Articles Posted in Dog Bites

One of the most important decisions any Washington, D.C. personal injury plaintiffs must make early on in the process is which parties to name as defendants in the lawsuit. Failing to name all potentially liable parties can have a disastrous effect on the plaintiff’s case for several reasons. First, a plaintiff typically only gets “one bite at the apple” and cannot file a second case based on the same allegations. Second, if a named defendant can convince the judge or jury that an unnamed party bore responsibility for the plaintiff’s injuries, the named defendant may escape liability entirely.

In Washington, D.C. dog bite cases, the owner of the animal that attacked the plaintiff should certainly be named as a defendant. However, depending on the surrounding circumstances, there may be additional parties, such as a landlord or property manager, who should be named. A recent case shows the type of analysis courts engage in when considering a dog-bite claim made against someone other than the animal’s owner.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was out walking her two small dogs when two larger dogs began attacked her animals. The plaintiff tried to intervene, but one of the larger dogs knocked her down to the ground and started attacking her. A neighbor called the police, who shot and killed both of the large dogs. The plaintiff was airlifted to a nearby hospital with serious injuries.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case raising the important issue of third-party liability, which comes into play in many Washington, D.C. personal injury cases. The case presented the court with the opportunity to determine if a landlord could be held liable for injuries caused by a tenant’s dog. Ultimately, the court concluded that, while a landlord may be responsible in some situations, under the facts presented in this case the landlord did not owe the plaintiff’s a duty of care.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was out walking his dog when several dogs ran out of a nearby house that was owned by the defendant. Evidently, the tenants had invited guests over for dinner. The guests arrived at the home before the tenants did, but had been told that the door would be unlocked and that they could wait inside the house.

As the guests opened the side door to the home, the tenants’ three dogs ran out of the house. The dogs attacked the plaintiff and his dog, resulting in the plaintiff sustaining a serious injury to his shoulder. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the tenants, the guests, and the landlord. The case against the tenants was resolved through a settlement agreement, and the case proceeded to trial against the guests and the landlord. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that they did not owe the plaintiff’s a duty of care and thus could not be held liable for his injuries.

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Recently, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a dog owner could be held liable for injuries caused by her dog in a public dog park. The court ultimately held that, under the state’s strict liability statute, the warning sign posted outside the dog park was not sufficient to preclude liability. Thus, the court reversed the lower court’s decision to dismiss the plaintiff’s case.

The case presents an interesting issue for Washington, D.C. dog bite victims because, although Washington, D.C. does not employ a strict liability analysis in dog bite cases, courts will consider similar factors to those discussed in the case below when weighing the negligence of the parties.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a volunteer at a local dog park. Prior to volunteering, the plaintiff signed a release waiver with the owner of the dog park, indicating that she was aware of the possible injuries that could occur while volunteering in the park. Additionally, outside the dog park was a warning sign, explaining that anyone who enters the dog park does so at their own risk.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing under which circumstances punitive damages are appropriate for a jury to consider awarding to an accident victim. While the case arose in another state court, it is illustrative to accident victims in that it shows the type of factual scenario necessary to sustain punitive damages in a Washington, D.C. dog bite case.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was walking her son’s five-pound Yorkshire terrier to the neighborhood dog park. When the plaintiff arrived at the park, she saw that the defendant was inside the fenced-in park with her two dogs, a 75-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback and a 40-pound Beagle/Lab mix.

Apprehensive to let her son’s small dog inside the park with the much larger dogs belonging to the defendant, the plaintiff asked the defendant if she would be leaving the park soon. The defendant did not respond verbally but shrugged her shoulders. A few minutes later, the defendant began to leash her dogs to exit the park.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a case brought by a woman and her husband after the woman was attacked by a neighbor’s dog. The case, which was initially dismissed by the trial judge, required the court to decide if the trial judge was proper to make the determination that the dog did not have a propensity to bite without provocation. Ultimately, the court determined that this was a question that should have been reserved for the jury, and therefore summary judgment was inappropriate.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were neighbors with the defendants. About a week before the incident that gave rise to this case, the defendants’ son moved back in with the defendants and brought his dog, Rocks. Rocks was kept in a pen in the backyard, unless the defendants’ son was in the backyard. In Rocks’ first week with the defendants, he snapped twice at two different people as they tried to pet and feed him.

Later that week, the plaintiff was visiting the defendants when she gently extended her hand for Rocks to sniff her. Rocks lunged at her, latching onto her arm and causing the plaintiff to fall to the ground. After she fell, Rocks then latched onto her thigh. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries as a result of the attack, and she filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendants, claiming that the dog attacked her unprovoked.

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According to a study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, almost twice has many people are being hospitalized for dog bite injuries now than 15 years ago. While 5,100 dog bite victims sought hospitalization in 1993, 9,500 dog bite victims were hospitalized in 2008.

This rise in dog bite victims requiring hospitalization is much greater than the growth in population. Also, per the study’s author, senior research scientist Anne Elixhauser, pet ownership only went up slightly for the same time period.

Also per the report:
• Approximately 866 dog bite victims a day sought emergency room care.
• 26 people/day were admitted.
• Almost half of those that were hospitalized were treated for infections to the tissue and skin.
• Over half required wound debridement, skin grafts, and other procedures.
• Seniors over the age of 65 and kids under age 5 were the ones most likely to require hospitalization for their dog bite injuries.

• The average cost for treatment was $18,200.

Washington DC Dog Bite Case

If you or someone you love has been injured in a Washington DC dog attack, it is a good idea to explore your legal options. In DC, dog owners must confine a dangerous dog to prevent the pet from escaping, and put up warnings that a dog, if dangerous, is on the premise. That said, it can be tough for a DC dog bite victim to obtain injury compensation, which is why it is so important that you consult with a professional.

Risks: Hospital Admissions for Dog Bites Are on the Rise, New York Times, December 10, 2010

Emergency Department Visits and Inpatient Stays Involving Dog Bites, 2008, AHRQ (PDF)

Related Web Resources:
Dog Bite/Attack, Maryland Accident Law Blog
Dog Bite Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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