to. It’s just something that has to happen, and it’s a decision that may be out of their control, unfortunately.
Has the Dog Had His/Her Shots?
John: Rob, the next question that you get asked a lot is will somebody make sure that the dog had its shots, especially rabies shots and things like that?
Robert: Yeah. So if the person is bit by a dog, they need to obviously find out if the dog has their shots. Now, there’s a couple of ways you can do that. The first is if you know who the dog owner is, you contact the dog owner and you get the paperwork either from them or from the vet. Towns, at least in Massachusetts, cities and towns, when you register your dog and you get dog tags, you have to let the police know. You register with the town hall or the police that your dog has the proper shots.
It is very unfortunate when we get a case where a person can’t identify whether the dog has had the rabies shots. Sometimes people have to go through a couple rounds of rabies shots before that’s even found out. But again, that’s more the exception than the rule. Generally, people have their dogs properly taken care of. Particularly with rabies shots, we tend to see that within a very short period of time we can get ahold of those certifications from the dog owner or from the police department or from the dog owners’ vets pretty quickly.
John: Do we see many stray dogs anymore, and what happens if a stray dog bites somebody that I know or myself?
Robert: It’s a problem. First of all, it’s not a case we would generally be able to take, because you need to have a dog owner or a dog keeper. We don’t see a lot of stray dogs around Massachusetts, so it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t come across our radar. If it does happen, you got to get yourself to the hospital, you got to get yourself to your doctor, and you got to start the rabies process, because there’s no other way to know. I suppose if you can somehow contain the dog and the dog can be taken in and put down, they can test it that way.
John: Kevin, the next question that you get a lot is, do the police always get involved in dog bite cases? Again, this might come from somebody who got bit by a neighbor’s dog, and they feel bad if they know that the police are going to show up at that person’s door and cause a scene, that kind of thing. I mean, obviously, I think the most important thing is the victim gets the treatment that they need. But do the police always get involved?
Kevin: John, I can tell you unequivocally that, no, the police do not always get involved, but I can also say that they should. With every dog bite or dog attack, it is extremely important to not only gather information, but as we’ve discussed already, just to track the history of a particular dog. When the police are not called, it is much more difficult to track those bites and those events.
It’s also could be more difficult to prove your claim if you’ve been bit or injured. Now, if it’s a serious enough of an incident with a serious enough injury or involving a child, typically we do see with the importance of that event and the magnitude of the event, that the police get called.
But what we also see a lot of are people walking at the park or taking a walk in their neighborhood or walking a local rail trail, and they may come across another party walking a dog or with a dog, and there’s an incident, there’s a bite, there’s a situation. That person may be injured, that person fully intends to get medical treatment. There may be a discussion with the dog owner at that time, but the police are not called.
Again, that can make things difficult, not only to track the history of a particular dog, but also within proving your claim. When you get the information that you need and you continue on home and then you make your way to the hospital or to your doctor and you start to explain what happened in the event and maybe the wound gets infected and it becomes more serious, and then you’re reaching out to an attorney a few weeks later and you’re circling back trying to get the information that you wish you had. So it is so important that people know, if you’re bit by a dog or you’re attacked by a dog and there’s any wound, you should contact the police, you should contact animal control, and let them assist you with gathering the information that you need, documenting the event, making sure that you get the medical treatment that you need. It is so important.
There’s a fair concern. People don’t want to call 911 or call the police if it’s a puncture wound or even a tear that may require some stitches. We sort of have this mentality where we’re going to suck it up and downplay this as much as possible. The dog may be nice. You may know the dog owner. But I would recommend in every situation, although it doesn’t happen, I would recommend, knowing the obstacles that we face ahead with pursuing the claim, to always contact the police and always notify the police and capture that information contemporaneously with the event.
What To Do When Dogs Fight
John: Okay. Robert, our final question is more of one that happens before a bite and hopefully can help to prevent a bite from happening. What should I do if I see two dogs fighting, or maybe my dog is fighting with another dog?
Robert: Well, I’m a dog owner, so I’m maybe biased here. Let me first start with the first part of your question. If I’m a witness and I have no ownership of either dog or relationship with either dog, I wouldn’t get anywhere near two dogs fighting. You don’t know anything about these dogs. You don’t want to take the chance. I mean, the dogs will hopefully disengage at some point on their own. But if I’m out there on the street, I see two dogs fighting, I stay as far away as I can. I can call for help. You can call 911 if you think it’s going to get into some real problem.
So if it’s my dog and I’m walking down the street … We see this a lot. We see two dogs walking down the street with their owners at the leash and they get entangled. You try to break it up and the person gets bit, and they’re automatically just going to assume that it was the other dog that bit them, not their dog. Those are tricky cases. But if it’s your own dog, I can speak for myself, if it’s my dog and if there’s any way that I could try to disengage the dogs from each other without endangering myself or somebody else, I’m going to do that. That’s not advice to somebody though. I’m not suggesting you do that. You don’t want to put yourself into danger. You don’t want to put yourself into a situation where you’re going to get hurt.
Best case scenario is if your dog is fighting with another dog and it gets serious, call 911. Call for help if you can’t somehow extract the dogs from the situation.
John: All right, that’s really great advice. Rob and Kevin, thanks again for speaking with me today.
Robert: Thank you, John.
Kevin: Thanks, John.
John: For more information on dog bite cases or other personal injury cases, visit the firm’s website at helpinginjured.com or call (855) 693-9084.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Robert Mazow and Kevin McCullough of the law firm of Mazow-McCullough, a personal injury law firm with offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Robert and Kevin have a great deal of experience as dog bite attorneys, and today we’re talking about dog bite cases in a strict liability state like Massachusetts. Rob and Kevin, welcome.
Robert Mazow: Thank you, John.
Kevin McCullough: Thank you, John.
Dog Bite Law and Strict Liability States
John: Kevin, when it comes to dog bite law, Massachusetts is what’s called a strict liability state. What does that mean?
Kevin: John, strict liability really refers to the burden of proof. In a typical lawsuit or a typical case, the person bringing the lawsuit is known as the plaintiff, and they would have the burden of proof in the legal system or in the court system. What that means is they have to tip the scale in their favor by showing through some evidence or through some facts that they should prevail. That is sort of the starting point for most cases. However, with a strict liability situation, like a dog bite situation in Massachusetts, that burden of proof shifts ever so slightly before you even start the case. In other words, in a dog bite situation, it really immediately shifts to the dog owner or the dog keeper at the time of an incident to show that they didn’t do something wrong or that they may have a certain defense to a claim. A strict liability analysis is something that is very favorable for someone who’s injured because they’re coming out of the gate with the strength of the facts and the law to be able to move forward with their claim for damages.
John: If you could, Kevin, just sort of explain do I have to prove anything in terms of was it actually that dog that bit me or is there any burden of proof on my end? Because what you’re saying is basically that it’s really the defense that has to defend themselves and I don’t really have to do much in the way of proof. But what type of proof do I need to give at all that I was injured and it was this dog or this dog owner’s fault?
Kevin: That’s a good question, John. You do have to prove that an incident actually occurred. Similar to a car accident case, a plaintiff would have to prove that the incident actually occurred and then they would then have to prove that the other person is at fault. In a dog bite situation, with that strict liability, you still have to prove obviously that an incident occurred that you were bit, which should be relatively simple based upon an injury or damages and photographs. But as soon as you prove that an incident did occur and that you did suffer a bite or an injury, that burden shifts immediately to the dog owner or the keeper of the dog at the time. It shifts in that they are responsible, they are at fault, and now if they have some defenses that they may raise to show that they weren’t at fault or that the plaintiff in fact did something to cause the incident. The defendant would have the ability to present those defenses, but a strict liability law, like a dog bite law, is very strong and very favorable for the injured party.
John: Okay, that’s good clarification. Rob, are there any exceptions to this strict liability rule?
Robert: Well, the strict liability rule is a strict liability rule. The defenses that one could raise are limited in Massachusetts, and that would be if the victim of the dog bite was trespassing, was teasing or tormenting the dog. Let me give you an example. If a child, let’s say 15-year-old child, somebody who has reason to know what trespassing is and isn’t, hops over a fence into somebody else’s yard and their German shepherd bites them, then certainly a case could be made that the dog owner is responsible for the dog bite because they own the dog at the time of the bike, but the defense is going to be, and it’s going to be a good defense and probably would weigh very heavily in a jury’s mind, was that the child was old enough to know right from wrong, trespassed and basically assumed the risk that something like this could happen. That’s a kind of defense that you see raised in a dog bite case.
Another kind of defense is if somebody is walking down the street and the dog approaches them and you start poking the dog with a stick, you’re tormenting the dog, you’re teasing the dog. Well, the dog doesn’t have rational behavior. The dog is going to act by instinct and might bite to defend themselves. That would be another kind of defense you might see. Again, that would be a kind of defense, if proven, would weigh very heavily in favor of the defense, the dog owner.
Those are the kinds of things that we’re going to want to look at. Particularly with a child, it’s always raised as a defense, “Oh, the child was teasing my dog. The child was trespassing.” So those are the kinds of things that we’re going to want to get a handle on very quickly to make sure that if those kind of issues are raised we’ll have a response to them if it’s available.
John: Right. You mentioned this case of maybe a 15-year-old knowing the difference between right and wrong and knowing what trespassing is and that they shouldn’t jump a fence like that. Is there an age that is set that determines whether or not somebody is old enough to know better, or is it subjective and is that what comes up if this goes to trial?
Robert: It’s not a set age, but they usually say anything lower than five years old or so, the defense of trespassing or teasing might not be so strong because the child doesn’t have the kind of reason that you might have. Or let’s say if somebody else is mentally handicapped in some way, there may be some different areas of room that you can have to discuss whether or not the person actually knew what they were doing was trespassing. So there’s no set age, but in Massachusetts they tend to say that the younger the child is, the less likely they’re going to be able to have the reason to know right from wrong. Those are the kind of areas you see that in.
Trespassing and Strict Liability Dog Bite Law
John: Okay, Kevin, do you have to go to court to determine if the victim was trespassing or maybe provoking the dog? What happens if you have been found to have been doing one of those things, that you were teasing the dog and you jumped a fence and you went in their backyard, or something like that? Does that just automatically throw the case out, or what’s the deal?
Kevin: It doesn’t automatically throw the case out, but it is a very fact-intense analysis. What I mean by that is every case is different and if there is a dog bite case where the defendant or dog owner is asserting trespass, tormenting or teasing as a defense, it really puts the burden on that party to prove those facts or that allegation. There may be witnesses to the dog bite or the dog attack that may talk about a child hopping a fence or entering someone’s property. There may be witnesses involved as far as trying to prove that a plaintiff or person that was injured was somehow teasing or tormenting the dog. But those situations and those defenses when they come up are very fact-intensive. Oftentimes, what we typically see is the dog owner being the only person able to testify or offer evidence that the person was trespassing or the person was teasing or tormenting the dog.
Kevin: If that’s the case, it’s really who do you believe. Again, if there are independent or unbiased witnesses, oftentimes those witnesses will prevail and provide evidence or testimony to show which side is being truthful and which side is telling the truth, but when it’s word versus word, those are the situations that may ultimately go to trial or may have to come out in a courtroom and have the jury decide who you believe.
But what we typically see on a practical analysis of these situations is those are the talking points between our office or the insurance company, where there may be an allegation or an accusation the defense raised and then we’ll flush out through evidence, through depositions, through written discovery and questions, document requests. We’ll focus on what that defense is that’s raised, we’ll find out if it’s valid, if it’s truthful. Ultimately, if we can’t talk through and negotiate the strength of that evidence, we’ll try to settle the case. Ultimately, yes, we could be in trial in a courtroom and having a jury decide was there a trespass or tormenting or teasing involved, as raised by the defendant in a case.
John: Couple of followup questions on trespassing. One, what is considered trespassing? Is it just if a yard has a fence and you’ve hopped the fence or gone through a gate uninvited or something like that, or could I be considered trespassing if I just walk up the walkway to the front door and knock on the front door or something like that?
Robert: All right, well the first part is, let’s say you have a dog behind a fence and the fence has a warning that the dog is there or No Trespassing signs and a person decides to hop the fence. I think there’s a pretty good no trespassing defense in that case if a person’s bit by dog. Walking up to somebody’s front yard to ring the doorbell or to deliver something, I don’t believe you are going to be successful with a trespassing defense if the dog bolts at you and causes injury. That’s because a person has a reasonable expectation not to get bitten by a dog or attacked by a dog if they are walking up somebody’s front yard.
It’s when they enter an area that’s not open to the public, that somebody wouldn’t expect them to be. I’d say somebody’s backyard could be considered trespassing. If you’re cutting through there to get from one street to another street and the dog attacks you, you’re in somebody’s backyard, well, you’re going to see the defense of trespassing raised there. But walking up the street or walking up the sidewalk or walking up the front door, I don’t believe a jury is going to take that very seriously if a trespass defense is raised in that case. Then that would be raised all the time and I don’t think that that’s what the courts are expecting to see happen in these dog bite cases.
John: Right. You brought up actually the second point that I wanted to bring up, which was what if there are signs posted that either say Do Not Trespass or maybe Beware of Dog or something like that, does that make it more obvious that this would be a trespassing case?
Kevin: John, that’s why these cases are so fact specific. Whether or not there are signs posted would strengthen the argument or the position from the defendant that the plaintiff should not have been in the yard or on their property. If there were no signs posted, why was that person on the front porch or on the property? When there’s a fence involved and someone’s hopping a fence or climbing over a fence, that’s one situation, but nowadays we see these fenceless perimeters with dogs allowed to run free on someone’s property. They’re contained or limited to the property, but there is no fence there. So a child or even a teenager may enter someone’s property or driveway for a particular reason and not even see the dog or know that there’s a dog present, and they may be bit by the dog on the property, but there may be reasons justifying why they were on the property, as Rob mentioned a few minutes ago. It really comes down to what that expectation is or what it should be with a particular case.
I mean, that’s why it’s so important to gather that information, to gather witness information and to do that full investigation when an incident occurs, because all of those little things that you may not be thinking about at the time that an incident occurs are reasons why hiring an attorney on a case like this to gather and capture all of that immediately may be helpful down the road in order to present and prove your claim.
John: Okay. Rob, finally, does Massachusetts being a strict liability state generally mean that dog bite injury cases are easier to win?
Robert: I’m not going to say any cases are easy to win. I think there are less hurdles that you otherwise would need to get over in a regular case, but winning is very subjective. They’re not easy to get a jury to give a significant amount of money to. You’re more likely to get a plaintiff’s verdict, but again, a plaintiff could win, it’s just a matter of how much or what a jury is going to give. Each and every kind of case has its own challenges, even dog bites happening to have a strict liability standard allows us to get to a jury more efficiently.
John: All right, that’s great information. Rob and Kevin, thanks again for speaking with me today.
Robert: Thanks, John.
Kevin: Thank you, John.
John: For more information on dog bite cases or other personal injury cases, visit the firm’s website at helpinginjured.com or call 855-693-9084.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Robert Mazow and Kevin McCullough of the law firm of Mazow-McCullough, personal injury law firm, with offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Robert and Kevin have a great deal of experience as dog bite attorneys. Today we’re talking about dog behaviors to watch out for. Robert and Kevin, welcome.
Robert Mazow: Thanks, John.
Kevin McCullough: Thank you, John.
Dog Behaviors to Watch For to Prevent Dog Bites
John: So Rob, the best case for a dog bite victim is obviously for that dog bite to just have never happened in the first place. But what are some dog behaviors that people can watch out for in order to prevent dog bites from happening?
Robert: Well, what I used to tell my children when they were younger is that if the dog is not your dog, you don’t know what behaviors might be signs of aggression in that particular dog. So unless you know what this dog is all about and what makes this dog tick and whether it’s your dog or somebody else’s dog, you really need to be very, very cautious, because you just don’t know. I mean the typical signs you might see for aggression in dogs might be the baring of the teeth or just snarling or growling or protecting their food. You might see the tail really tightly low between the legs. These are the kinds of things that the dogs are naturally built for protection. Those are the kinds of things that you see that you’re going to want to stay away.
Obviously, barking and growling are the typical things you want to see. If a dog is on the end of a leash and he’s trying what best to get away from the leash, you’re not going to want to approach that dog. There are telltale signs that you just want to give the dog a wide berth before you go up to it. If you are with a child, you’re going to want to make sure that you’re holding that child close to you as you’re passing a dog that’s showing these kinds of behaviors. Because you just don’t know when a dog is going to just behave irrationally or behave like a dog and go after something that’s startling them or causing the dog concern.
John: One of the unusual behaviors that I read about actually looking into this was if the dog is yawning or looking away from you as you approach it, that that could actually be a sign that it might be… I don’t know whether it’s not as like that the dog is trying to make you think that it’s not going to bite you, and then at the last second it turns toward and bites, or what the deal is. But like you said, I guess it’s, if you don’t know that particular dog and what its reactions are going to be, you just need to be really cautious.
Robert: Right. And when you don’t know, you don’t know, as they say. And your theory, which I’d never heard before of not looking, I’ve heard theories of dogs don’t like to be looked at directly in their eyes. So, this was the point. You just don’t know a particular breed, you don’t know particular personalities. A dog could be showing one second docile behavior and the next second something spooks the dog and the dog reacts. So, the best case is to be very cautious. Be very careful around dogs, particularly the ones you don’t know.
John: A final one that I read was obviously if a dog is feeling trapped and it can’t get away, that can be a very dangerous situation. So if a dog looks like it’s trying to run away from you, is trying to get away but can’t for some reason, because maybe there’s a fence there or a door or a corner or something like that, that can be just a very dangerous situation to watch out for.
Robert: Yeah. And at the end of the day, dogs are animals and animals can behave irrationally, and you just need to be aware of that, not to trap them or scare them and to just until you know that, you stay clear.
Tips for Avoiding Aggressive Dogs
John: Right. Kevin, if I do encounter an aggressive dog or I want to avoid aggressive dogs in some way, what are some of the things that people can do to avoid a dog that looks like it’s getting aggressive?
Kevin: Yeah, John. It’s such a difficult thing to assess because dogs are obviously animals, but they also have a history or a past, just like everyone else does, including dog owners. So, some dogs have been abused in the past. Some dogs may have an aggressive history, and if it’s a dog that you’re familiar with, you can take certain steps and measures to try to ensure that you don’t become a victim of a dog bite or a dog attack. But if it’s a dog that you’re just not familiar with, you need to keep in mind all of the different possibilities of what could be going on, or what has gone on in the past for this particular dog. And you want to be careful when you’re taking a walk on a rail trail, or if you’re taking a walk around the block, to avoid dogs that you’re just not familiar with.
You may be a dog lover, you may see a cute dog that you may want to pet, but be mindful of that particular dog, and have a conversation with the dog owner as you approach. Approach slowly. But if you can, talk to the dog owner as far as, “Is it okay for me to pet the dog? Is it okay for me to bend down when I’m approaching the dog?” But if you see any particular signs of aggression, even if the dog owner is telling you that the dog is a friendly dog or a safe dog, obviously protect yourself, cross the street, take a different route, take a different path, do everything that you can to avoid that unknown dog or that aggressive dog.
You may come across a situation where dogs may be fighting and you may want to act or intervene. If you don’t know those dogs, or if you’re not familiar with those dogs, you’re better off getting help or notifying someone. Don’t try to intervene or break up that dog fight on your own. Again, especially if it’s not your dog or a dog that you’re responsible for, you don’t want to put yourself in a dangerous position in an effort to break up a dog fight and then ultimately become a victim and have both dogs attacking you. There are so many different things that if you take the time, and if you think about it, without just rushing up to a dog or a pet or an animal. Be safe. Keep your distance. And if you are inclined to approach an animal, make sure you get permission from the dog owner first.
John: Right. There are two things that I’ve encountered personally. One was a dog that otherwise was just the absolute nicest, most friendly dog ever. And that dog, when you went anywhere near it while it was eating, would just immediately get all tense and start to growl at you. And that was certainly a warning sign. Do you see that a lot, that a dog’s protecting their food and growling when they’re eating?
Kevin: As an adult, we obviously know certain things, and don’t interrupt an animal while it’s eating. But unfortunately, children don’t know that. So we do see those situations, John, where a child may have good intentions to pet a dog or to give a dog a hug. And approaching an area where the dog is eating is a very dangerous situation, and it’s up to the adult or the parent to make sure that they let the children know to not bother the dog while they’re eating or not approach the dog. But unfortunately, those are situations that we see routinely, just because a child doesn’t know. They may approach a situation that an adult would otherwise know to stay away from.
Robert: Let me just add onto that. And while you do see it more often with children, we have cases where adults who obviously have experience with dogs might just be sitting next to a sleeping dog and think that the sleeping dog is a docile dog. But we’ve seen the dog react badly and living up to that let sleeping dogs lie statement. Especially older dogs, you startle them when they’re sleeping, you’re going to get a reaction from that. While we do see a lot of bites in children, we also see adults just not appreciating sometimes that a sleeping dog or an eating dog is one that you want to stay away from.
John: Right. The second incident that I was involved in, again speaks to just not knowing a particular dog, where I was approaching a dog. And in this case, the dog owner did the right thing and let me know before I approached that, “Don’t put your hand in front of his face.” Because this was a rescue dog and the theory was that whoever the dog’s previous owner was must have put their hand in front of the dog’s face and then hit the dog, and put the hand in front of the face and then hit the dog. And it developed this reaction if you put your hand in front of the dog’s face, it would just growl, and potentially could bite you in the hand.
John: Where when I was a kid, we were always taught to do that, is if you’re approaching a dog you don’t know, put your hand out and let them sniff your hand and then they’ll get to know you and they’ll feel more comfortable with you. If you did that with this dog, you were much more likely to get bitten. So again, that speaks to that issue of just not knowing any particular dog.
Robert: Right. We’ve had stories where, like a rescue dog who has been in an unfortunate abusive situation, can’t be near men with hats because their abuser might have been somebody who wore a hat all the time. So walking into somebody’s home, you wouldn’t know that, as the dog owner has a responsibility to let people know, take your hat off in that particular situation. But again, walking down the street, you’re just not going to know these things.
Kevin: Every dog has a history, and that’s why it’s so important. And we meet with clients, John, sometimes where people will say, “I had a particular breed of dog all my life growing up and every dog that I had of that breed was so great. That’s why when I saw a dog of the same breed last week on my street, I approached it to try to pet it.” But it isn’t as simple as some breeds of dogs are very aggressive or some breeds are non aggressive and they never bite. It’s every dog has its own history and that, as we’ve discussed here, whether or not it’s a rescue dog or it’s a dog that has been abused, the history and the upbringing and taking care of a particular dog tells a tale. And that dog is going to react that way forever for the rest of its life.
So people need to be mindful of that, that it’s not just as simple as, this is a German Shepherd or a lab or any other various types of dog. It’s to get to know the dog, get to know the dog’s past and its history, and certainly speak to the dog owner and get permission before ever approaching a dog.
John: All right, that’s great advice. Rob and Kevin, thanks again for speaking with me today.
Kevin: Thanks, John.
Robert: Thank you, John.
John: And for more information on dog bite cases or other personal injury cases, visit the firm’s website @helpinginjured.com, or call (855) 693-9084.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher and I’m here today with Robert Mazow and Kevin McCullough of the law firm of Mazow-McCullough, a personal injury law firm with offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Robert and Kevin have a great deal of experience as dog bite attorneys and today we’re talking about alternatives to dog bite lawsuits. Robert and Kevin, welcome.
Kevin McCullough: Thank you John.
Robert Mazow: Thanks John.
Alternatives to Dog Bite Lawsuits
John: Robert, lawsuits can seem scary to people and sometimes they might not want to sue their neighbor if maybe their child or they got bitten by a dog who is owned by a neighbor or a friend or something like that. What are some alternatives to dog bite lawsuits that a victim of a dog bite can use to get compensation for the injuries if they’re not really interested in suing the owner of the dog?
Robert: Good question. I’ve yet to meet a person that didn’t think any kind of lawsuit was scary and it’s the rare person that you find that wants to file a lawsuit just for the sake of filing a lawsuit. So our practice is to try to find as best as we can alternative ways without having to go through the process of filing a lawsuit. Sometimes of course you have to, but particularly with dog bites in Massachusetts, we have what’s called the strict liability law, which means that the owner or the keeper of the dog is going to be responsible except under certain circumstances for what happens to that bite.
So these cases generally tend to be able to be resolved without filing a lawsuit by way of general direct negotiation with the dog owner or more likely direct negotiations with the insurance company of the dog owner because the insurance companies in particular, they know these cases are very difficult if not impossible for the insurance companies to win or for the defendant dog owner to win. So they’re going to be looking for ways to try to resolve the case without having to file a lawsuit. And we look for ways to do that. One way would be, as I said, to do direct negotiation with the dog owner. Say, “Look, your dog caused an injury to me or to my family member and there’s medical bills and they need to be paid and let’s talk about a way to resolve that.”
If there’s homeowner’s insurance, then there tends to be more avenues of recovery because there’s going to be an asset there. There’s going to be an insurance coverage asset that you can make a claim on. And so you can make a demand for payment for medical bills, payment for lost wages, payment for scarring, disability, surgeries, things like that. So we’re going to look for every way possible to keep this case from going to suit or certainly to keep this case from going to trial if we have to.
Kevin: Just wanted to add and emphasize that filing a lawsuit is really the last resort for us. It’s not a starting point. There are a lot of different avenues to pursue in investigation that immediately should get underway as far as gathering the information. But ultimately, a lawsuit is a last resort. We try everything we can to resolve the case before filing a lawsuit. And a lawsuit is a scary situation and it becomes more complex if you’re considering suing a neighbor or a family member who may have brought their pet or dog over. And we appreciate the anxiety that goes along with that and we work with our clients to try to avoid filing that lawsuit. Oftentimes there are some risks that people undertake on their own in trying to negotiate or resolve the claim without a lawsuit or even without resolving the insurance company. And that’s why it’s extremely important when you’re in a situation or you have a family member in a situation involving a dog bite to reach out to an attorney, contact an attorney and try to get them involved in handling the case.
Benefits and Risks of Working Directly With Dog Owner
John: Right. So let’s talk a little bit more about the first option, which is working directly with your neighbor or the dog bite owner. What are some of the benefits and the risks of working directly with your neighbor?
Robert: I think what people run into is let’s say the example of a neighbor’s dog biting the child of the neighbor. There’s high emotions here, right? People have strong feelings about their animals, and people can become defensive about that and they can lose sight of the fact that it’s an animal, an animal causing harm to another person. So sometimes the emotions can run so high that you run the risk of alienating a relationship that otherwise would have been fine in the neighborhood. So that’s why sometimes getting an advocate, a counselor or a lawyer to get in between that can take the emotion out of it.
And when somebody comes to us and they’ve tried to reach out to their neighbor because the neighbor’s dog bit their child, things can go badly very, very quickly. I’m not saying it’s not possible. I mean, certainly people can understand that a dog can cause harm and they’re responsible for their dog’s behavior but more often than not, we see things going badly when you try to negotiate money with your neighbor because your neighbor’s dog bit your child. So while it’s not impossible to do it, I think it’s wiser to get a third party, like an attorney to get involved in a direct negotiation like that.
John: Right. I’d imagine that it’s a challenge to want to maybe show the medical bills to your neighbor and say, “Hey look, these are the actual bills that I’m getting for treatments to my child because of this.” And maybe you just don’t want to go through all of that. And like you said, it might be better to have an attorney be a go between you and the dog owner.
Robert: Right. And a victim of a dog bite might not even understand that they might be entitled to something more than just repayment of their bills. I mean, if a person is bit in the face for instance, and they have permanent scarring, that’s going to be there forever. And so there’s compensation that can be discussed with that. That’s a very difficult conversation for somebody to have with their neighbor about, okay, well now you’re going to have to pay me because your dog bit me or my child in the face. So there’s a lot more than just the medical bills that need to be looked at.
Benefits and Risks of Working with Insurance Company
John: So let’s move on to the second option, which is working directly with your insurance company. Is it possible to just call your insurance company, say, “Hey look, this is what happened,” and work it out that way without having to approach the dog owner at all.
Kevin: That is an option and a possibility. But it can be difficult in that if someone who is not an attorney handling a dog bite case or a dog bite situation either for themselves or a family member, they may not fully appreciate what the damages are that are available to the dog owner or the at fault person that was watching the dog at the time of the incident. So to appreciate all of those damages that you can seek compensation for and then just procedurally how to do it can be pretty difficult. So there are some risks involved with reaching out to the insurance company on your own or negotiating with the dog owner directly.
You may be signing documents that may preclude a case so and a case and then you run into a situation where you’re just not able to resolve the case or the situation and you then go to a lawyer and unbeknownst to you you may have extinguished any legal claim or right to recovery that you may have. So it is available, it is possible to deal directly with the dog owner, to deal directly with the insurance company, but it is a minefield and it’s something that at a minimum someone should be reaching out to an attorney to talk about what those damages are that may be available to talk about how to present the claim and to talk about the recovery and what that means.
John: Rob, any thoughts on working directly with your insurance company?
Robert: Yeah, just to clarify something. It’s not really your insurance company that you’d be dealing with. It would be the dog owner’s insurance company. Your insurance company is likely not going to cover you for injuries that happen as a result of your neighbors. We’re talking about liability insurance companies, of course. Certainly, if there’s a homeowner’s insurance company involved, it is much wiser to go directly to negotiate with them as opposed to trying to do it with the dog owner themselves.
John: And then do you think even better if you work with an attorney and have the attorney deal with all of that?
Robert: Yeah, because as I said earlier, there’s just so many … first of all, there’s traps for the unwary where a person might not understand that there’s statutes of limitations issues, that there’s future surgery potential that you might be entitled to be compensated for. You might want to have a plastic surgeon review the scar to give you an opinion as to what that might cost to repair. I mean, there’s just so many different layers that need to be looked at in a dog bite that I think a qualified, experienced attorney would be better served at handling that.
Working With Attorneys Without Filing Lawsuits
John: Would I be able to go to my attorney and say, “Hey look, I’m really not interested in going to a trial if at all possible, but I would like you to help me to either work directly with my neighbor or work with the insurance company.” As a victim, is that something that I can ask you to do, to try to stay away from a trial if that’s not what I want?
Kevin: Oftentimes we do have conversations like that with clients where they may not be interested in immediately filing a lawsuit and if we have to file a lawsuit, the first question is, are we going to have to go to court? Will there be a trial? Do I have to testify? And those are things that are really there as far as recourse for us. If we’re able to resolve the case with our clients either directly with a dog owner or property owner or directly with the insurance company, that is always the preference to be able to reach a settlement by agreement. And really whether or not a case goes to trial is something that is ultimately decided by the insurance companies involved or the dog owners in that we just can’t reach an agreement. We can’t reach an understanding or a common ground as far as trying to settle a case.
Kevin: So as I mentioned earlier, as much as filing the lawsuit is a last resort, going to trial is also a last resort. Those are things that are there and they’re available to parties when they can’t reach an agreement on something. But certainly with an attorney involved, it helps to gather all of the information, to put everything out there on the table to be able to discuss it with the insurance company or the dog owner and to work towards a resolution together without having to go to trial.
John: All right, that’s really great information. Rob and Kevin, thanks again for speaking with me today.
Robert: Thanks John.
Kevin: Thank you, John.
John: And for more information on dog bite cases or other personal injury cases, visit the firm’s website at helpinginjured.com or call 855-693-9084.
Puppies are adorable little balls of cuteness. In fact, even watching videos of puppies can help to reduce your stress levels and improve your concentration. However, these cuddly little animal babies aren’t always harmless, and to protect yourself and your family, you should understand a few essentials.
At Mazow┃McCullough, PC, we are celebrating National Puppy Day on March 23 by sharing a few tips and ideas with you. If you have a puppy, know a puppy, or are thinking about getting a puppy, keep the following in mind.
1. Puppy Proof Your House
Puppies are curious creatures, and to keep them safe, you need to puppy-proof your home. Typically, you should take similar steps as you would with a young child. Secure electrical and drapery cords so that puppies don’t get tangled or pull on them. Make sure that puppies can’t get into garbage cans, laundry baskets, or any other containers holding smelly items that may be alluring to puppies. Little dogs need to understand that they shouldn’t mess around with these items, but at the same time, you also want to protect them from eating something that could be a choking hazard.
Put toxins such as medications and cleaners in a spot where puppies can’t get into them. Also, don’t forget to hide things that are poisonous to dogs, such as chocolate, grapes, and macadamia nuts. Ideally, for the safety of your home and the puppy, you should have a crate for the puppy to use when you are out of the house. But, make sure that you have a quick release collar or no collar at all because the collar could become a hanging hazard in a crate.
2. Be Careful of Nursing Mamas
Typically, you don’t adopt puppies and bring them home until after they are weaned, but if you are in a situation where you are around a mama dog and her pups, you need to exercise additional caution. Do not approach dogs when they are nursing their young, and make sure that young children in your care understand this rule.
Canine mothers in your care need a safe and private place to keep their pups. If there’s too much light, the mama dog may become anxious and potentially act out. If she doesn’t feel safe in one location, she is likely to take the dogs to another spot; however, moving the puppies too often can put them at risk. To minimize both of these risks, try to provide a safe spot with soft, dim lighting, such as a corner in an unused closet or shed, where the dog can care for her pups privately and securely.
3. Establish the Right Habits Early
Puppies are so cute and seemingly harmless that many owners overlook the importance of puppy training. However, puppies are adults by their first birthday, and if you don’t establish positive habits early in your puppy’s life, you will end up with an adult dog riddled with bad habits. Unfortunately, puppies can do many things that may be dangerous if done by an adult dog, simply because of the size difference.
For instance, if a six-week-old rottweiler puppy jumps up on a person, it’s not a big deal because the puppy only weighs about 10 pounds. However, by the puppy’s first birthday, he’s likely to weigh about 100 pounds, and at that weight, jumping up on a person could lead to falls and injuries. A rottweiler’s weight continues increasing until about their third birthday, further underscoring the need for adequate training when they are young.
However, size isn’t the only reason you need to train puppies. Even with small dogs, you need to think about their developing teeth. Between age two and four weeks, most puppies get their baby teeth which are smaller and rounder than their adult teeth. Baby dog teeth start to fall out around age 12 to 16 weeks, and most dogs have a full set of adult teeth by the time they are six months old. As a result, if you let a puppy chew on your hand or the furniture, those activities may seem harmless for a while, but when your dog gets their adult teeth, these activities could lead to injuries or property damage.
4. Don’t Disturb Sleeping Puppies
Like human babies, puppies need a lot of sleep. To protect your pup’s developing brain and body, you need to ensure they get ample amounts of sleep. Additionally, children need to understand that approaching a sleeping dog or puppy can be dangerous. If you disrupt a sleeping dog or puppy, they may become aggressive and snap.
5. Remember Puppies Are Not Miniature Dogs
Sometimes, it’s easy to think that puppies are just like miniature dogs, but they aren’t. Puppies are much more immature than their older counterparts. They don’t have the control or the empathy of older dogs. For instance, while dogs find yawning contagious, puppies don’t. Although yawning isn’t particularly important, dog experts believe that fact highlights the lack of empathy in puppies compared to full grown dogs, and because of that, you and your children need to be extra careful around puppies.
Once again, happy National Puppy Day from the team at Mazow┃McCullough, PC! We hope that you can enjoy the happiness of a puppy, but we also want to remind you of the importance of practicing puppy safety especially with children.
If you’ve been attacked by a puppy or an older dog and need legal help, contact us today for a free case evaluation.
In May 2018, a three-month old baby was mauled to death by dogs in Los Angeles. The family owned a Rottweiler, a Labrador, and a terrier, but officials weren’t sure which dogs were responsible for the attack. The same month, an eight-month old baby girl died when her grandmother’s pit bull attacked her in Florida. The dog was three and the family had owned her since she was a puppy. In June, a German Shepard killed a five-month-old baby in Georgia.
Dogs Attacking Babies
Tragically, these stories are not that uncommon. Children are more likely to die from dog attacks than adults, and 10% of fatal attacks involve infants. Experts speculate that dogs tend to attack children than adults because of their small stature, and babies are often at the right height. In fact, the baby in Florida was on a bouncy chair on the floor. Dogs are also more likely to bite children and infants in the face, while they target the hands or extremities of adults. American Pit Bulls, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers have an average strength of 269 pounds of pressure when they bight down.
Treating Infant Dog Bites
Fortunately, most dog attacks are not fatal for infants, but they can cause puncture wounds, lacerations, and avulsions. Dogs also carry a lot of bacteria in their mouths, and their bites can lead to rabies, tetanus, or other infections. If a baby gets bitten by a dog, you should rinse the wound with sterile or saline water. You should not try to close the wound on your own, because you risk trapping the infections. Instead, you should take the child to the hospital, where they can sanitize the area and administer stitches if necessary. In extreme cases, plastic surgery may also be required. If the baby is unvaccinated, he or she may need a tetanus shot, and if you’re not sure whether or not the dog has an up-to-date rabies vaccination, the baby will likely need that as well. After a baby was attacked by the family pit bull in East Falmouth, Massachusetts, the child needed several operations. Due to intense trauma to her face and skull, she needed a tracheotomy, reconstructive jaw and facial surgery, and a replacement for the bridge of her nose. The dog was a family dog with no history of attacks, and to save the baby, the dad had to stab the dog.
Avoiding Dog Attacks on Babies
Although many attacks just seem to come out of nowhere, there are steps parents can take to protect their infants from dog attacks.
Always supervise dogs and babies when they are together. Many of the above attacks happened when the caretakers left for just a few minutes.
Never have a baby sleep on the floor or in a seat close to the floor when a dog is nearby.
Be cautious of unfamiliar dogs. For instance, never wheel a stroller toward a strange dog.
Don’t let crawling babies interrupt dogs when they are eating, nursing their young, or sleeping.
Teach your child never to put their face at the dog’s level.
As the child gets older, teach them how to act around dogs, but when practicing, make sure to use a well-trained dog on a leash.
What to Do If Your Baby Has Been Attacked
If your baby has been attacked by a dog, seek medical help as described above. If the dog was not yours, get the owner’s name and contact details, and find out if the dog is up to date on vaccinations. Also try to obtain contact details for any witnesses in the area. Report the dog to the authorities as soon as possible. This step could save other people’s lives, and if you don’t put in a complaint quickly, you may run out of time. Also, make sure that you contact a dog bite attorney in Massachusetts. They can help you get the compensation you need and deserve after an attack. At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we have handled countless dog bite attacks. Contact us today for a free case consultation.
On August 1 2018, CBS News reported that a man lost both his legs to amputation after his dog’s licks lead to infection. In fact, the bacteria caused sepsis throughout the man’s whole body. At the time of writing, after several surgeries including the amputation of both hands, the man remains in hospital recovering. The specific bacteria, capnocytophaga, is only one of several found in the mouths of dogs, cats, and humans. Up to 74% of dogs and 57% of cats carry this particular bacteria. If that can happen with licking, imagine what happens when you get bitten.
Animal Bites and Infections
Generally, 10–20% of bite wounds become infected. This includes 30–50% of cat bites, 5–25% of dog bites, and 20–25% of human bites. The risk of infection depends on the nature and site of the wound as well as on individual patient characteristics and the species responsible for the bite. There is a high risk of infection in patients with asplenism, hepatic cirrhosis, diabetes mellitus, immune deficiency, and implants.
What Causes Infections from Dog Bites?
Infection from all animal bites is caused by bacteria. The bacteria can be found in the mouth or saliva of the animal, on the skin of the person who was bitten, or even in the surrounding environment. The bacteria then enters the wound after being on the skin.
It’s astounding how much bacteria lives in a dog mouth, enough so that even licking a superficial wound can complicate a bite. Beyond that, animal bites are often polymicrobial, meaning multiple species of bacteria are involved.
What Are the Symptoms of Infection?
Most commonly, symptoms of infection of a dog bite include redness, pain, and swelling at the site of the wound. It is important to seek medical treatment if any of these symptoms continue for more than 24 hours. Other symptoms of infection include the following:
Pus or fluid oozing from the wound
Tenderness in and near the bite area
Red streaks near the bite
Swollen lymph nodes
Fever or chills
Muscle weakness or tremors
First and foremost, you need to properly clean and assess the wound. For superficial or minor bite wounds, thoroughly wash the area with soap and water. Then, cover the wound with a fresh, clean bandage. For serious wounds seek medical attention, as bandaging the wound can lock in the bacteria. Most infections develop within 24 to 48 hours, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your injuries during this window of time.
Your doctor might suggest a tetanus shot depending on your vaccination status, and if there is a sign of infection, your doctor may recommend intravenous antibiotics or oral antibiotics until the infection is resolved.
Complications Caused by Dog Bites
If the animal that bit you starts showing symptoms of illness or infection, you should contact your doctor immediately, even if you don’t have any symptoms. In addition to bacterial infections, dog bite infections can include tetanus and rabies.
Symptoms of the bacterial disease tetanus include the following:
Stiff jaw and/or neck muscles
Stiffness in the abdominal muscles
Painful spasms affecting the whole body
Thanks to the widespread use of the tetanus vaccine, tetanus infection is very rare in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children should receive five tetanus shots before age of six years. Teens and adults should receive the vaccine every 10 years. If you are uncertain how long it’s been since your last shot, you should choose to get the vaccine after a bite. There is no cure for tetanus.
Rabies in humans is also an extremely rare occurrence in the United States. According to the CDC, there are only one to three cases per year. The symptoms of this viral disease include a high fever, swallowing difficulties, and convulsions.
Once symptoms are present, rabies can lead to death. If you’ve been bitten by any animal that shows symptoms of the disease, it’s critical to start rabies treatment immediately. After being bitten by someone else’s dog, you need to find out if the dog has been vaccinated and you need to see proof of vaccination records.
With a mild infection, you should feel better within 48 hours of receiving treatment, and if not, you should contact your doctor immediately. While rabies and tetanus are fairly unlikely, sepsis and other bacterial infections are a real risk. As mentioned above, just a dog’s licking can cause serious infection if left untreated.
If you have been bitten by a dog, you need legal counsel, and we can help. To learn more or to set up a free case evaluation, contact us today. At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we are seasoned personal injury attorneys who have successfully handled a number of dog bite cases for our clients.