Dog bites often don’t make the evening news, but they happen to people every day. Even if you are a dog lover, knowing what to do after a dog bite incident is crucial to protect your health and ensure your injuries get compensation so you aren’t stuck with the bill.
Dog bite injuries are often a serious concern, leading to expensive lawsuits. Minnesota dog bite laws dictate who is at fault in these situations, requiring fault proven by either side to win.
How Common are Dog Bites?
More than 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs every year in the U.S. (Centers for Disease Control). Of those, nearly 800,000 will seek medical attention. Half of the people bitten are children, and almost 400,000 of those bitten will need emergency treatment.
Here are a few additional dog bite statistics to consider:
- Approximately 92% of all dog attacks are by male dogs (almost always those who aren’t neutered).
- About 25% of dogs that attack are chained.
- The insurance industry pays over a billion dollars in dog bite claims annually.
- Approximately three-quarters of all dog bites occur on the extremities (arms, hands, legs and feet).
- Approximately 75% of dog bites occur on the victim’s property, and most of those victims know the dog that attacks them.
What is the Minnesota Law on Dog Bites?
Minnesota dog bite laws side firmly with the injured person. Here in Minnesota, even if a dog is in a fenced yard or on a leash, the dog’s owner is still liable for any damage it does.
Also, MN law allows a victim to be compensated for both the actual dog bite and any ongoing illness or injuries. Our dog bite laws apply not only to the owner but any person who may have just been watching/walking/pet sitting, or boarding the dog. That’s an essential distinction in court.
Minnesota Statute 347.22 had this to say about situations in which the owner was liable:
“If a dog, without provocation, attacks or injures any person who is acting peaceably in any place where the person may lawfully be, the owner of the dog is liable in damages to the person so attacked or injured to the full amount of the injury sustained. The term ‘owner’ includes any person harboring or keeping a dog but the owner shall be primarily liable.”
Suppose someone besides the dog’s owner is walking them, and they cannot prevent the dog from attacking someone who is not provoking it. In that case, the dog’s true owner is liable for the injury.
The reason is simple: The owner entrusted the person with the dog, and, as a result, that person acts as an extension of the owner’s liability. When a dog attacks a person without provocation in Minnesota, and the owner or a person handling the dog can’t prevent it, they are liable.
Unlike some states, Minnesota does not make exceptions for dogs who have not previously bitten anyone. This means that even if you are the first victim of a dog bite by a particular dog, the owner can be held responsible.
Is Minnesota a One-Bite State?
No, Minnesota doesn’t follow the one-bite rule. The one-bite rule only holds the dog owners liable if they know the dog is aggressive.
How is a Provoked Dog Bite Managed in Minnesota?
When a dog attacks a human, the human’s rights take precedence over the animal’s. However, the legal system recognizes that an animal cannot be blamed for acting on its instincts, as it doesn’t possess a human’s higher functions. One of the only defenses a dog owner can make in Minnesota is that it was a provoked dog bite. This doesn’t necessarily mean the person is hurting or attacking the dog. It simply means that they behave in a way that causes the dog to bite in self-defense.
So, while a dog bite is serious, it’s also important to ensure the victim didn’t purposefully provoke the dog. And remember, actions don’t always have to be deliberate to constitute provocation. Accidentally stepping on a dog could lead to a provoked dog bite, where the victim may not win the case.
If a person handles a dog with an injury so that it feels pain and reacts instinctively, the person bitten may be at fault. There are a few ways to prove this:
- The person knew the dog suffered from pain and still acted inappropriately. This is especially true if the owner has warned that person of the dog’s injury in the past and the dog acted defensively (but not bitten anyone).
- The dog was defending itself from deliberate injury (such as if someone was hitting it as a correction measure) or if someone deliberately put the dog at risk (i.e., a person who tries to sit on the dog). In these instances, you can show the person’s “accidental” mishandling was deliberate.
Generally, this requires proving the person was repeatedly warned about the dog’s pain but refused to pay attention or deliberately ignored them.
If I File Legal Action, Will the Dog Be Put Down?
If you are vehemently against it, you could plead to the judge to spare the dog. Often, this will make the owners less inclined to fight against you since they’re usually invested in their pet’s life.
Can Negligence be a Deciding Factor?
Yes, negligence is absolutely a factor in these cases. If either side can prove negligence, their chances of winning increase. As Minnesota law is on the side of the bite victim, it’s easier to prove the owner’s negligence than the victim’s.
Let’s look at a typical example:
If the dog owner puts their dog in a backyard without a fence, and the dog runs out and bites somebody, the owner is negligent. The owner can’t try to claim that the dog “normally” behaves when in the backyard. Minnesota dog bite laws are strict, requiring their movement to be restricted when outside, including being leashed or put behind a fence.
What Do I Do if a Dog Bites Me?
After a dog bite occurs, take these steps to stay healthy and help any future legal action, even if you do not intend to pursue it at the time.
- Seek medical attention immediately. A dog’s teeth are designed to rend flesh, resulting in devastating results if they suddenly attack. Not only may the dog not be vaccinated against rabies, in which case you will need treatment to prevent it, but puncture wounds from dog teeth are highly prone to infection. If wounds are not life-threatening, consider taking pictures of the injury. Keep doctor office bills, over-the-counter medicines like aspirin or Tylenol, receipts for bandages, or medical devices.
- Get the owner’s information. Similar to the aftermath of a car accident, you will want to get the owner of the dog’s contact information. This helps you verify the dog’s vaccination records and wield legal action against them if you so choose. Contact information should include a name, address, and phone number or email address.
- Contact animal control. This step is more crucial if a stray bit you. Animal control will need to catch the dog to prevent any future injuries to someone else and make sure they are not rabid. However, even if the dog has an owner, you should still contact animal control. They’ll investigate the incident to prevent future issues with the dog, which could help your case.
- Talk to the dog owners about medical expenses. Many dog owners are willing to cover medical expenses or give you their insurance information to help cover the costs. However, you can pursue legal action to cover your injuries if they are unwilling to.
- Talk to a dog bite attorney. Even if you have insurance, it’s best to contact an attorney since you’re entitled to have your medical expenses paid by the dog’s owner.
- Document the attack. If you decide to take legal action, much of what you must do next is documentation. Recall the accident events to the best of your ability and contact witnesses who might have been present at the act.
Gather evidence, including eyewitness testimony, the police report, and medical investigations detailing the injury’s extent. Remember that civil cases don’t have to be decided by a unanimous decision but by a simple majority.
Why Do Dogs Bite?
Dogs bite “as a reaction to a stressful situation” (Canine Journal). Stressful situations for dogs might include any of the following conditions:
- Feeling threatened
- Instinct to protect puppies or their owner
- Not feeling well or injured
Some dogs will nip or bite when playing, so overly boisterous play should be avoided, even with a dog you know.
If you think of these situations as potential “triggers,” you’ll be in a better position to assess a situation that could escalate into a biting incident.
Understanding Different Types of Dog Aggression
Sometimes, it seems dog attacks come out of nowhere. Understanding different types of dog aggression can help you better recognize an aggressive dog and protect yourself and others from a potential dog bite attack.
- Territorial Aggression. Many dogs are protective of what they perceive as their territory. When another animal or person enters the dog’s “territory,” the dog may get aggressive, barking or even biting the animal or human.
- Protective Aggression. Some dogs will also get aggressive if they feel like a family member (animal or human) is in danger. It can be dangerous if the dog perceives everyone as a threat.
- Fear Aggression. Dogs who feel cornered may get aggressive to try to protect themselves. In general, the dog will try to get away first and only get aggressive if it feels like that is the only solution.
- Inter-Dog Aggression. Some dogs play roughly with each other, but the problem arises when it becomes inter-dog aggressive. With inter-dog aggression, each dog tries to show dominance over the other. Inter-dog aggression generally happens between dogs of the same sex.
- Redirected Aggression. When a dog is held back from the source of its aggression (i.e., when a person tries to break up a dog fight), it may redirect the aggression on the person or animal holding the dog back.
- Pain-Elicited Aggression. Injured dogs, even those generally nice, may display pain-elicited aggression. Even if you are trying to help the dog, the dog may not realize that, biting or snapping at you.
- Predatory Aggression. With other types of dog aggression, the dog generally gives off warning signs, but dogs with predatory aggression may attack without warning.
How to Prevent a Dog Bite
By taking the proper precautions, you can usually avoid a dog bite. Follow these tips to prevent a potential dog bite:
- Always practice caution around unfamiliar dogs. Don’t approach a dog you are not familiar with.
- Ask permission before petting someone else’s dog. If granted, hold out your hand, allow the dog to sniff it, and gently pet it so the dog knows you’re not a threat.
- If an unfamiliar dog approaches you, don’t move. Don’t run or panic, and avoid making eye contact with it. Don’t turn your back to the animal. Instead, back away slowly.
- Never startle or disturb a dog — even your own — when they’re eating, drinking, sleeping, or caring for their puppies.
- Avoid playing aggressively with a dog.
- Never get in the middle of two fighting dogs; instead, spray the dogs with a hose or spray bottle.
- Allow a dog to sniff or smell your hand before attempting to pet it. When you do pet it, scratch its chest or under its chin. Don’t pet its head.
If you are attacked, roll yourself into a ball, avoid eye contact, and remain calm. Give the dog something inanimate to attack, such as your purse, sweatshirt, or jacket. If the dog takes the bait, get away quickly and safely.
What to Do in the Event of a Dog Attack
Unfortunately, an attack is sometimes inevitable. When that is the case, protect your vital body parts, especially your head and neck, as much as possible. While it will still be painful, have the dog attack your forearm or shin if possible; that way, the dog is less likely to hit a major artery.
Often, someone else will see or hear the attack and come to help. Call 911 immediately or have someone else make the call. Have as much information about the dog as possible available. A dog who has attacked once is more likely to strike again.
Which Dog Breeds Bite the Most?
You should educate yourself about which breeds are most likely to bite but don’t assume that you must fear every dog within those breeds.
Pit Bulls account for most fatal dog bites in the U.S., followed by Rottweilers. Also, be especially wary of Bulldogs, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Boxers, and German Shepherds. Although these breeds bite more often, it’s important to remember that any dog can — and will — bite if the conditions are right. Be aware of breed tendencies and the stressors that can lead to a dog bite, but don’t show fear because dogs sense it, and it feeds their aggression.
What Do I Do If My Dog Bites Someone?
You can never confidently assert that your dog doesn’t or won’t bite, and it’s best to make that clear from the start. But if the worst does happen, and your dog attacks someone, follow these steps.
- Stay calm. Don’t argue with the person over fault; offer to pay their medical expenses.
- Seek medical attention for the victim, even driving them to the emergency room.
- Give the victim your contact information and get theirs. (If there were witnesses, you should also get their contact information.)
- Reach out to the victim a few days after the attack to see how they’re doing. Express your sympathy and show compassion. This won’t go against you if the victim sues you because your concern is simply an act of kindness.
- Locate your dog’s medical records, including rabies records, and make copies for the victim to reassure them that they’re not at risk for rabies.
- Seek legal advice and contact your insurance company. You’ll want legal advice if the victim decides to sue you, and your insurance company will be able to tell you if they cover dog bites and whether they’ll pay medical expenses for the victim.
Contact Your Dog Bite Lawyer: Minnesota
A dog bite case is serious business. If a dog bites someone, it can often be a life or death matter for the dog, even if it isn’t one for the victim.
Since 1981, Swor & Gatto has specialized in personal injury law with a history of service and success dating back to 1981. We can help you fully understand your rights in these complex cases, fighting to ensure you get the compensation and care you deserve.