Pets have long held a special place in the hearts of Americans. And it’s undeniable that society’s acceptance of these animals continues to increase. Believe it or not, 36.5 percent of American households now own at least one dog, with the average such household owning 1.6 dogs. There are currently 69,926,000 dogs in the United States. Thus, common sense tells us that almost all of us will have frequent contact with dogs owned by others.
For many owners, these dogs become special and prized members of the family. And Oregon is no different. We witness dogs everywhere – riding like passengers in the cars around us, walking on sidewalks in subdivisions and cities, and playing in yards all around the State.
Most of the time, these dogs are friendly, fun-loving, and delightful. But some dogs are not so friendly and must be watched carefully by their owners to prevent them from injuring others. On some occasions, dogs have been known to “snap” and attack humans for no reason at all.
Dog bite injuries can be severe and damaging. When such an unfortunate event occurs, can the injured person recover medical expenses caused by the dog bite?
Dog Bite Injuries: Strict Liability or Negligence?
In some states, owners of dogs are held strictly liable for the conduct of the animal and the consequences of its behavior. In those states, the owner would be liable even if the dog had never acted dangerously before.
In other states, including Oregon, a dog owner must be negligent to be held liable for the dog’s actions. This means that the dog must have previously exhibited dangerous propensities and that the owner had knowledge of the animal’s dangerous propensity. Some people say this rule means that “the first bite is free,” meaning that until the dog bites someone, the owner is not put on notice of the animal’s dangerous propensity.
While this statement may sometimes be true, it is not always accurate. We’ll explain why with some examples of dog bite injuries below.
Example Where Dog Owner Is Not Negligent
Assume that Mr. Smith’s chihuahua, Shadow, is two years old and has always been friendly. In fact, Shadow loves to play with the neighborhood kids. One day, Sandra reaches down to pet Shadow, and he bites her hand without provocation. Sandra is taken to the emergency room, where she receives ten stitches to close her wound.
Mr. Smith testifies that he was astounded because Shadow has never been aggressive towards anyone. Unless Sandra and her family know of evidence to contradict Mr. Smith’s claim, it is unlikely that he would be found to be negligent because he had no prior knowledge of any dangerous propensities on the part of Shadow.
Example Where Dog Owner Is Negligent
Now consider Mrs. Smith’s pit bull, Chance, who lives in a fenced yard. Last year, Chance, in Mrs. Smith’s presence, bit the neighbor when she tried to pet him. Mrs. Smith now keeps Chance confined to the back yard. One day, Mrs. Smith forgets to latch the fence. Chance gets out and promptly bites another neighbor, causing severe injury. Mrs. Smith can be found liable and held responsible for the actions of Chance because she acted negligently and was aware of the dog’s dangerous propensity.
Exceptions to the Rule
But what if our example was less obvious? What if Chance had never bitten anyone, but had acted very aggressively towards others by snarling, barking ferociously, and pulling at his leash in an effort to attack everyone who walked by? In such a situation, a jury could determine that the owner had sufficient information to recognize the dangerous propensity of the dog, even though he had not bitten anyone before.
Dog Bite Injuries, Death, and Damages Recoverable
Some dog attacks can cause very severe injuries and even death. According to DogsBite.org, dogs in America killed 433 people between 2005 and 2017. Many other people suffered severe injuries. If an owner is negligent, a wrongful death action is appropriate if the victim dies. In the case of injury, the injured victim is entitled to recover the same types of damages as in other personal injury cases, including economic and non-economic damages. This can include items such as doctor bills, hospital bills, rehabilitative costs, and lost wages, just to name a few.
Speak with a Dog Bite Injury Attorney
Being attacked or bitten by a dog can be terrifying and cause great injury or even death. The law seeks to keep society safer by holding negligent pet owners liable when their animals cause personal injury. The experienced attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield are familiar with these laws and are ready to help. If you’ve been injured and have questions, please call us, and we will be happy to answer them.