Nearly 85 million dogs live in homes in the United States. Owning and caring for these companions have many advantages, from keeping owners active, healthy, increasing happiness and even decreasing symptoms of mental illness. While there are many benefits to owning a dog, they can cause serious physical and psychological injuries when they attack.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are more than 4.5 million dog bites each year in the U.S. Of those, around 800,000 require medical care and treatment, and some of them are fatal. From 2005 to 2019, 521 people were killed in dog attacks, with school-aged children accounting for the most deaths compared to other age groups.
Dog bites happen everywhere, but most occur at or near the owner’s home. In fact, the Virginia Department of Human Health states that 61% of dog bites occur in the dog’s home or somewhere familiar, and most of the dogs are owned by the victim’s family or friends.
Off-leash dogs and failure to supervise or control dogs with a history of aggression and behavioral issues contribute to the rate of dog attacks. Unfortunately, Virginia does not have statewide leash laws to help protect people from these attacks. However, Virginia counties and cities have their own leash laws that can be beneficial in your dog attack case.
Many dog bites result in minor scratches and puncture wounds that, when cleaned and properly bandaged, heal quickly and have minimal physical effects. But not every dog bite victim comes away fairly unscathed. The possible injuries and short and long-term effects of dog attacks are extensive, and there are serious risks of infection.
When someone suffers a personal injury from a dog bite, the owner may have been negligent. To hold owners accountable, victims of dog attacks should consult a lawyer with experience in these complex cases to help ensure they are properly compensated.
Types of Dog Attack Injuries
There are many types of injuries from dog attacks, and the animal doesn’t need to be big in size to cause serious physical and mental harm. Once a dog’s sharp, pointed teeth latch on, getting it to release the victim can be difficult, or the dog may continue to bite other areas of the body. While serious infections and scar injuries are common, there are many possible types of injuries from a dog attack.
Extensive Soft Tissue Damage
A dog’s jaw is strong, and its teeth are sharp. When they bite, they can easily puncture and tear the soft tissues of the body, including the skin, muscles, tendons, nerves, veins, and arteries, oftentimes resulting in permanent damage. Since dog attack victims typically use their hands, arms, and legs to protect themselves, these types of injuries can have long-term effects on a person’s appendages.
Some dogs can bite hard enough to break bones. But victims of dog attacks may also trip or fall when trying to get away from the dog, causing them to break or fracture different parts of the body, such as their ankle, leg, or femur.
Sadly, a common dog bite injury is facial disfigurement. Nearly 27,000 people required reconstructive surgery from dog bites in 2018. Cuts, puncture wounds, loss of skin and underlying soft tissue, a broken nose or cheekbone, or even a fractured jaw may occur, and the victim may need surgery. Damage to the eyes is another area that may be injured, and there can be permanent vision loss. Tragically, facial disfigurement is more common among children as they are usually face-to-face with the attacking dog.
Head and Neck Injuries
Dog attack victims may suffer injuries to the head and/or neck too. This could happen if the dog bites the neck, an area that some dogs could easily latch onto with a firm grip. But these injuries could also occur when the victim tries to get away or dislodge the animal; they may trip and fall, also resulting in a concussion or brain injury.
Bruising, Puncture Wounds, and Lacerations
Given the strength of their bite, lacerations and puncture wounds are common dog bite injuries and often require stitches. The area around the wounds may swell and bruise. Depending on the depth of the wound, puncture wounds need to be closely monitored to ensure proper healing occurs.
A dog’s mouth contains bacteria that can be harmful to humans, and even minor dog bites can cause dangerous bacterial infections. Pasteurella multocida is the most common cause of soft tissue infection from dog bites or scratches, which often causes cellulitis. Properly cleaning the cuts and monitoring for infection is crucial, and all severe injuries should be seen by a doctor immediately following a dog attack to prevent bacterial infections.
Doctors may order a tetanus shot to be safe if the victim hasn’t had one in the last five years. In the most serious cases, if the animal wasn’t vaccinated for rabies, it may be passed on to humans. Unfortunately, rabies is a highly fatal viral infection.
In the worst case, a dog attack may be deadly. The human body can only withstand so much; with the types of serious wounds dangerous dogs can inflict and the risks of injury when trying to get away from an attacking dog, some victims are killed. In general, more children die from dog attacks than adults.
Effects of Dog Attacks
As we’ve outlined, there are many types of dog attack injuries, but there are also short and long-term effects. For some, emotional trauma can be greater and more long-lasting than physical injuries. This is especially common when dog bites cause scarring on the face and when the victim is a child.
But everyone’s experience is different, and there may be a combination of physical and mental effects in the days and years after a dog attack, including:
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Chronic pain
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Amputation (from infection, or severe muscle, tissue, and bone damage)
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Fear of dogs
In addition to these potential effects, children attacked by dogs typically experience even more mental health struggles than adults – struggles that may affect their development and future. Bedwetting, mood swings, anger, irrational fears, change of appetite, and sleep problems are all possible in the aftermath of child dog attacks.
Another long-term effect of dog attacks is the need for additional surgeries to repair damage and function. Facial damage can lead to mental health struggles, and since scarring is a common effect of dog bites, plastic surgery may be needed.
The risk of bacterial infections occurring within one to 14 days following a dog bite is high. Types of infections from dog attacks include cellulitis, staph infections, sepsis, and more. Knowing the signs and symptoms of cellulitis is crucial, as they usually begin within 24 hours of a dog or cat attack. Seek medical attention if you experience blistering skin, fever, vomiting, joint pain, or other signs of infection.
It is always better to be safe by going to the doctor or emergency room when you are a victim of a dangerous dog bite/attack. After all, untreated infections like cellulitis can lead to endocarditis, blood infections, toxic shock syndrome, sepsis, and other serious and fatal illnesses. Managing infections from dog bites often include antibiotics, frequent bandage changes, cleaning the infected area regularly, and draining the wound.
Life-changing disabilities, depression, the inability to perform certain tasks or jobs, and lifelong medication and other treatments are also possible effects of dog attacks. Deep lacerations may require stitches, but the treatment of dog bites can include much more, and it can take months or even years to recover.
How a Dog Attack Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
A dog bite victim may require time off work and may be unable to care for and provide for their family. The physical and mental trauma from such an intense and serious attack can forever change the lives of victims. Being compensated for the wide range of damages you’ve experienced and may experience in the future can help in several ways while, at the same time, holding negligent dog owners responsible for their actions or lack thereof.
Not all state laws hold owners liable for dog attacks resulting in injury, but Virginia does. A Virginia personal injury lawyer can determine whether the owner violated an animal control law, if the owner knew or should have known the dog had behavioral issues that posed risks to others, or if the dog previously bit someone.
Compensation for dog attacks may be sought through the owner’s insurance. Homeowners’ insurance policies typically cover dog bites, but some insurers don’t, and others won’t cover certain breeds of dogs. In some cases, insurers require dogs to undergo pet training and behavior classes to have coverage under the policy.
Settlements and judge and jury awards in dog bite cases have increased over the last decade, providing greater compensation for the widespread effects of dog attacks. According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bite liability claims and other dog-related injuries resulted in $882 million paid to victims in 2021. Almost 18,000 claims were made, and the average payout was over $49,000.
The experienced Virginia dog attack lawyers at Curcio Law have helped victims of dog bites be compensated for their injuries and the many short and long-term effects. We use strategies that find and develop the evidence needed to prove the owner or controller of the dog was negligent. We also fully appreciate the nature and extent of the injuries caused by dog bites and how to prove those injuries to the insurance company or a jury. If you or a loved one was the victim of a dog attack in Virginia, contact us online, or call/text 703-836-3366 for a free consultation.
Justin Curcio joined Curcio Law in January 2020. Justin received his J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law in 2015. After passing the Virginia Bar in 2015, Justin was in-house counsel for an insurance defense firm (Allstate/Esurance/Encompass) for over four years before joining Curcio Law. During law school, he worked for the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and the law firm of Bartlett, McDonough & Monaghan, LLP. Contact Justin at firstname.lastname@example.org.