Are You and Your Kids Safe From Vicious Dog Attacks?

By Larry Bodine, Publisher of The National Trial Lawyers

Every day in America, 1,000 people are bitten or attacked by vicious dogs, badly enough that they go to a hospital emergency room. Dog bites have risen in number and severity since the 1980s as more people keep vicious breeds and let them run loose.

Dog bites are a serious public health problem that causes both physical and emotional damage to victims. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were about 17 fatalities in the U.S. each year. However, from 2006 through 2013, there have been more than 30 fatalities per year with the peak being 37 in 2012.

One thing is certain: the dog that kills people most often is a pit bull or a pit bull mix. Pit bull breeds accounted for more than 41 percent of dog bite-related fatalities, three times as many as German shepherds. Dogs can exert tremendous force in their bites:

  • Doberman: 600 pounds of pressure
  • Rottweiler: 328 pounds of pressure
  • German shepherd: 238 pound bite force
  • Pit bull: 235 pounds of pressure

Other dangerous breeds include the Husky, Boxer, and Akita. Unfortunately, in this day and age, you can still find puppy mills filled with dogs bred specifically for fighting. Wounds caused by a dog bites are often devastating and include cuts, tears, punctures, crushing, and bone fractures.

The victims are often children or the elderly. This year alone:

  • One-year-old Nyhiem Wilfong of Caldwell County, North Carolina, was killed on May 5, 2014, in the backyard of his grandfather’s house by a Rottweiler the grandfather had acquired three weeks earlier.
  • Three-year old Braelynn Coulter of High Point, North Carolina, was killed by one of her family’s two pit bulls on February 24, 2014. A few months earlier, both dogs had broken through a fence to attack a neighborhood dog.
  • 93-year-old Rita Pepe of Branford, Connecticut, was attacked on April 13, 2014 by a neighbor’s pit bull, a rescue dog. She died on May 25, 2014.
  • 83-year-old Petra Aguirre of San Antonio was killed by her neighbor’s 35-pound pit bull while in her own backyard on April 11, 2014. The animal had crawled under the fence.

What Damages Can You Recover?

Dog attack victims in the US suffer more than $1 billion in monetary losses every year. State Farm Insurance paid $70 million on 11,000 claims in 1995. Depending on the seriousness of injuries resulting from an animal attack, you may be entitled to recover for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and property damage.

State Farm paid an average of $25,714 in dog bite claims in 2010. When the injuries are more severe, the recoveries are much higher. For example, a mailman who was delivering a parcel to a home in Maryland when a pit bull broke through the front door and attacked him. The dog mauled him for more than ten minutes and inflicted nerve and tendon damage, as well as post-traumatic stress. The mailman sued the dog owners and the apartment renters, claiming they did not properly restrain their animal. A judge awarded the victim $110,000 in damages in 2011.

In another case in Maryland, a man was walking his dog when the defendant’s dog escaped from a fenced-in yard and attacked his dog and also bit the man on the hand. He was taken to Prince George’s Hospital where he required surgery. The man filed suit, arguing that the defendant knew or should have known about his dog’s violent propensities and failed to keep it in his own yard. A Prince George’s County jury awarded $70,000 to that victim in 2011.

Always be alert to dogs that are not on a leash and avoid becoming one of the 4.5 million victims attacked by a vicious dog every year.

Larry Bodine is a lawyer and journalist who speaks and writes frequently personal injury law. He is the publisher of the National Trial Lawyers and is the former Editor in Chief of Readers can follow @Larrybodine on Twitter, on Google+ and on LinkedIn, where he moderates several law-related groups.