As an experienced Glenview dog bite lawyer, I know better than most how devastating and traumatic a dog bite injury can be for the victim. Despite the prevalence of the dog-bite epidemic, I am often surprised how little the public knows about dog bite law.
Dog bite law is not something most people think about until they or someone they love become victims. I have previously written a post on some of the more frequently asked questions concerning Illinois dog bite law. In this article, I discuss some of the more practical aspects of dog bite cases, including, important safety precautions, first aid and procedures following an attack.
How Many Dog Bites are there Per Year?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are more than 4.5 million people bitten by dogs each year in the United States. Of these victims, more than 800,000 require medical attention. Worse, at least half of all dog bite victims are children. In fact, Between 2003 and 2012, dog bites were the 11th leading cause of nonfatal injuries to children ages 1 to 4, 9th for children ages 5 to 9 and 10th for children ages 10 to 14. The American Humane Association reports that 66 percent of dog bites to children occur on the neck and head.
The annual amount paid out by insurance companies to dog bite victims is staggering. The Insurance Information Institute estimates that in 2013 U.S. insurers paid out approximately $500 million in dog bite claims. Moreover, the average cost per claim increased by 5.3 percent in 2018 to $39,017. Between 2003 and 2018, the average cost per claim has risen by more than 103 percent.
Why Dogs Bite Humans
As the American Veterinary Medical Association points out, “Big or small, male or female, young or old, any dog can bite.” While it is true that some breeds are more prone to aggression than others, any dog is capable of biting at any time. Dogs typically bite in reaction to fear or surprise. It is for this reason that children are the most common dog bite victims. Children are more likely than adults to do something to provoke or frighten dogs (e.g., hugging the dog or trying to take away its toy). To be sure, there are many reasons why dogs attack humans without being provoked. Some of these reasons include:
- The dog is protecting a possession, food or even a puppy
- The dog is protecting its territory
- The dog is protecting its owner
- The dog is injured or ill
- The dog perceives you as a threat
It is helpful to be aware of the reasons why dogs bite humans so that we can attempt to avoid certain high-risk situations. More importantly, however, are telltale signs that a dog is preparing to attack. If we can recognize warning signs, we can act appropriately to protect both ourselves and our loved ones.
How Dogs Warn Us
I am often asked why dogs bite without warning. This is a common perception, that we have no way of knowing when a dog will attack. While this may be true in some limited circumstances, more commonly a dog will exhibit telltale warning signs that they are about to attack. Some of the more easily read warning signs include:
- Barking or Growling
- Raising a lip to show its teeth
- Raised fur on the dog’s back and neck
- A curved tongue (curved means tension while flat means relaxed)
- The dog’s ears are flat or suddenly prick up
- Salivating at the mouth (for some dogs this is a sign they are stressed)
- Lifting a paw (a sign that the dog believes something negative is about to happen)
There are some other warning signs that are not as easily read. It is helpful to be aware of these less obvious warning signs and to proceed with caution. One of the least understood is when a dog is wagging its tail. We commonly associate tail wagging with excitement. This is true most of the time. However, where the tail is up and wagging stiffly it can be a warning sign that a dog is feeling threatened and/or is about to exhibit aggression.
Another difficult to read warning sign is the placement of a dog’s paws and posture. If a dog is standing with its legs spread wider than normal and is puffing its chest out, this can be a sign of aggression. Moreover, if the dog appears tense it could be a sign that it feels threatened and is preparing to attack.
Precautions to Take to Avoid a Dog Bite
If you encounter a dog exhibiting any of the above behaviors, there are several precautions you can take to minimize the risk of an attack. These precautions include:
- Avoid making direct eye contact. If a dog is staring at you gradually avert your gaze to avoid startling it
- Remain calm. Avoid yelling or making loud noises. Rather, say “No” or “Go Home” in a deep voice. Do not hit the dog. If the dog sees you are calm it could cause it to back down
- Protect your neck by slowly raising your hands and keeping your elbows in
- If the dog does not leave, then slowly back away. Avoid turning around or running. If you run the dog will likely chase you
Sometimes, regardless of the precautions that you take an attack cannot be avoided. If you are attacked it is important to act defensively and to seek proper medical care as soon as possible following the incident.
What to Do if You are Bitten by a Dog
If you are attacked by a dog the most important thing is to defend yourself. While it is understandable that you do not want to hurt the dog, it is more important that you protect yourself. If the dog starts to bite you then hit or kick it in the throat, nose, ribs and/or back of the head.
Dogs have very thick skulls so hitting it on the top of the head will likely only make it angrier.
The goal is to temporarily stun the dog to allow you time to get away. If you carry mace or pepper spray use it. Both are very effective in defending against a dog attack.
Another effective method is to place an object between you and the dog. For instance, if you are carrying a bag use it to shield yourself and/or push the dog away. If you have a jacket or shirt use it to cover the dog’s eyes. When dogs cannot see they will panic and open their mouths. This could cause the dog to release its grip allowing you to escape. If the dog knocks you onto the ground, curl up into a ball with your head tucked in. Make fists to protect your fingers. Protect your ears and neck with your forearms and fists.
If you are coming to the aid of someone being attacked by a dog avoid pulling the dog off. Pulling the dog off can cause a wound to become deeper and larger. Rather, try one of the above techniques of striking the dog or covering its eyes.
Eventually the dog will lose interest in you or hopefully someone will come to your aid. Slowly leave the scene of the attack when safe to do so.
When a Dog Bites What is the Treatment?
As soon as you are safe, it is important to seek immediate medical attention. Tend to any wounds until you can receive professional medical assistance. Perform the following basic first aid procedures:
- Apply gentle pressure to stop bleeding. Use a clean cloth or a gauze pad
- Wash the wound with warm water and soap
- Apply an antibiotic cream
- Once you have stopped bleeding apply a band-aid or bandages for larger cuts
If you are unable to stop the bleeding or feel faint call 911. If you successfully treat the wound at home but notice signs of infection (e.g., redness, warmth or pus) seek immediate medical attention.
Typical Dog Bite Injuries
The most common injuries are abrasions, punctures or lacerations resulting from the bite itself. It is also possible to suffer internal injuries such as nerve damage, muscle or ligament damage, or even broken bones. Infection following a dog bite is fairly common. According to the CDC, approximately 18% of dog bites become infected. Experts have found over 60 different types of bacteria can live in a dog’s mouth. The following diseases can be caused by dog bites:
- Rabies – one of the most serious diseases people can get from dog bites. Rabies can be fatal.
- Capnocytophaga – can result in heart attack, kidney failure or even gangrene
- Pasteurella – typically results in a painful, red infection at the site of the bite
- MRSA – a form of staph infection that can cause skin, lung and urinary tract infections
- Tetanus – can result in paralysis
Should You Get Stitches After a Dog Bite?
Whether or not you should get stitches after a dog bite primarily depends on two factors:
- The size and location of the bite
- Time amount of time that has passed since the bite occurred
Bite marks located on the hands or feet are generally not stitched unless absolutely necessary. The hands and feet are more prone to infection than other areas of the body. Closing the wounds with stitches substantially increases the likelihood of infection.
Wounds should generally be stitched within 6 to 8 hours following the bite. If you are unable to stop the bleeding on your own or you are not sure whether you require stitches seek treatment from a health professional.
Should You Report a Dog Bite?
If you can it is important to use your smartphone to take photos of the dog. If the dog is with its owner take his or her photo as well. The owner will often attempt to flee the scene to avoid liability. Finally, take photographs of the surrounding area, including, but not limited to, street signs, houses, cars and any important landmarks. These photos will be important in demonstrating where the attack occurred.
If you are not severely injured it is often a good idea to take the photos before contacting the police. If the dog or owner run off you may lose your only opportunity to identify them. It is a good idea to contact the police following any dog bite. Not only can the officer help you to receive medical attention and to obtain the owner’s information, but he or she will file a report about the attack. The police report will be essential for insurance purposes, as well as animal control.
Much like you would following a car accident, if the dog’s owner has not disappeared, obtain his or her information. You should attempt to collect:
- The owner’s name, address, phone number and email address
- The dog’s name, age, breed and veterinarian info (to obtain the vaccination record)
- The owner’s homeowner or renter’s insurance information
In addition to contacting the police, be sure to contact animal control to report the attack. Animal control serves many important functions, including verifying the dog’s vaccination records and biting history, as well as preventing the dog from attacking other victims in the future.
Dog Bite Law Illinois
Dog bite law in Illinois is covered by 510 ILCS 5/16. That statute provides that in order to prove a dog owner is liable for an attack, the victim must show that:
- The dog attacked, attempted to attack or injured the victim;
- The victim had the lawful right to be in the place where he or she was attacked; and
- The victim did not provoke the dog
Note that the statute also applies to situations other than dog bites. For instance, if you are hurt when a dog excitedly jumps on you, the owner can be liable for the resulting injuries. The second and third of these elements highlight the two most common owner defenses: that the dog was provoked, and that the victim was trespassing. In addition to the Illinois dog bite statute, an owner may be found liable under theories of negligence, landlord liability and even for emotional distress.
Strict Liability Dog Bite Law in Illinois
The Illinois dog bite statute is based on a theory of strict liability. In the U.S., there are typically two legal theories under which a dog owner may be found liable for a dog bite. Under a theory of strict liability, an Illinois dog owner cannot argue that he or she was unaware of a dog’s aggressive tendencies. If a dog injures another person (and the victim was not trespassing and did not provoke the dog) the owner is liable. This theory may seem overly harsh. However, the Illinois legislature has identified the serious public threat of dog attacks and has placed the burden on owners to ensure that adequate precautions are taken.
Experienced Dog Bite Lawyer
As an experienced Glenview dog bite lawyer, I have witnessed firsthand how truly devastating dog bites are for victims and their families. I have assisted countless Illinois dog bite victims to recover damages for their injuries. If you or someone you know has been the victim of a dog bite in Illinois, please contact us today for a free consultation.