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What to Do When Your Dog Bites Someone

If your dog bites someone, is it reasonable to expect that the incident won’t cause a lawsuit? Decades ago, the answer might have been a no, if the victim’s injuries weren’t severe. Today, however, dog aggression that causes a fatality or grisly mutilation gets a lot of media coverage. The Internet is full of photos, videos, and personal accounts of these attacks. This high visibility and ready access to law firm websites specializing in dog bites increase your liability risk should your dog bite anyone outside of your family.

What Causes a Dog to Bite

Tan dog biting person's hand

Humans are complicated. Even a good friend under some circumstances, can become remote, moody, and possibly annoyed at one’s approach. Mob behavior is another example of behavioral contrast where law-abiding people can get swept up by the passions of the moment. Dogs are no less complicated. Unlike people however, they lack our cognitive abilities that control the baser instincts. This is why one’s loyal and loving pet dog can bite other people in a variety of circumstances. These include:

Circumstances That Elicit Prey Behavior

Dogs become excited when a person behaves like a prey animal. Running away from a dominant or aggressive dog encourages it to give chase and bite. This instinct is triggered even more strongly when the person is a small child who runs away out of fear.

Circumstances That Elicit Pack Behavior

The dog’s ancestor hunted in packs. This strong instinct, called pack behavior, remains to this day in all dogs. Unrestrained dogs away from their owners’ influence behave more aggressively in packs than singly. The larger the size of the pack, the more aggressive their behavior. An extremely dangerous combination occurs when a small person exhibits prey behavior among a pack of dogs.

Circumstances That Elicit Protectiveness

Dogs will protect their possessions. This is especially true of their food when eating. They are often territorial and will protect their owners’ property. They may also protect their owners against a perceived threat such as when a person gets into an argument with its owner, or when a neighbor’s child engages in rough play with a child that belongs to the same household as the dog.

Injury

Dogs behave aggressively when they’re feeling pain. This is a survival instinct that prevents other predators from exploiting the dog’s injury and resulting weakness. While most adults are aware of this instinct, small children are not.

Unfamiliarity with a Stranger

Dogs feel discomfort around unfamiliar people, which may cause them to act aggressively. This is why many attacks occur to people new to the household where a dog resides. The reverse is also true. When a dog’s owner leaves him under the care of another person in an unfamiliar house, the stressed dog may act aggressively if provoked.

What to Do If Your Dog Bites Someone

Tan and white dog angry with mouth open, showing teeth

If your dog bites someone, how you respond to the incident can strongly influence the victim’s decision on seeking litigation. Here are four suggestions on what to do:

  1. Avoid Arguments

    • People respond in different ways after they are bitten. Some may become argumentative and say upsetting things. Avoid getting drawn into arguments. The heated emotion may incite your dog to bite again and may predispose the victim to take you to court. Regardless of the victim’s emotions, yours should be one of concern for the other’s welfare.
  2. Suggest Medical Help

    • Ask if the person wants a ride to the hospital and offer to help pay for medical attention. If the victim has health insurance, offer to pay the deductible. Otherwise, be prepared to pay for the medical costs. This will make the person less inclined to seek legal action. Remember, it was your dog that caused this person’s injury.
  3. Exchange Contact Information

    • This may be required in your area. If not, you should do so in any case because it may be seen as an attempt to hide your identity and could work against you in court.
  4. Provide Proof That Your Dog’s Rabies Vaccination Is Current

    • This spares the victim of rabies treatment and reduces the length of your dog’s quarantine.

While the above suggestions will help defuse a dog bite incident, the victim may seek legal action against you in any case. Second thoughts or the advice of others can change her mind. Make sure you have animal liability insurance. Don’t automatically assume your home owners policy covers your dog.

Best Practices to Avoid Dog Bites & Litigation

Brown dog showing teeth with mouth open while hand holds it's head

Your family pet may be your best friend, but not necessarily your neighbor’s or even your baby’s — and at times, not even yours. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dogs bite about 4.5 million people each year. About 885,000 require medical attention for these injuries, and approximately half are children. Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims. While “Rover” is not considered “wildlife” per se, he can exhibit untamed behavior that can prove dangerous — and financially and personally costly, to both you and the victim.

Dog-related damage — leading cause of homeowner’s insurance claims.

Something as harmless as a playful nip or digging on your neighbor’s property can result in a messy, time-consuming, and potentially devastating lawsuit. Dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out in 2014, costing in excess of $530 million. The 2014 average cost per claim was up 15 percent. The average cost paid out for dog bite claims nationwide was $32,072 in 2014. How, then, can pet owners protect against these damages?

Precautions that protect family and friends.

Even the sweetest of pets can turn vicious under the right conditions. Apart from obvious growling and snarling, how do you know when you’re in danger? The following are a few simple guidelines that can help circumvent any surprise attacks.

Never touch, handle, hug or climb on a dog when it’s sleeping. If woken unexpectedly, its immediate response is defending itself by biting. Simply call your dog’s name from a distance when waking it. Avoid bothering the dog when it’s eating and never take away its food. Sometimes the first “offense” may not provoke a reaction, but it will cause stress and make it more likely to bite in the future.

If your dog is sick or has suffered an injury, handle it with care. Reacting aggressively when injured or in pain is an old survival instinct. When it comes to children, constantly chasing or teasing a dog when it’s not in a playful mood, pulling at its ears, placing one’s face in its face, and hugging it tightly are unacceptable behaviors for many dogs. Teach your children these “no-nos.”

When other children are visiting, never leave your dog unsupervised with them. The same is true for any newborn infants in your family. When going on a trip, keep your dog indoors or inside a physical fence. Leaving your dog in an electronic fence makes it an attractive nuisance for neighboring children, who may come into the yard to pet it. Regardless of your dog’s breed or temperament, never allow unsupervised interaction between children outside your family and your dog.

Fact is, any breed can attack another animal or person. While these are precautions you can take, there are situations that you simply can’t control. For instance, your dog might think that someone is dangerous to you, and attack to keep you safe. No mater how calm or friendly your dog is, the potential for a dog bite is always there. What, then, can you do to protect against litigation?

Steps to take to help protect your wallet.

Many traditional insurance policies restrict certain breeds from coverage or exclude animal liability coverage altogether. Because insurance policies are becoming more exclusionary, it is likely that a homeowner’s insurance policy will not cover damage if a pet causes an incident. However, pet liability insurance can help protect against costly litigation — and help pet owners sleep at night.

In some states, and in some residences, dog owners are required to purchase dog liability insurance for aggressive breeds such as pit bulls or Rottweilers. While this is a smart policy, it is far too limiting, as any breed can turn aggressive at a moment’s notice. Whatever the breed, whatever the location, pet liability insurance can cover the expenses associated with defending your case in court, and also pay for the amount that would be awarded by the court to the victim including the court fees. Aside from paying for the treatment of the victim, it can also pay for compensation to the family in the event that the victim dies because of the injuries sustained from your pet.

XINSURANCE — your best choice.

Whether your dog has a bite history or is a breed commonly excluded from homeowners coverage, XINSURANCE.COM can provide the coverage you need. XINSURANCE has spent years creating the best plans to insure pets, offering options that cover homeowners in their respective states. For just pennies a day, pet owners can easily help insure against the “wild side” of their loving pets.

For more information about XINSURANCE, contact us.

Originally published July 24, 2017 8:16 AM, updated April 30, 2020