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The Low Down On Dog Bites In St. Louis: Understanding Responsibility And Liability
Posted on : 12/27/2013 03:48:21 AM

According to the American Humane Association there are more than 4.7 million dog bites in the United States every year. Of those, about 800,000 require medical care resulting in over $1 billion dollars of insurance claims every year.   

Some other interesting statistics about injuries sustained from dog bite incidents:
  • 92% of fatal dog attacks involved male dogs, 94% of which were not neutered.
  • 25% of fatal dog attacks involved chained dogs (outside dogs)
  • 71% of dog bites injure extremities (arms, legs, hands and feet)
  • Two thirds of dog bites occurred on the victims property and most victims knew the dog or the owner prior to the attack
  • 24% of deaths involved dogs that were not restrained and free to roam off property
  • 58% of human deaths involved unrestrained dogs on their owners private property
Man’s best friend is also one of his or her most fierce protectors.  It is in the nature of a dog to protect both territory and its owner passionately, and intentions of trespassers are misconstrued frequently by good dogs that got confused or misinterpreted an action, such as play fighting or other triggers that can cause attacks.  

One of the reasons we love dogs is their value to us as protectors of our property and our own personal safety, but owners also have a responsibility to supervise their dogs and to ensure that injuries do not occur.  For dog owners there are a number of legal responsibilities that go with the pleasure of sharing your life with a canine, and that responsibility includes training, restraint and ensuring that you are in control of your dogs behavior at all times for public safety.

Why Do Dogs Bite?  
From a psychological perspective, dogs act in very primal but social ways.   In a dog society or pack, the resources that belong to the pack (which include food, water and shelter) are worth protecting.  Genetically dogs are programmed to protect things they need to survive and that behavior is passed down from their ancestors.  Today the modern dog protects a number of things that may have innate value to them, such as their territory (back yard) their shelter (your home) and possessions such as their favorite toy, dog bed and their food dish.   It is important to understand that one of the possessions that a dog values the most, is you and they covet your attention and guard your safety with their own lives.  You matter that much to your dog as the pack leader.

Anyone entering into a wolf’s territory could be killed in the wild.  That is the inherent nature of the domestic dog who will protect anything of value to him or her.  While male dogs (particularly those that are not neutered) will display more aggression and a more pronounced variance of this behavior, all dogs of all breed types and both male and female dogs are capable of displaying aggression when they feel the need to protect a possession.

And messages can be confusing to the domestic dog.  We want them to attack any intruder that breaks into our house in the middle of the night, but not the mailman who steps on the front porch suspiciously every day.  We want dogs to alert us to when there is someone unfamiliar at the front door or in our outdoor areas, yet we expect them to greet all visitors in a friendly manner.   They are unable to discern between the friend you haven’t seen in years and the person who wants to break into your home and harm you, and that is exactly how dog bites and attacks happen.  It is a severe form of miscommunication with a hazardous outcome.

Legal Issues with Injuries Sustained from Domestic Dog Attacks

There is a statute of limitations in Missouri Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.097 et. seq., of five years.  That means that if you have been the victim of a dog bite, you have a five year period during which to pursue legal action for your loss or injury.   Any claims made after five years can result in a bar of the claim against further action.

There are certain conditions that must be met in order to seek legal actions against the owner of a dog after an injury.  The victim must establish that:
  • He or she was not trespassing on private property at the time of the injury
  • He or she did not taunt or provoke the dog to illicit the attack (which can include a verbal argument against the owner, or a demonstration of aggression against the owner of the dog which could be misconstrued as a defensive trigger for the animal).
If these circumstances are met and satisfactory, any victim of a domestic dog bite can seek legal action and reparation for:
  • Medical expenses pertaining to injury, treatment and/or rehabilitation for loss post injury
  • Lost income and wages due to temporary or long term disability
  • Mental anguish and physical pain
The law in Missouri provides ample reasoning that if a dog is provoked into a protective state of reaction, that there may be a reason to disqualify the attack as justifiable grounds.   In this way, the law does protect both dog owners and pets from litigation in circumstances where physical defense was required or warranted. However, the circumstances also protect victims from unsolicited and unwarranted attacks from known dogs or random dog encounters where injury or personal loss is sustained.

Whether the dog is restrained appropriately or not, there is a legal liability for any pet owner who fails to protect the public from unsolicited dog attacks.  Even a dog that was restrained and ‘accidentally’ became released remains a liability from a legal prospective for the owner.   The responsibility remains with the owner to take all measures to ensure that the public is protected, and if you have been the victim of a dog bite that you feel was unwarranted, there are a number of legal actions you can take to recoup some of your loss.  Consult with a legal professional for advice.

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