With 38.4% of American households owning a dog, chances are you’ll be in close proximity with others’ pets when you’re going for a jog, running errands or strolling through the park. Most dogs won’t do any harm, but some encounters with man’s best friend don’t end well. Whether it’s from a lack of training, owner neglect or being sick or hurt, dogs can get aggressive and bite, causing potentially serious injury and mental distress. There are also laws about dog behavior that vary by locality. It can be hard to keep a cool head when bitten by a dog, but there are some important steps you should follow to keep yourself safe and collect information for the authorities and your lawyer.
- Conduct first aid. Dog bites are potentially serious injuries. According to Dr. Stephen Sayles, a wound from a dog bite is open and jagged, as the dog’s front teeth grabs and compresses your tissue and tears your skin. A dog’s mouth is a breeding ground for bacteria, and even a minor bite can become infected, so make sure to treat the wound, no matter how minor.
- If you are bitten, do your best to remain calm. Apply pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding, and if possible, wash the wound in clean running water for five minutes, followed by a sterile bandage. Your urgent care clinic can clean and evaluate minor wounds. More severe bites will need emergency care.
- If the bite is bleeding heavily, or on a sensitive area like your hands, face or neck, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room immediately. In either case, a doctor’s visit will document your injury, and they can prescribe antibiotics. You may also need a tetanus booster if you have not had one in the past five to ten years.
- No matter how serious your injury, make sure to see your doctor within eight hours of the incident to reduce the risk of infection – especially if you have compromised immunity or diabetes.
- If the dog’s owner is present, and the dog is under control, exchange contact information with them. Remember that it’s in the owner’s best interests not to admit fault, so try to remain calm and not fall into a confrontation about what happened. Also obtain contact information from any witnesses.
- Document your injury as much as you can. If possible, take a photo of your bite before you treat it. Write down the details of the incident as soon as possible when they are still fresh in your mind, such as the time, location, and the circumstances of your contact with the dog. Note down any effects of the injury in the days after the incident, such as pain, swelling, or compromised use of the bitten area, and how it impacts your work or daily routines. According to the Louisiana SPCA, a doctor who treats a dog bite is required to make a report to the Animal Control division, which is all the more reason to visit a doctor if you are bitten.
- Understand local laws. Under Louisiana Civil Code § 2321, as long as the dog was not teased or provoked before the incident, dog owners are generally responsible for the damages caused by their dog if they know that their dog’s behavior would cause harm, the attack could have been prevented, and the owner did not take reasonable care to prevent the bite. If the dog has bitten before, for example, the owner would have known that it might bite again. Taking reasonable care could be leashing the dog, keeping the dog behind a fence, or otherwise controlling the animal.
- Learn about the repercussions for dog owners. There are laws in Orleans Parish that define potentially dangerous, dangerous and vicious dogs. These are defined as the following:
A potentially dangerous dog has caused a minor injury, such as a scratch, laceration or bruise that doesn’t require emergency treatment, or a moderate injury like a puncture wound or a laceration requiring stitches. This applies to dogs biting humans, but also to other domestic animals. A dog can also be classified as potentially dangerous if it chases a person in a public area in a menacing way. These dogs must be kept on a leash, kept out of dog parks, undergo additional training and be neutered and microchipped at the owner’s expense.
A dangerous dog has caused a moderate or severe injury (severe injuries are defined as multiple deep lacerations, broken bones, and injuries that require prolonged treatment, cause disfiguration, long term pain or incapacitation) and if a dog has been classified as potentially dangerous and bites again. Dangerous dogs cannot be walked in public and must be kept in a secure enclosure on the owner’s property. A sign must be displayed warning the public that a dangerous dog resides there.
A dog is defined as vicious under the worst-case scenario that an attack results in a fatality. A dog that bites people (or other domestic animals) multiple times can progress through the previous categories and be classified as vicious. Vicious dogs are not permitted to reside in Orleans Parish.
If you decide to pursue a case against a dog owner if you are bitten, the above laws will play a part in how your case proceeds.
- Consider how a dog bite affects your life. A dog bite can have long-lasting physical and psychological effects. You may experience loss of blood, pain for an extended period, a serious infection, and/or compromised use of the affected area such as your hand or leg. You may have to allocate time and money for repeated doctor visits and medications and take time off work or leisure activities while your bite heals. There’s also no doubt that being bitten by a dog can be incredibly frightening, as well as interacting with a potentially hostile owner. It might make you afraid to be around dogs or suffer post-traumatic stress
- Consult an attorney. Fortunately, help is available if you want to know your legal rights if you are bitten by a dog, and if you have a strong case for compensation. Contact us at AKD Law and let’s talk about how we can help.