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Report: Dog bites continue to be a very real problem in the U.S.

While most people might not have realized it, the week of May 15-21 was National Dog Bite Prevention Week, an annual event put on by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the United States Postal Service and State Farm Insurance to raise awareness about bite prevention and responsible pet ownership.

In conjunction with this year's campaign, the Insurance Information Institute compiled an eye-opening report outlining how the problem of dog attacks has only gotten worse across the U.S. 

Some of the more notable findings of this report included:

  • Dog bite claims cost the insurance industry an astounding $571.3 million in 2015, a 7.6 percent increase from 2014 and a 76 percent increase from 2003.
  • Dog bites cost an average of $37,214 per claim in 2015, a 16 percent increase from 2014 and a 94 percent increase from 2003.
  • Dog bite claim frequency was actually relatively static from 2003 to 2015, ranging from 14,531 to 17,359.

Given the devastation that can result from dog bites -- permanent scarring, muscle damage, emotional trauma, etc. -- questions naturally arise as to the legal treatment afforded by the individual states.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the 50 states do not take a uniform approach to dog bite liability, instead adopting one of three approaches:

  • Strict liability statutes: The majority of the states, including Rhode Island, have passed dog bite statutes that essentially hold dog owners strictly liable for any damages or injuries caused by their dog (with many containing exceptions for trespassers, or those who tease or harass dogs)
  • One-bite rule: As many as 16 states don't have statutes and instead rely on legal precedent, which calls for the application of the one-bite rule. This essentially means a dog owner is not held liable for their dog's first bite, but that this changes once their "vicious propensity" has been demonstrated, meaning they can be held liable for all subsequent bites. Some states have become "mixed dog bite statutes states," such that state law applies strict liability in certain circumstances (i.e., a dangerous breed is involved) and the one-bite rule in others.
  • Negligence laws: Three states apply general negligence laws as part of their dog-bite statutes, meaning they do not operate on the theory of strict liability.

Regardless of what applicable state law says, dog owners found liable for bites can be held responsible for everything from medical expenses and pain and suffering to lost wages and property damage.

We'll continue this discussion in our next post, examining what dog owners can -- and should do-- to prevent dog bites.

If you or a loved one has suffered serious physical and emotional injuries as a result of any sort of animal attack, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional.

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