Dogs can bring an incredible amount of joy into a person’s life. For some, a canine is a family pet, for others, dogs are akin to children. Unfortunately, dogs and puppies can occasionally behave out of character and unexpectedly bite someone. It is helpful to be prepared and knowledgeable about what to do during those stressful moments– not only for your sake but for the sake of the pet owner and the dog as well.
What to do after a dog bite:
- Get to Safety and Stay Calm
- Evaluate and Care for Wounds
- Seek Medical Treatment
- Take Detailed Photographs and Documentation
- Report the Dog Bite
- Contact an Attorney
Dog bite statistics provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show every year in the United States over 4.5 million people are dog bite victims. That’s why it’s important to be aware of your surrounds while in the company of a canine. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a puppy or an adult, a dog you’ve grown up with, or a recently adopted shelter dog. All dogs have the potential to cause harm in certain situations.
After a dog bite occurs, it is important to immediately address the situation and clearly document everything. Before doing anything, however, make sure to evaluate the bite wound and ensure medical attention is provided to the person who was bitten.
Get to Safety and Stay Calm
First and foremost, get to safety. Make sure the danger has passed and the dog is no longer in the area so there can be no further injuries to any party. Stay calm, especially if children are involved, since they will become more upset and experience a higher level of trauma if their adults are panicking.
Evaluate and Care for Wounds
Once you have control of the animal and are safe, locate the wound and press gently to help promote bleeding. This will naturally help remove some of the bacteria that can be present in the dog’s saliva as well as on the skin of the person who was bitten. Wash and clean the wound with soapy water, which also decreases the risk of infection. Then use a clean cloth to apply pressure to the wound and elevate if possible.
Try to determine the severity of the wound. Dog bites, especially from pit bulls, can result in deep puncture wounds and or can involve tearing of the skin. Even if the wound does not appear to be serious, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as you can. A medical professional will be able to thoroughly clean the wound and help prevent infection. Signs of infection may include redness, heat, pain, swelling on or around the bite. There will naturally be a small amount of redness and pain, but if they persist for more than 24 hours and or include any oozing from the wound, seek medical treatment.
Make sure to speak to the pet owners about the pet’s vaccinations and get copies of rabies vaccine certificates and other vaccinations. Medical treatment may be warranted in order to get a tetanus shot, regardless of the severity of the injury.
Seek Medical Attention
Dog attacks can result in small puncture wounds or can be a lot more serious. Either way, it is recommended that medical attention is sought, regardless of the visual severity or location of the wound. This is especially true if the victim is a small child. Since children are not always capable of verbalizing medical issues, it is imperative to have a doctor examine the wound to ensure there are no underlying damages and that the wound is cleaned properly.
Dog bites can cause tetanus which can affect the nervous system and is very serious. A doctor can determine the extent of the injuries and determine whether sutures are required. Sutures will help eliminate any potential scarring, but depending on the location of the wound, it may be a better idea not to get stitches because doing so increases the risk of infection. Make sure to discuss this with your doctor.
Generally, an emergency room physician will clean and treat the wound. In many cases, this may be sufficient, however, a referral to a plastic surgeon may be warranted depending on the wound location and severity.
Seeking medical attention will also provide a detailed, clear, and concise record of any damage that was done as a result of the canine bite. Hospitals often have specific guidelines regarding reporting requirements for animal bites. Some contact law enforcement or animal control regardless of the location of the bite, while others only report if the bite is above the shoulders or on the face.
Take Detailed Photographs and Documentation
If possible, make sure you obtain detailed information about not only the dog, but the person’s insurance carrier, and any other issues the dog may have had in the past. For instance, if the dog has a history of biting, that is very important information to have. Taking photographs of the bite wound, documenting the wound location, and writing a detailed statement about what happened just prior to the dog attack will make a significant difference if there is a lawsuit or discussions regarding a settlement.
Make sure to get any witness statements, witness contact information, and their relationship to the dog owner. Unfortunately, regardless of whether the canine who bit was a dog owned by a family member, friend, neighbor, or stranger, it may be necessary to seek legal counsel in order to get medical bills paid or to treat any psychological issues that are a result of the incident. This can put a strain on any relationship. By making sure to document what occurred and how it happened, you can often prevent any difficulties from arising later.
Having all the information doesn’t automatically mean you are going to pursue legal action against the dog owner or want to cause them issues. It does mean you can get all the details you will need if in the future things go wrong or get complicated. Keep in mind, it’s easier to have information and not need it than to go back and try to recreate or remember what happened.
Report the Dog Bite
Make sure to report the dog bite immediately to your local animal control, or police department, depending on the severity and location of the bite. It’s also a good idea to call your insurance company to see if homeowner insurance may cover the costs associated with medical treatment for dog bite wounds. When you make a report, it doesn’t necessarily mean something negative will happen to the dog involved. Most of the time, if the bite isn’t severe, the dog will be put in quarantine to ensure there are no health issues. An animal control officer will often visit the dog’s home and meet the dog to ensure there are adequate safety guards in place, such as fences and gates. That same officer will make sure the dog is properly licensed and evaluate whether any citations should be issued.
There are dog bite cases where the animal may be found to be too dangerous to be left in the home or with the owner. In these cases, animal control will take the dog. There may be a hearing which can result in a fine or perhaps something more serious. Regardless, when this happens, it can be stressful for both the dog owner and the person who was bitten. A lot of times, dogs can be like family members, so it can be very sad for all parties. However, you always have to remember that keeping people safe should be the first priority. Not speaking up when there is a dog who may be dangerous to people can lead to even more issues in the future if the dog bites again. So, as hard as it may be to report a dog, the legal and health ramifications from not doing so may be very serious or even life-threatening.
Contact an Attorney
Insurance companies paid out over $530 million in dog bite claims in 2014. In 2017, according to the Insurance Information Institute, homeowner liability claims reached almost $700 million. And still, many dog bites go unreported. The Insurance Journal, a magazine and web-based journal that deals with all insurance related topics estimated in 2015 being involved in a dog bite claim cost home insurers on average $32,000. Add inflation and what you get is a lot of potential costs for both the homeowner and the unfortunate person who is bitten.
The average person doesn’t have an extra $32,000 to deal with medical and other costs associated with a dog bite. Given those numbers, it is easy to understand why dog bite attorneys are something you should consider, no matter whose canine was involved, how much you care about the pet, or how close the dog owners are to someone.
In addition to the legal assistance dog bite lawyers provide, it is easier to have a “middle man” deal with everything related to dog bites than to deal with it yourself. That is especially true if a close family member or friend owns the dog in question. An attorney helps keep the negative feelings at bay since it’s not you doing things, it’s your attorney. That degree of separation can mean the difference between creating a lifelong grudge or coming out of a dog bite incident and being able to remain friendly. Often, it’s also the only way you will be able to get the proper compensation from the insurance company.
If you have a dog, for your protection, make sure you have homeowner or renters insurance so you’ll be covered if your dog does happen to bite someone. You may even consider consulting an attorney to determine what rights and responsibilities you have as a dog owner. Teach children how to recognize the signs given off when a dog is agitated or aggressive. By being aware of your pet, and other people’s pets, you can help reduce the number of dog bites that occur.
It’s important to seek medical attention after a dog bite attack. Document as much as you can, and request the assistance of an attorney. Taking the proper action when you’re involved in this type of stressful situation can make a huge difference in the final outcome. If you’re suffering from a dog bite injury, reach out to Acadia Law Group today for a free legal consultation. We can work with the insurance companies and all involved parties to ensure you receive proper compensation for your injuries.