What Can Happen if Your Dog Severely Injures Someone in Utah?

If your dog bites and injures another person in Utah, you can be held liable for that person’s medical bills. Conversely, by filing a claim or lawsuit, dog attack victims can pursue financial compensation from owners of dogs that cause injury or death. Salt Lake City personal injury attorney Darwin Overson explains how Utah’s dog bite liability laws affect attack victims and pet owners.

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Dog Bite Injury Statistics

A few decades ago, the medical journal Injury Prevention published a study in which researchers estimated that roughly 4.5 million people suffered dog bite injuries each year in the United States. Though published in 1996, the data featured in the study was actually collected two years earlier, during 1994. Nearly 20 years later, in 2012, a study published in Public Health Reports put the estimate at 4.7 million bites, an increase of 200,000 bites per year.

Tragically, most dog bite victims are children. According to the study in Injury Prevention, “Children had 3.2 times higher medically attended bite rates than adults.” Little appears to have changed since then, with one Canadian study from 2012 noting, “[A]lmost 50% of children have sustained dog bites. Dog bites occur more frequently in young children and have a higher risk of resulting in serious injury or death, usually from [blood loss]. In Canada between 1990 and 2007, 24 of 28 fatal dog bites occurred in children younger than 12 years of age.” Translated into a percentage, that’s almost 86% of fatal bite injuries – clearly disproportionate to the actual number of children in the population.

Studies have also examined which dog breeds cause the most bite injuries, or at least the most injuries that are serious. For example, a 2009 study in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery attributed almost 51% of bites to Pit Bull breeds, with Rottweilers responsible for nearly 9%. A 2011 study in the Annals of Surgery also attributed a large though slightly lower number of bites to Pit Bulls: 29 out of 82 cases where the breed was known (about 35%). The American Veterinary Medical Association also names Chow Chows, Collies, German Shepherds, Jack Russell Terriers, and Saint Bernards as breeds frequently responsible for bite wounds. Somewhat surprisingly, a study by the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association showed that Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers were other common culprits.

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Dog Bite Liability Laws in Utah

A dog biting or mauling someone can result in extremely serious injuries, particularly to children – the very group most vulnerable to attacks. Children are slower, weaker, and more defenseless than adults, and their vital organs are less protected by surrounding fat and muscle tissue. For a baby or toddler, even a “harmless” toy dog like a Chihuahua can inflict devastating injuries that leave permanent physical and emotional scars behind. Some common dog attack injuries and their complications include:

  • Blood Loss
  • Finger/Thumb Amputation
  • Nerve Damage
  • Paralysis/Reduced Mobility
  • Permanent Scarring and Disfigurement
  • Puncture Wounds
  • Reduced Sensation
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Unfortunately, statistics make it amply clear that these and other dog attack injuries are relatively common. The next question is, who is responsible when a person gets bitten?

To answer that question, we must look to Utah’s dog bite law, which can be found at Utah Code § 18-1-1. This statute, which deals with dog owner liability when another person is injured, states the following:

Every person owning or keeping a dog is liable in damages for injury committed by the dog, and it is not necessary in the action brought therefor to allege or prove that the dog was of a vicious or mischievous disposition or that the owner or keeper of the dog knew that it was vicious or mischievous.

Let’s break that down one component at a time. “Damages” refers to financial compensation, so the statute is saying that every pet owner is responsible for injuries caused by his or her dog – including injuries from scratching someone or knocking them over – and must pay for the victim’s medical bills.

The statute goes on to state that “it is not necessary in the action brought therefor to allege or prove that the dog was of a vicious or mischievous disposition or that the owner or keeper of the dog knew that it was vicious or mischievous.” That may sound confusing, but it’s good news for bite victims. Translated into plain English, this part of the statute is saying that in a Utah dog bite lawsuit (“action brought”), plaintiffs don’t have to prove the dog was vicious, nor do they have to prove that the owner knew the dog was vicious. Therefore, if your dog bit somebody, you can be held responsible for their medical bills – even if your dog has never attacked anyone before, and even if you had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is known as a “strict liability” rule.

There is one major exception to this rule: police dogs. Police officers, police departments, and their respective towns, cities, or counties cannot be held liable for K-9 bite injuries as long as the dog was “trained to assist in law enforcement” and “the injury occurs while the dog is reasonably and carefully being used.” If the dog was not being “reasonably and carefully” used, liability may exist. However, the deadlines for suing government entities are very short.

Salt Lake City Personal Injury Lawyer for Dog Attack Victims

If you or your child was bitten by a Pit Bull, German Shepherd, Rottweiler, or any other type of dog anywhere in the state of Utah, your family could be entitled to financial compensation. Once you have sought medical attention for your injuries, you should contact an experienced dog bite injury lawyer as soon as possible. For a free and confidential legal consultation with a Salt Lake City dog bite lawyer, or to speak with a wrongful death attorney about pursuing justice for a fatal dog attack on a loved one, contact the law offices of Overson Law at (801) 895-3143 today.

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