Millions of Ohio families own at least one dog. The vast majority of these pet owners are responsible people who follow local laws and common sense safety rules and put the safety of their neighbors first. But some pet owners do not share these priorities and, for one reason or another, put their neighbors at risk of serious injury.
These risks are considerable. Medical science is finally catching up with the complex nature of dog bite injuries, as outlined below. Progress is not cheap. Mostly because of higher medical costs, the average dog bite settlement has increased by over 130% since 2013. “Pandemic puppies” who never truly get used to people are partially to blame as well.
Victims need and deserve compensation for their serious injuries, but insurance companies are very stingy. Only a dedicated Batavia, OH, dog bite lawyer from Kruger & Hodges can successfully resolve such a claim in a timely manner. This resolution starts with a thorough case analysis that identifies your best legal options. Our process usually ends with an out-of-court settlement that meets your family’s physical, emotional, and other needs.
Dog Bite Injuries
About 85 million dogs live in American households. These dogs bite over four million Americans every year. Most of these victims are young children. Their developing minds and bodies are highly susceptible to serious injury, as outlined below.
Incidentally, an insurance company cannot use a victim’s age, pre-existing medical condition, or other vulnerability as an excuse to reduce or deny compensation.
The serious injuries in an animal attack usually begin before the dog actually bites or scratches the victim. In many cases, the knockdown injuries are worse than the bite injuries, mostly because some negligent owners finally take control of their animals after a knockdown.
Knockdown injuries include broken bones and head injuries. Since most victims land on their backs or sides, they normally break their back, pelvis, or ribs.
The spine is a long chain of small bones and exposed nerves. Any misalignment, let alone a fracture, could cause paralysis. A broken pelvis, unlike other broken bone injuries, could be life-threatening in some cases. Rib fractures often cause severe collateral damage, such as a punctured lung or a ruptured spleen.
The motion of an attack-related fall often causes a head injury. The skull is basically a water tank that suspends the brain in cerebrospinal fluid. Any jarring motion causes the brain to slam against the inside of the skull. Doctors and other medical professionals can contain the resulting brain damage but never reverse or “cure” it.
Then, as dogs bite, their teeth cause deep puncture wounds as well as severe tearing lacerations. Puncture wounds often affect internal organs and cause internal hemorrhaging. Tearing lacerations require long-term, expensive care at specialty reconstruction medical facilities. Even after intensive care, the physical and emotional scars remain.
Over half of younger dog bite victims suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Technically, PTSD is a physical injury. Extreme stress alters brain chemistry. But PTSD’s effects are emotional. These effects include:
Like other childhood brain injuries, childhood PTSD is difficult to manage and impossible to cure. Frequently, children cannot tolerate powerful PTSD medications. Many children also do not respond well to therapy unless a highly-specialized child psychologist or psychiatrist facilitates that therapy.
PTSD symptoms have multiplying effects. For example, children who have nightmares do not sleep well and are, therefore, unable to function the next day.
Dog bite wounds have very high infection rates, mostly Capnocytophaga infections. Possible effects include:
Alveolar bone loss(jawbone deterioration and tooth loss),
Endocarditis (heart disease), and
Infections seriously complicate an already critical medical situation. They complicate the legal nature of a claim as well. Usually, a Batavia, OH, dog bite lawyer must file a separate claim to obtain compensation for infection-related injuries.
Your Legal Options
Ohio dog bite law is as complicated as dog bite wounds. Usually, victims have several legal options. Each alternative has significant pros and cons.
Like many other states, Ohio has a strict liability law. Ohio Revised Codes § 955.28 is one of the broadest such laws in the country. According to this provision, “The owner, keeper, or harborer of a dog is liable in damages for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the dog.”
The strict liability law does not apply if the victim was a trespasser or the victim provoked the animal.
Usually, a trespasser is a person with no permission to be on the property and whose presence does not benefit the owner. This seemingly simple label is complex. Many dog bite victims are partial trespassers. They have permission to be in the house, but they do not have permission to go into the backyard and play with a dangerous dog. Furthermore, some legal doctrines, such as the attractive nuisance rule, protect some child trespassers in some cases.
Provocation is an intentional, physical act. People cannot move quickly or otherwise unintentionally provoke dogs. Additionally, aggressive teasing is not provocation in most Ohio courts. Instead, the insurance company must basically prove the victim physically tortured the animal, forcing it to react violently.
Lawmakers designed the broad strict liability rule to protect as many victims as possible, but it might have the opposite effect. To many pet owner jurors, this law penalizes owners who try to rehabilitate dogs with checkered pasts.
If it applies, scienter (knowledge), sometimes known as the one-bite rule, might be the most effective legal option in dog bite cases. Owners or custodians, like dog walkers, are liable for damages if they knew the animal was potentially dangerous and the animal attacked someone. Evidence on this point usually includes pre-bite behavior, such as:
Aggressive barking, and
Previous attacks against people or other animals might also be admissible in some cases. Regardless of the nature of the evidence, a Batavia, OH, dog bite lawyer must prove knowledge of viciousness by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
Scienter is effective because, in most cases, even pet owner jurors take a dim view of dog owners who fail to properly control their animals.
A Batavia, OH, dog bite lawyer often uses focus groups and mock juries to gauge a jury’s reaction to certain evidence. There is no way to conclusively predict what a jury will do, but these methods are the next best thing.
This theory could be a lack of ordinary care (ordinary negligence) or a violation of a safety law (negligence per se).
Ordinary negligence usually hinges on the owner’s knowledge of the hazard, as outlined above, and the relationship between the owner and victim as follows:
Invitee: Victims of animal attacks on private property are usually invitees. They have permission to visit the land, and that visit benefits the owner in some way. Owners have a duty to ensure that invitees are reasonably safe at all times.
Licensee: Annal attack victims at public parks and other public areas are usually licensees. These victims usually have permission to be on the property, but they do not benefit the dog owner. As a result, the owner has a duty to warn licensees about latent (hidden) defects, such as a “careful, he bites” warning.
Trespasser: We discussed the nuances of child trespassers above. Usually, property owners have no legal duty to protect trespassers. Tales of injured burglars who successfully sue homeowners are mostly urban legends.
As for negligence per se, possible legal violations include leash laws, fence laws, and other animal restraint laws. Ohio has some statewide laws in these areas. Many municipalities have stricter local laws. If a violation of such a law caused injury, the owner could be liable for damages as a matter of law.
The aforementioned provocation defense applies in negligence cases. The assumption of the risk defense applies as well. This legal doctrine could also apply in scienter matters.
Basically, victims assume the risk of injury if they sign enforceable written waivers or disregard warning signs. Many written waivers are unenforceable, take-it-or-leave-it contracts of adhesion. To prove the victim disregarded a warning sign, the insurance company must also prove the victim could see the sign, could read the sign, and could understand what the sign meant.
Compensation in a dog bite claim usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering Punitive damages are often available as well, in some extreme cases. A damages cap may apply in these situations.
Count on a Tough-Minded Clermont County Lawyer
Injury victims are entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced dog bite lawyer in Batavia, contact Kruger & Hodges, Attorneys at Law by going online or calling 513-894-3333.