They’re called man’s best friend for a reason. For thousands of years, dogs have lived alongside humans, providing companionship and protection. Dogs are now so much a part of our lives that we often forget where they came from — the wild. As much unconditional love as they might give us — and with 89.7 million doggos in the U.S., there’s a lot of love to give — at the end of the day they are still animals, and no matter how much of our human ways we impose on them (like funny Halloween costumes or those ugly Christmas sweaters), and no matter how much they might seem to tolerate it, that fact is never going to change.
Serious dog bite injuries are far more common than we as a society would probably like to admit. In California — perhaps due to its larger population — dogs bite more people than in any other state. When State Farm looked into the statistics this summer, it found that we were the worst state for dog bite injuries by a wide margin. In fact, California claims accounted for nearly 14% of all dog bite injuries in the country last year, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), with statewide payouts topping out at a whopping $90.4 million.
Nationwide, that number climbed to a staggering $686 million for 18,522 claims, at an average paid out cost of $37,051. “[T]he average cost per claim nationally has risen more than 90 percent from 2003 to 2017, due to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which are trending upwards,” reports the I.I.I.
The top ten broke down as follows:
- California: 2,228 claims, $90.4 million
- Florida: 1,345 claims, $60.1 million
- Pennsylvania: 1,002 claims, 26.5 million
- New York: 957 claims, $41.6 millio
- Ohio: 932 claims, $23.1 million
- Texas: 929 claims, $33 million
- Illinois: 901 claims, $33.2 million
- Michigan: 734 claims, $28.5 million
- New Jersey: 686 claims, $29.9 million
- Minnesota: 486 claims, $ 14.5 million
The result for homeowners: higher insurance premiums moving forward, increased scrutiny, and the terrifying possibility of their beloved pet being either rehomed, or even put-down.
So, what are some things you can do as a responsible dog owner to reduce your risk of liability? For starters, work together with your pet. Preventing dog bites is a team effort! This means spaying or neutering your pets (Bob Barker was right about this one), keeping them leashed at all times in public, and ensuring your pup is properly socialized from a young age — not just with people, but with other dogs as well. Doing this when Fido is just a puppy will go a long way towards reducing anxiety when they encounter unfamiliar situations later in life.
Equally as important as socialization is knowing your dog’s temperament, and what your goodest of boys will and will not tolerate. This requires you to pay close attention to how they act in when they’re stressed. Do they get defensive? Do their ears go flat to their head, which indicates fear or aggressive? Keep in mind throughout, a wagging tail isn’t always a sign of happiness, even when it’s directed at you or people your pup knows well. It can also mean anxiety and discomfort. A keen understanding your dog’s body language and possible triggers will allow you to stop a bad situation before it starts.
But just as important as knowing the ins and outs of your dog’s personality is understanding your city’s ordinances, which can vary greatly. “Laws really differ on this in each jurisdiction. Sometimes owners are required to pay for the medical care of the injured pet or person, sometimes people will push for costs associated with injury ranging from time they had to take off work to emotional cost,” said Amy Nichols of the Humane Society of the United States.
Dogs are individuals, just like people, and even the most tolerant of humans have had their boundaries pushed to the breaking point. What’s triggering for one canine might be a non-issue for another, but sometimes unexpected situations arise — especially when there are kids in the mix.
The Center for Disease Control advises adults to never let small children to play with dogs unsupervised. “Children are more likely than adults to be bitten by a dog [with children ages 5 to 9 years old the most likely], and when they are, the injuries can be more severe. Over half of dog bite injuries occur at home with dogs that are familiar to us.”
This doesn’t mean that you should be afraid around your family pup, or even any dog, necessarily — just appropriately cautious. Education and understanding go a long way towards prevention bites and liability claims.
Dogs have given us so much in over the years, from protection at the dawn of man, to companionship, to a proven decrease in levels of stress and depression. Now, it’s our turn as responsible owners to give back by doing everything we can to reduce our own liability — and thus, by extension, theirs.
Have a serious injury and need legal advice?
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Check Out These References for Further Reading:
“California is the No. 1 state for dog-bite injuries, State Farm says.” The Tribune. Retrieved 9 November 2018. https://www.sanluisobispo.com/news/state/california/article210823979.html
“What Is Your Liability If Your Dog Attacks a Person or Animal? An Expert Weighs In.” Yahoo Entertainment! Retrieved 9 November 2018. https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/liability-dog-attacks-person-animal-150105895.html
“Spotlight On: Dog bite liability.” Insurance Information Institute. Retrieved 9 November 2018. https://www.iii.org/article/spotlight-on-dog-bite-liability
“Preventing Dog Bites.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 9 November 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/features/dog-bite-prevention/index.html
“The Pet Prescription: Is It For You?” WebMD. Retrieved 9 November 2018. https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/pet-prescription