St. Louis Dog Bite Lawyers
We Fight for Severely Injured Dog Attack Victims
Nearly five million Americans are bitten by dogs every year, and over 365,000 of these victims visit the emergency room for their injuries. Young children and the elderly are among those most commonly hospitalized for dog bite injuries.
Although dog bites can vary in severity, they often result in significant injuries, permanent disfigurement, and, in some cases, death. Even the victims of less-severe bites can suffer from long-term psychological distress and be forced to undergo expensive medical treatments. A 2008 study by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services concluded that the average medical bill for a dog bite victim was $18,200 in 2008, and that over half of those who were hospitalized for a dog bite required sutures, skin grafts, or wound debridement. Monetary loss related to dog bites exceeds $1 billion annually.
If you or someone you love was bitten by a dog, The Dixon Injury Firm can help. Our St. Louis dog bite lawyers are ready to help you understand your legal options and fight for the justice and fair compensation you deserve. We have recovered over $50 million for injured individuals and the families of those wrongfully killed throughout Missouri; let our team fight for you, too.
Who Is at Fault for a Dog Bite?
Section 273.036.1 of the Missouri Revised Statutes states that the owner of a dog is strictly liable if his or her dog bites you and causes injuries when you are on public or private property on which you are legally allowed to be.
If you are bitten by a dog in the state of Missouri, you may be entitled to file a dog bite claim against the dog owner to cover medical costs, loss of earnings, pain and suffering, and all other bite-related damages. The statute of limitations in Missouri for a dog bite claim is typically five years after the incident; however, it is important that an investigation occurs immediately to ensure the dog does not attack anyone else.
Understanding Missouri Dog Bite Laws
In 2009, the Missouri legislature passed a law (statute 273.036) that turned the law in favor of the dog bite victim. Prior to 2009, Missouri was a “one-bite” state, meaning that if a dog bite victim sued a dog owner, he or she would have to prove that the dog had a history of biting/aggressive behavior. The new law takes away this requirement.
Now, a Missouri dog owner is liable for injuries caused by their dog, regardless of whether the dog had previously bitten anyone. The statute allows a dog bite victim to sue for any damages they suffer, including financial compensation for medical bills, pain, lost wages, and emotional trauma.
However, if the dog owner had knowledge of their pet’s “vicious propensities,” they could also be subject to additional punitive damages (even if the dog had not previously bitten someone.) There are few exceptions to this law, but if a dog owner can prove that the victim was provoking the dog or trespassing on private property when the attack occurred, this is considered a valid defense.
Under the old Missouri dog bite law, dog bite victims often had a very difficult time proving that the owner of the dog knew or should have known that their dog had exhibited aggressive behavior in the past. While the previous Missouri law did not require the victim to show that the dog had actually bitten someone before, the victim was required to show some sort of aggressive behavior on the part of the dog that the dog owner knew or should have known about. Under the old dog bite law, if the victim of a dog bite was unable to come up with any evidence of the attacking dog’s prior viscous propensities, they were unable to recover any reimbursement from the dog owner for their medical bills, lost wages, scarring, pain and suffering, future medical treatment, etc. The injustice of this high burden on an injured dog bite victim led the state of Missouri to amend its policy regarding dog bites to provide more protection for the injured.
Dog Bites & Children
It comes as no surprise that children have a great affinity for dogs. This affinity is often the driving factor in dog-related child injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that almost five million people a year are attacked by dogs, with 800,000 of these injuries affecting children. The CDC further estimates that 12 people a year die from being attacked by a dog.
In order to protect children from dog bites, it is important to provide both physical oversight and education. Young children are often unable to properly interpret dogs’ behavior. When a child is playing with a dog, they often do not recognize an aggressive stance or behavior. The dog will exhibit a defensive posture, while the unassuming child moves in to pet the animal. This often results in disaster.
Depending on the age of your child, they may be at a point where they are not capable of interpreting various animal attack warning signs. In these cases, it is important that your child is always being watched if he or she is around a dog. When your child is of an appropriate age to understand the meanings of various canine behaviors, time should be spent to ensure they are aware of when it is acceptable to approach and when they should back off.
Children should be aware of some basic dog bite prevention guidelines, including:
- Do not bother a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies
- Do not play aggressive games with a dog, such as wrestling
- Do not approach unfamiliar dogs
- Remain motionless if approached by an unfamiliar dog, never running or screaming
- If knocked down by a dog, remain still and in a ball
It is important to regularly review and teach children dog safety tips, especially if the child is regularly exposed to dogs.
If your child is bitten by another person’s dog, it is important that you immediately seek medical attention. Dogs are carriers of various ailments, such as rabies. If your child is bitten, you want to immediately ask the dog owner for documentation showing their pet’s vaccinations. It is important that wounds do not become infected and are properly cared for by the appropriate medical professionals. It is also important that when you arrive at the ER following a dog attack, you consult with a plastic surgeon to prevent unnecessary scarring, which often accompanies this type of wound.
Dog Bite Prevention for Children & Adults
Annually, millions of people are bitten by dogs, with a large portion of these incidents comprising children. With this information in mind, it is important for adults to have an understanding of the preventative measures they can take to keep themselves and their children from being bitten by a dog.
Here are some dog bite prevention tips for children:
- If your family plans to adopt a dog from a shelter, make sure to inquire about the dogs past well-being and temperament with staff members. Canines with a history of aggression are not suitable in homes with small children.
- Before adopting a new dog and bringing it home, assess the dog’s interaction with both people and with other dogs. If you notice that children exhibit fear or apprehension around the dog, this is typically a warning sign that the dog is aggressive. If a dog does not play well with other canines, this may also indicate the dog’s aggressive tendencies.
- It is important that a child knows not to be the first to approach an unknown dog. If the dog approaches the child, allow it to sniff them before interacting with it. Children typically like to hug dogs around the neck, grab at their faces, or kiss their necks. These tendencies aggravate some dogs and can result in a bite. Teaching children appropriate petting techniques is a good way to ensure that the interaction is mutually enjoyable.
- It can be helpful for children to understand how to read a dog’s body language. Dogs often exhibit certain kinds of body language to warn people that they are uncomfortable with an individual’s approach or energy. If a child doesn’t seem to understand this type of body language, a dog may feel his only recourse is to bite. Some examples of body language that indicate an aggressive or unfriendly dog might include stiff posture, growling, or a raised tail. Similarly, overly frightened dogs may become aggressive. Tell your child that if a dog exhibits these signs while they are interacting, the child should back away and break eye contact.
- Instruct your child to never scream or run away from a dog, as those motions may exacerbate a dog’s urge to bite. Similarly, don’t allow a child to tease a dog, especially if the dog is eating or playing with a food bowl, toy, or bone. While it is important for a parent to teach a child preventative measures for playing with dogs, it is ultimately the dog owner’s responsibility to supervise any interactions the dog has with outsiders.
Below are some actions everyone, whether they are a child or adult, should avoid doing in the presence of a dog:
- Approaching an unfamiliar dog
- Running from a dog
- Panicking or making loud noises in the presence of a dog
- Disturbing a dog that is eating, sleeping or looking after puppies
- Surprising a dog by petting it when it isn’t fully aware of your presence
- Encouraging your dog to play in an aggressive way
- Allowing young children to play with any dog unsupervised
If you are approached by a dog that appears to be acting aggressively, stop, stand still, and don’t look the animal in the eye. You should position yourself with your side facing the dog, as directly facing the dog may make it think you could act aggressively towards it. The next thing to do is place your hands on your neck and tuck in your elbows. This minimizes the possibility of being attacked and bitten.
What If the Dog Owner Argues That the Dog Was Provoked?
Missouri’s new strict liability dog bite law now holds dog owners 100% responsible for their dogs unprovoked attack on another person. However, the state maintains one caveat to the new strict liability standard—the dog attack must have been unprovoked. A dog owner is not responsible for the damage their dog causes if the victim provokes the dog into attacking. The standard of whether or not another individual provoked a dog attack still remains unclear under Missouri statute. Juries are often assigned the task of determining if a certain behavior provoked the dog into attacking the victim. This issue of provocation is determined on a case-by-case basis. However, absent any evidence of provocation by the victim, a dog owner is fully responsible for the actions of their canine.
Common Dog Bite Injuries
There are many different ways in which a dog bite accident can occur, whether it’s due to roughhousing, petting a dog without warning, or disturbing a dog while they are sleeping or eating. Generally, dog bite accidents occur when a person isn’t cautious around a family dog, or when a dog feels threatened around someone that they might not know in an unfamiliar area. Regardless of the cause, the fact remains that dog bite accidents are often severe.
The most common types of dog bite injuries include:
Tragically, the most common victims of dog bite injuries are children between the ages of five and nine with a dog in their household. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, out of the 800,000 people in the U.S. that receive medical attention for dog bites every year, at least half are young children.
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What to Do After a Dog Bite Accident in St. Louis
If you are involved in a dog bite accident, the most important thing to do is seek medical attention. Dog bites can cause severe injuries and even transfer diseases, such as rabies, if the dog is infected, so it’s crucial to get checked out by a trusted physician as soon as possible. Not to mention, a medical report is a powerful piece of evidence to support your dog bite claim.
After seeking medical attention, it’s essential to record information about the accident, such as the dog’s color, breed and size, owner’s name and contact information (if applicable), and any witnesses to the incident. This information can be helpful when reporting the accident to local animal control and can prove invaluable in filing a claim against the dog owner.
Dog Bite Claims & Homeowners’ Insurance
A dog bite injury can cost you a large amount of money in terms of medical costs, recuperation, and lost earnings. As long as you didn’t provoke the animal, you should be eligible to file a personal injury claim against the dog owner, whose homeowners’ insurance would typically pay the claim.
In Missouri, a dog owner can be held accountable for personal injuries suffered by a dog bite victim whether the bite took place on the dog owner’s property, on someone else’s private property, or on public property. This is true as long as the dog bite victim was legally allowed in the place where the incident took place and no provocation brought on the attack.
The prevalence of injurious dog attacks annually has meant that, according to the Insurance Information Institute, injuries from dog bites made up more than a third of the total dollars paid in claims out of homeowners’ insurance, which cost insurers more than $530 million.
If you have been injured by a dog bite and it was not your fault, you should contact a personal injury attorney to see if you are eligible to file a claim against the dog owner’s homeowners’ insurance to compensate you for the financial hardship caused by the dog bite.
How a Missouri Dog Bite Attorney Can Help
Over 98% of Missouri dog bite claims are settled out of court, most often through negotiations with the dog owner’s insurance company. The value of this settlement is critical in ensuring that the dog bite victim is fairly compensated for their losses. Determining the appropriate value of a dog bite settlement can involve reviewing medical records, estimating lost and future earnings, obtaining opinions regarding ongoing medical treatment, subpoenaing veterinary and police department records, and interviewing the dog owner and their neighbors and family. It can be difficult for an ordinary layperson to properly evaluate the fair value of a settlement.
In addition, in some cases, the dog owner is unable to compensate the victim due to a lack of insurance or resources. If this happens, a St. Louis dog bite lawyer from The Dixon Injury Firm can evaluate the situation to determine if there might be another party that could be held liable, such as a landlord.
Contact The Dixon Injury Firm Today
If you or a loved one has suffered a dog bite in Missouri, contact our experienced personal injury attorneys today to discuss your rights. We offer free initial consultations and provide our legal services on a contingency fee basis, meaning you do not owe any attorneys’ fees unless we recover compensation for you.