DBPM–Dissecting a Dog Bite pt 1 (Legalese)
“No, Fluffy has never bitten anyone. She’s snipped at people sometimes and tried to nip a few others but never bitten.” This is what I was told about a dog who, in digging deeper into the conversation had actually bitten 8 times. The “tried to nip” were actually 4 incidents where the dog aggressively ripped into clothing but didn’t hit the person, another 3 incidents where the dog “snipped” were bites to the lower leg that did not break skin but left marks and one bite to the face that left red marks but no broken skin. The guardians were not intentionally trying to deceive me but their understanding of what constituted the label of “dog bite” was quite inaccurate. Knowing what legally constitutes a dog bite or dog attack under a state’s dangerous dogs law is really important. This dog actually had quite a long history of incidents and they were extremely lucky that no one reported the issues.
I am NOT a lawyer and do not play one on TV, all the information contained in this post was researched by reading the PA state Dog Laws (from the department of agriculture’s page), snippets of a handful of other states’ dog laws from Michigan State University College of Law’s website, and a variety of dog-bite law/information web pages on lawyers’ websites.
Dog bite statutes and laws vary from state to state and, in some instances, from municipality to municipality for specific ordinances d(or on a case by case basis). If you are looking for information on your state’s dog bite law, it can often be found under the department of agriculture’s website for your state. I was also able to find Michigan State Uni. College of Law’s website that lists the dog bite laws by state –the information I found for PA was up to date and accurate based on the document I found on the PA site regarding dog law BUT make sure you double check the information is up to date for your state.
Dangerous dog laws are what govern the rules surrounding dog bites and dog attacks in most states so it’s important, I think, for dog guardians to familiarize themselves with the rules for their state. Reading through the codes OR reading an overview from a reputable source can be really helpful in understanding dog bites, dog attacks, and the rules that govern. I think it can also be a tool to help unaware dog guardians understand just how dangerous their dog’s behavior actually is and that not resolving the issue could have serious side effects.
So, legally speaking, what is a “Dog Bite”? Since all the states vary in what they consider a bite, there are a lot of definitions but I found one on www.dogbitelaw.com that is pretty well rounded:
If a dog seizes something, or attempts to close or actually closes its jaws on something, and the teeth of the dog either enter, grip or wound that thing, a bite has occurred whether or not the skin is damaged.
In many states, a dog can be labeled a dangerous dog without ever biting. Yes, it’s true (in a legal sense the burden of proof may change in court and it may be based on a history or knowledge of the concerning behavior but it can absolutely happen). If a dog injures a person in an attack, with or without a dog bite, he/she can be deemed dangerous. Perhaps a dog jumps up and knocks someone down and they break a bone–if the injured party wanted to pursue legal action, the guardian could be found liable and it could end poorly for the pup. If a person is injured trying to escape an aggressive dog (or seemingly aggressive), the guardians could be found liable and the dog could be labeled a dangerous dog–even if they never touched the person.
Pennsylvania is one of the states where a dog can be deemed dangerous and a the guardian found liable even if an actual bite (in the legal sense) did not occur. This has some really wide implications for dog guardians and should be motivation to get a dog’s behavior (whether truly aggressive or simply just out of control) resolved. Your reactive dog barks/lunges/snaps at a stranger while on a walk and the stranger gets scared, trips, and falls–you may be found liable and your dog could be labeled dangerous. While it may not seem like a big deal for a dog to be labeled a “Dangerous Dog” since the dog may be allowed to return home, there are some serious restrictions for that dog, some serious liability issues, a requirement to get additional insurance just for the dog, and there is risk of either losing homeowners insurance or having the premium increased significantly.
We will discuss dissecting dog bites in terms of how trainers and behaviorists evaluate bites in our next post, so stay tuned!
National Dog Bite Prevention Week 2013 is held during the week of May 19th -25th but I try to make it a habit to spend the entire month with a smattering of Dob Bite Prevention Month (DBPM) posts. You can search for all DBPM posts using the category on the right OR you can search for “DBPM” and should pull up all the posts. During May I will be posting new posts about dog bites or dog bite prevention and will be reposting the previous years’ posts because there is no need to re-invent the wheel and I think they are valuable.