While most of us enjoy meeting people’s pets, interacting with an unfamiliar dog can often cause anxiety. And there is good reason to be nervous; being bitten or attacked by a dog can lead to serious personal injury.
According to statistics from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA):
- There are almost 90 million dogs living in U.S. households.
- About 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year.
- Children are most vulnerable – at least half of those bitten are children.
- More than 800,000 of those bitten require medical attention.
Most dangerous dogs
While any dog is capable of biting, statistics show that some breeds have higher reported incidents of attack than others. These statistics are likely influenced by the fact that larger-breed dogs are simply capable of inflicting more severe injury due to their size and the amount of force they can exert through their bite.
Studies have found that the following breeds were responsible for the most number of fatal attacks:
- Pit bulls: 65.6%
- Rottweilers: 10.4%
- German shepherds: 4.6%
Overall, the number of people killed by dogs each year make them the third most deadly animal on Earth.
A literature review in 2019 found that the following dogs had the highest reported percentage of bites across all studies:
- Pit bulls: 22.5%
- Mixed breeds: 21.2%
- German shepherds: 17.8%
While research indicates that breed is far from the only characteristic likely to make a particular dog aggressive, your attorney for a dog bite claim will likely ask if you know anything about the breed and investigate this issue in developing your case.
Insurance claims for dog bite injuries
Claims for dog-related injuries are typically covered by renters or homeowners insurance. A recent industry study analyzed the number of these claims nationwide and how much it is costing insurance carriers.
Statistics from the Insurance Information Institute (“Triple I”) and State Farm show that:
- Insurers paid out more than $1.1 billion in dog-related injury claims in 2022, an almost 29% increase compared to 2021.
- There were 17,597 dog-related injury claims in the U.S. in 2022. While this represents a 2.2% decline from the number of claims in 2021, the total cost of claims increased significantly—from $882 million in 2021 to $1.13 billion in 2022.
- The average cost per claim was $64,555 in 2022, a 31.7% increase from $49,025 in 2021.
- Across the country, the average cost per claim rose 131.7% from 2013-2022 due to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which are trending upward.
One of the first steps a personal injury attorney takes when investigating a new dog bite case is determining whether there is insurance coverage for the claim. You can assist your attorney with this inquiry by providing any information you may know about the owners of the dog and their residential address.
Dog bite liability in Virginia
Like other personal injury claims (e.g. car crashes), dog bite cases require proving negligence. In Virginia, to hold a dog owner responsible when their dog bites or otherwise injures you, you must prove that:
- The dog has shown aggressive tendencies in the past; and
- The dog owner was aware of these aggressive tendencies.
While no longer overtly literal, a dog’s previous aggressive tendencies usually invoke the legal doctrine known as the “one bite rule.” This historical principle describes the classic way of proving that an owner was on notice that their dog was dangerous by showing that the dog has bitten someone else in the past. After this first bite, it is presumed that the owner is aware that the dog might bite again in the future, and if they fail to prevent that, then they are negligent and liable for a victim’s injuries.
How do attorneys investigate a dog’s behavioral history?
In order to establish this history of biting or aggressive tendencies, lawyers often interview neighbors, request records from animal control and the dog’s veterinarian, and check with delivery personnel such as postal workers or FedEx and Amazon drivers. The dog owner’s own social media posts may also provide evidence of their knowledge or even encouragement of aggressive tendencies.
Many jurisdictions also have “leash laws,” which require owners to keep their dogs restrained, whether or not they have ever previously bitten. If the dog owner negligently fails to do so, then they may be held liable for any injuries caused while the dog is “running at large.”
All in all, while many if not most dogs are friendly, “man’s best friend” can pose a dangerous risk of injury, especially to children. If you or a loved one has been injured due to a dog bite, call the personal injury attorneys at Allen & Allen for a free consultation at 866-671-4306.