Getting bitten or attacked by a dog is an extremely traumatic event, especially if you have had an ongoing, favorable relationship with the dog and statistically this is often the case. You are more likely to be bitten by a friend or family member’s dog or an otherwise usually friendly dog. This usually leaves the victim and surrounding people bewildered, confused, and unsure of what, if anything, can be done to recover compensation for their injuries.
A victim of an attack doesn’t want to “cause trouble” for the dog owner who might fall into this category. What most people do not realize is that, depending on circumstances, the dog owner is usually protected through their homeowner’s insurance policy.
I use the term “attack” because you do not have to be bitten by a dog to suffer injuries. A dog that is unwantedly chasing you can cause injuries. For example, a child riding a bicycle can be chased by a dog resulting in a serious accident.
Fortunately, the majority of bites are minor and do not require medical attention if you have a current tetanus shot – assuming the skin has been pierced by the bite. A tetanus shot is effective for 10 years. If you do not have one or are unsure if yours is current, it is imperative that you get one as soon after the bite as possible because dogs can pick up the tetanus bacteria from the soil and can then be a carrier through their saliva.
Do not let the fear of repercussions for the dog, or its owner, keep you from getting medical attention. As previously stated, it is rarely the case that you are attacked by a random dog and therefore this puts undue pressure on you, the victim, to either not seek treatment for your injuries or lie about how the injuries occurred.
While you might be tempted to do this, it is never a good idea for several reasons. First, you might not know the extent of your injuries initially. They may be far worse than you realize. Second, there are often witnesses to the incident and third, a dog that has bitten once can be inclined to bite again.
Again, the dog owner usually has insurance to cover the cost of your medical treatment and damages. Additionally, a treating facility or physician is mandated to report the incident to the local animal control agencies who monitor the past, present, and future behavior of the dog. It might be that this dog has a prior history of biting that you are unaware of. It is in your best interest to honestly report what happened and how it occurred to the attending physician.
For the protection of the community, a treating facility or physician is mandated by state law to report injuries caused by animals to the local animal control agency where the incident occurred. In turn, the agency records any, and all, wrongful actions by a dog and/or its owner.
Once the agency has been notified of an attack they follow up with the dog owner, on your behalf and the behalf of the community. First, they will see if the dog, or its owner, has any history of prior bites or attacks. Either way, the next step is to see if the dog has been properly vaccinated. This is done in one of two ways; most counties in Illinois require dogs to be licensed and at that time the owner is asked to provide vaccination records. However, many people ignore these laws or do not keep the vaccination information up to date. If there is no current information on record the agency will ask the owner to provide proof of vaccination when they interview the owner of the dog which is the next step.
While interviewing the owner, the agent will also observe the behavior of the dog and interact with it to determine its overall demeanor. The agent will then make a determination if the dog needs further observation or to be quarantined by a third-party veterinary facility to determine if the dog is a further risk to others.
Most owners are cooperative, especially when they have nothing to hide. However, if a dog has a history of aggression, even if not previously reported, the owner can be evasive and uncooperative, not only causing further stress for the victim but further treatment including a series of painful rabies shots. If this has happened to you it is my recommendation that you pursue legal counsel promptly. In my practice, I have witnessed first-hand just how much more there is to uncover when a dog owner is trying to hide something.
The agent will subsequently report back to the victim its findings. Unless a dog has a remarkable history of viciousness or demonstrates severe aggression during the quarantine period the dog most likely will be returned to its owner, usually with a violation for an unleashed/ uncontrolled pet or unlicensed dog, sometimes both.
It is the job of animal control and its agents to keep detailed records of a dog’s behavior and make general observations about a dog’s demeanor. However, it is often a third, independent, unbiased, party with expertise in dog behavior who determines if a dog is considered vicious.
An evaluation of the dog can involve the following:
One of these tests in itself does not determine a dog’s aggression, but rather a combination of these tests performed by experienced personnel who can properly interpret the data will yield the outcome. The above tests also reveal if a dog is a good candidate for rehabilitation. A dog who is aggressive for what appears to be no reason is the most dangerous type.
If you have a serious concern about a dog’s future aggression or potential to attack, you may want to consider additional reporting options such as notifying the dog’s current veterinarian, or if the animal came from a shelter or rescue society, notify them of the dog’s recent actions. They will often get in contact with the adoptive owners to further investigate.
Rescue shelters often follow their dogs closely to ensure their policies and procedures are effective and being followed. They do not want to be held liable for a dog they should have not let be adopted in the first place. Further liability is discussed in the next chapter.
Only you can decide the course of action to take – which should be based on your injuries and damages, not emotions such as fear or embarrassment. It is important that you look at the whole picture which includes not only today but next week, next month, next year, and so on.
The obvious include the visible injuries themselves, which can include scarring, nerve and tissue damage, inability to perform routine tasks as you once did, etc. Then there may be other damages yet to surface. PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and can range from general anxiety to intense fears and phobias, not only of dogs but anything that triggers memories of the event.
Night terrors, agoraphobia (fear of going outside) and panic attacks are all symptoms of PTSD and can last from a few weeks to a lifetime.
It is important not to make a hasty decision, yet be mindful of the statute of limitations, which in Illinois is two years from the date of the incident for adults and for minors two years from the time they turn 18. There are specialized laws and statutes regarding minors that are fully covered in the book When The Dog Bites. This book is free to Illinois dog bite victims.
If you have been bitten or attacked by a dog, or other vicious animal, through no fault of your own, it is in your best interest to consult an attorney before accepting a settlement from the insurance company.
Robert Edens offers an honest, no-obligation, free consultation. He will evaluate the facts of your dog bite injury case, review any settlement that an insurance company has offered you, or tell you how you can handle the case yourself if his services are unnecessary. Call 847-395-2200 or click here to schedule your appointment for a free consultation.