While the vast majority of dogs make good companions, some dogs are aggressive or fearful enough to bite. When a dog bites a person, it can be painful, traumatizing, and sometimes, even debilitating. Residents and dog owners in BC must follow a set of rules dictating the appropriate handling of a dog, both privately and publicly. When these rules aren’t followed or the known risk of a dangerous dog is disregarded, owners can be liable for the health and financial damages a dog’s bite causes. Here’s what to do if a dog bites you.
Seek Medical Attention
Dog bites are serious in the immediate aftermath of a bite and, potentially, long term. If you are bitten, it’s important to seek medical care.
1a. See a Doctor
If possible, make your next move after a dog bite heading straight to the doctor. If it is an emergency, head to a local emergency room for immediate medical treatment. If you feel your injury doesn’t rise to the level of an emergency, see an urgent care specialist or go to a walk-in clinic to receive treatment. Medical experts recommend seeking treatment for dog bites within 24 hours. Within eight hours is preferable.
After a dog bite, a healthcare provider may:
- Stop any bleeding
- Wash the wound with a debriding agent such as saline
- Use sutures to close an exposed laceration
- Protect the injury with a sling, splint, or bandage
- Prescribe antibiotics and pain relief medications
- Give a rabies vaccine
1b. Provide On-Scene Care
If you choose not to seek immediate medical attention after receiving a dog bite, you or a loved one should:
- Slow bleeding by applying pressure to the laceration site
- Clean the wound with soap and water
- Bandage the wound
- Seek medical attention within 24 hours
- Follow doctor’s orders and take any medications as prescribed
- Watch for signs for infection
If left untreated, dog bites can have serious consequences, including infection.
2. Document the Scene
Note your surroundings in the moments leading up to and during the incident. Document them with photographs and video if possible. If you’re unable, ask a loved one to do so. If your injuries aren’t serious enough to need emergency care, attempt to collect contact information of any potential witnesses at the site of the incident.
The owner of a violent dog should immediately get their dog under control and away from the scene of a bite, preferably indoors or to a confined area. The owner should remain at the scene until their contact information is collected by you, a loved one, or the authorities. If emergency personnel are dispatched to the scene, they may collect the necessary contact information from you or the owner. Even if they do, it will be your responsibility to file a personal injury claim for the harm done by a dog bite.
3. Report the Incident to Animal Control
Along with seeking medical attention, another important step after a dog bite is to promptly report the incident to your local animal control office. Animal control keeps documentation of such incidents and may be important in determining whether further action is warranted.
In addition to taking a report of your dog bite incident, they can also reference records to determine if the dog in question has been involved in a previous attack. This is important because common law’s “one bite rule” states that dog owners are liable for dog bite injuries only if they are aware of the risk the dog poses.
Animal control may conduct a thorough investigation of the incident, interviewing witnesses and constructing a timeline of events. If the outcome of the attack is serious enough to result in injury or even death, police may get involved too. In cases where the offending dog’s owner is unknown or unclear, authorities will work to find them using available records.
The outcome of any investigation may be an important determining factor in any legal proceedings by acting as evidence of a dog’s previous aggression history and the owner’s awareness of it. Immediately informing animal control authorities may be vital to any future personal injury case.
4. Understand Liability in Dog Bite Cases
Negligence and Dog Bite Culpability
Defining negligence in personal injury cases like dog bites involves establishing whose responsibility it was to properly handle the animal. While this duty is typically held by the dog’s owner, this could depend on the situation.
In BC, leash and other pet laws are established by individual cities. However, nearly all of these laws require the following:
- Your dog must be under control at all times
- Dogs must be on a leash in public spaces such as streets and parks
- Leashes should be no more than eight feet long
- Leashes must be in hand and cannot be attached to bike racks or electrical poles
- Signs alerting visitors to the presence of a potentially aggressive or territorial dog should be posted on a property
If these mandates are ignored, resulting in a dog attack, the owner or someone else in charge of the dog’s care may be held liable.
Duty of Care
Duty of care is a legal standard pertinent to proving negligence in personal injury cases and involves establishing the defendant’s (the dog’s owner) ethical responsibility to eliminate or mitigate risks to another person’s health and well-being. In dog bite cases, duty of care involves establishing that: 1) the owner had a duty of care to the bite victim; 2) the owner violated that duty of care by failing to prevent harm; and 3) this failure directly resulted in the victim’s injuries.
Examples of negligent dog handling behaviour include walking without a leash, leaving the dog unsupervised, or ignoring previous signs of aggression by the dog.
If you aren’t a personal injury attorney, this term is likely unfamiliar to you. In this case, it is a common law term that means the primary handler of a typically harmless animal such as a dog isn’t liable for an attack they could not reasonably predict. This law has been dubbed the “one bite rule,” as it suggests that until a dog bites the first time, there’s no evidence they would at all. The implications of the rule are an open debate and there are established limits to the one bite rule. Claimants may have the option to establish that evidence of a dog’s aggression existed or that the owner’s duty of care was so egregiously violated they can still be held liable.
The following behaviours previously displayed by a dog could indicate future attacks and therefore may supersede the one bite rule in certain circumstances:
- Growling or barking
- Aggressive postures
- Fighting with other dogs
- Chasing other people and dogs
- Previous complaints about the dog
- “Beware of dog” or similar signs
If a dog bite causes injuries on someone else’s property, you may have a claim against the property owner under BC’s Occupiers’ Liability Act. This act states that property owners and occupiers have a responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure safe premises for visitors. This law can require dogs to be properly confined when others are on a property or that signs be posted where they can be seen by others indicating the presence of a dog. A property owner may be held liable if they knew the dog to be aggressive or dangerous and didn’t take proper precautions.
Contact a Dog Bite Lawyer
The experienced dog bite lawyers at Stephens & Holman can assist you with filing a personal injury claim and collecting the evidence needed to prove your dog bite case. Dog bite victims can be eligible for a range of compensation due to the physical and mental anguish, disability, and inability to work experienced as the result of dog bite injuries. In some cases, victims can be compensated for property damage and lost earning potential as the result of a dog bite, in addition to income lost while recovering from injuries.
With our expertise, we can help you collect evidence, including witness statements and medical records needed to build your case, so that you can focus on healing.