Foley & Small would like to provide you some information about claims arising from dog bites and dog attacks. Many of us are the happy owners of loving dogs; dogs that pose no threat to others apart being the target of a friendly licking. Unfortunately, there are some dogs that are not only unfriendly, but are vicious. More unfortunately, there are dog owners that fail to properly control their dogs.
At Foley & Small over the years we have handled many dog bite cases. Unfortunately, some of those cases have involved not just severe but occasionally devastating injuries from a dog attack. Under Indiana law, an owner of a dog must exercise reasonable care to make sure the dog does not pose a threat of harm or injury to persons or property. If an owner knows or has a reason to know that his or her dog has what is referred to as “vicious propensities,” then the owner must take steps to prevent those who may come in contact with the dog from being injured or attacked. Those steps typically involve keeping the dog contained within a yard or home or if the dog is to be taken out, keeping the dog on a leash or otherwise under control.
The old law in Indiana was what we lawyers referred to as the “one free bite rule.” That line of case held that an owner was not charged with knowledge of the vicious propensity of a dog until the dog first bit someone. That rule is no longer applies. Now, if a dog has shown vicious propensities, even without having bitten or attacked someone, the owner can be held liable for not keeping control of the dog. If a dog aggressively charges after people or angrily barks or growls at people, one can presume from such behavior that the dog poses a risk of attack upon others and appropriate protective steps must be taken to protect others from the dog.
In asserting a claim for injuries from a dog attack, one is able to recover for all medical and treatment expenses, for any loss of pay if work time was lost, for the pain and suffering occasioned by the attack and for any permanent injury resulting from the attack, including scarring and emotional trauma.
-Douglas D. Small
-Edmond W. Foley
Most dog attacks are the result of insufficient control of the dog, or poor training. i.e. Bad owners. It is wise to be informed and prepared when dealing with an unfamiliar dog.
Avoid smiling at the dog. You may be putting on a friendly face, but an aggressive dog sees you baring your teeth for a fight.
Do not taunt a dog, even if you think it can’t reach you. Dogs that are chained or tethered to a stationary object for extended period are more likely to be aggressive, so do not come within their reach.
Look for warning signs. Most dogs are not aggressive but rather just curious or defending what they perceive as their territory. It is important to be able to tell if a dog is just playing or is being truly aggressive. While some breeds have been singled out as being particularly vicious, any mid-size and large dog breed can be dangerous (poodles, terriers) so do not ignore warning signs because you think a certain breed is harmless or friendly.
If the dog approaches you with its head held high or low, it is probably not going to attack. A dog whose head is level means business. A loping gait means the dog is playful and checking you out. An even, steady run means business.
Remain calm. There’s some truth to the adage that dogs and other animals can sense fear. If you panic, you may make the dog feel more confident in his attack, or you may appear threatening to the dog. Neither of these is a good situation.
Control the situation. Remember that most dogs are in subjugation to humans. A commanding “Down!” or “Go Home!” may stop an attack momentarily, giving you time to back away.
Never run. Running away can awaken the dog’s prey instinct to chase and catch animals, and he may pursue you vigorously even if its initial intent was just playful. In addition, you won’t be able to outrun a dog if you’re on foot. Even if you are on a bicycle you usually will not be able to outrun a dog.
Assume a non-threatening position. Dogs will assume that you are poised to attack them if you face them head on and make eye contact. Standing sideways to the dog and keeping the dog in your peripheral vision instead of facing them and making eye contact, will signal to the dog that you are not a threat. If you can, fold your arms tightly to protect hands. If this cannot be accomplished without making sudden movements, keep your arms flat and still by your sides with clenched fists to protect fingers. In dog pack behavior, turning away does not indicate that you are submissive, but rather not positioned to attack the dog.
Hold your position. Dogs have short attention spans. Often after some barking, the dog will lose interest and go away. Do not appear threatening to the dog, and don’t open your hands and arms up to a bite by extending them. Keep your fingers curled into fists to avoid getting them bitten. The dog may come quite close, even sniffing you, without actually biting.
If the Dog Attacks. Curl into a fetal position if there is no way to avoid the physical attack. Use your arms and hands to protect your face and neck, and curl up in a ball. Remain motionless and don’t scream. Dogs will almost always lose interest in you if you remain still. Wait until the dog leaves the area before getting up.
If you stay still and protect your face, chest, and throat, the dog will only be able to inflict puncture wounds on areas of your body that have thicker skin. If the dog is biting, the last thing you want to do is struggle or pull away, as this can cause open, torn wounds.
If the dog is biting someone else, do not pull the victim away for the very same reason. Find a large stick and strike the dog across the back of the neck. You could also try to force a long object or your arm horizontally in the dog’s mouth. Push it in forcefully towards the throat to minimize damage to yourself. If you have time, wrap your arm in a shirt or jacket first.
Don’t hit a dog on the head as they generally have very thick skulls and you will only make it angry. The only place to hit a huge dog that will have an effect is across the back of the neck near the base of the skull or across the sensitive nose. This may not be useful in self-defense but may be used if a partner is being attacked.
If the dog attacks your dog, let go of the leash and do not interfere. Learn how to break up a dogfight.
Back away slowly and leave the area once the dog loses interest in you. Staying calm and stationary can be a real test of your nerves in this situation, but it’s the best thing to do as long as the dog isn’t actually biting you.
After an Attack. Apply gentle pressure to stop minor bleeding. Use a clean cloth or sterile gauze pad. If bleeding is serious or if it won’t stop after several minutes of applying pressure, seek immediate medical attention.
It is best to seek medical attention after any dog bite or attack to ensure the wounds are properly cared for. You may need a tetanus shot. You will want to take steps to ensure there is no risk of rabies.
Contact the owner and animal control authorities. In order to prevent such incidents in the future, as well as to determine if the animal has rabies, you should notify the local police or animal control department promptly. The owner should be made aware of the attack to ensure appropriate steps are taken in handling the dog.
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Foley & Small has handled numerous dog attack cases. We have worked with local animal control authorities and with dog training experts in presenting our client’s case. We also secure the necessary medical testimony, including medical review and opinion letters regarding scar revisions procedures that maybe required as part of future medical care.
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Foley & Small handles and tries cases across Indiana and Michigan. This includes working in the following counties, county seats and cities: