Dog Bites and Dog Attacks
In Missouri, there are two main claims that can be brought after a dog bite or dog attack. Most people will miss the one that concerns the premises liability claim. In addition many municipalities around the state have ordinances in place that require owners of dogs to prevent them from attacking other people. For instance, there is a leash law in Kirkwood Missouri as well and as an ordinance in Jefferson County that requires owners to prevent their dog from attacking others. If the owners of the dog violate one of these ordinances and dog attacks a person, then the injured party has a claim under negligence per se.
Typically, most lawyers will assume the statutory violation or the ordinance violation to be the predominant claim when it comes to dog bites. However, the premises liability claim can be just as valuable and, in most instances, will hook the insurance coverage of the property owner where the attack occurred. A premises liability claim is fairly simple. Basically, the gist of the claim is that there existed a dangerous condition on the property where the plaintiff was injured. In this case, the dangerous condition would be the dog who attacked the plaintiff. There are other considerations that must be taken into account for these types of claims including the status of the injured party on the property. Are they inviting? Are they a licensee? Are they a trespasser? Are they a child? All of these considerations must be taken into account in determining which claims you will pursue.
There may be cases where a visitor brings a dog to a home owner’s property. While there, the dog may attack or by another visitor at the property. In this instance, there can be two parties that could be responsible for the attack. The dog owner and the property. This is important because of the insurance coverages that may exist.
If you ask most people in the state of Missouri, they believe there is a one bite dogs. There is no such rule as a one bite in this state. It does not exist. Rather we have a law which states as follows:
“The owner or possessor of any dog that bites, without provocation, any person while such person is on public property, or lawfully on private property, including the property of the owner or possessor of the dog, is strictly liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s or possessor’s knowledge of such viciousness. If it is determined that the damaged party had fault in the incident, any damages owed by the owner or possessor of the biting dog shall be reduced by the same percentage that the damaged party’s fault contributed to the incident. The provisions of this section shall not apply to dogs killing or maiming sheep or other domestic animals under section 273.020.”
Essentially, what that means, is that a dog owner is always responsible for the actions of their dog. The caveat to this is that the person harmed must be lawfully on private property or on public property. If you are trespassing, were not protected. The defense is allowed to argue and ask for a percentage reduction in the damages that is proportionate to the damage you caused. However, note that the statute does not say after one bite or more than one bite. It is simply a bite.
Is it a bite or an attack?
Some smart insurance defense lawyers will argue that there is a difference between bite and attack. It is important for the experienced attorney to look to find out whether there is an ordinance that would apply to the dog bite or attack in this situation. Will often find a broader definition of the term attack in a local ordinance. A perfect example is the Jefferson County Code 215.300, which states as follows:
“No person who owns or possesses a dog shall permit such dog to bite or attack another human being or domesticated animal. This Section shall not apply to the use of dogs by law enforcement agencies or to the lawful defense of person or property.”
As you can see, the definition in this ordinance both bite and attack. A smart defense lawyer may argue that plaintiff is not allowed to recover under Missouri state law because there was no bite but only an attack. A smart plaintiff lawyer must be prepared to argue ordinance violations such as the one above.
What is the difference between bite and attack?
There are many instances where a dog might not actually puncture the skin of an injured person. Large animals can jump on plaintiff’s, knocking them over causing severe injuries to shoulder legs and hips and heads. This can occur without any breaking of the skin by the teeth of the dog. This would be termed as an attack. Arguably, the injured party might not be able to recover under Missouri law. They would be able to recover under the Jefferson County ordinance. This underscores the fact that an attorney must look beyond just state law as an opportunity to recover on behalf of their client. Failing to look beyond the state laws, can result in no recovery on behalf of an injured party.
In our practice, we have seen many claims where the insurance company initially denies to cover injured party because the individual was injured on property other than the dog owners. These insurance companies forget to analyze the case from a premises liability standpoint. Basically, that there was a dangerous condition on the property, i.e. the dog, and the owner failed to prevent the attack or remedy the dangerous condition therefore the owner would be or could be responsible under the law of the damages incurred by the victim.
Types of injuries from dog bites or attacks
Most people will just assume that the only injury dog bite or attack is a puncture wound or some type of scar. These types of injuries can be devastating, especially if they were on the face or other visible areas of the injured party. However, what most people overlook the other injuries that aren’t necessarily so visible. Examples would be punctured if ligaments or tendons, partial loss of use of a muscle, or things like torn rotator cuff as a result of the trauma. Large dogs have little trouble knocking down unsuspecting victim, which can cause significant shoulder injury or wrist and hand injury. Additionally, the injured party can suffer a head injury or a traumatic brain injury as a result of the fall or attack. It is important that these injuries are not overlooked by the attorney.
Aside from these physical injuries, scarring and other visible psychological have a more permanent and lasting effect than physical injury. It is important that the best plastic surgeons evaluate facial injuries to prevent significant scarring. In young children, a significant scar to the face can cause psychological injury over the course of their lifetime. It is important to consider the psychological of a dog bite injury when preparing the case for demand and negotiating with the insurance carrier. Oftentimes, it is recommended that the injured party seek counseling or psychological care to help deal with the physical scarring injuries.