Dog ownership has numerous health benefits. Spending time with our four-legged friends can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and help us lose weight due to more opportunities for exercise. According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, an estimated 36% of American households have a canine family member.
The downside to dog ownership occurs when the animal behaves aggressively. According to the most recent research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 4,500,000 people are bitten by dogs every year. In addition:
- 19 percent (885,000) require medical attention for their bite injuries
- Half of the victims who need medical treatment are children
- Children aged five to nine account for the highest number of dog bite injuries
- With children under the age of four, two-thirds of the injuries are to the head and neck
If you are attacked by a dog in West Virginia, what can you do to seek compensation? Below is an overview of state dog bite laws.
West Virginia Dog Bite Statute
Although state law has a dog bite statute (§19-20-13), it is limited to unleashed dogs. Any dog owner or keeper who allows the animal to run at large is liable for any damages, such as injury or property damage), inflicted by the dog while it is loose. The law imposes strict liability, meaning that negligence is automatic and you don’t have to prove that the owner was negligent.
However, if the dog bites you while it is not running loose, you have the burden of proving that the owner was negligent. For example, if you can demonstrate that the owner knew the dog was prone to biting, they can be held liable for your injuries.
Consequences of a Dog Bite
Tears and lacerations aren’t the only possible consequences of a dog bite. Dogs can also carry dangerous bacteria in their mouths and saliva, making it crucial that you seek medical attention as soon as possible. Examples of dog bite diseases include:
- Pasteurella: These bacteria are seen in over half of dog bite wounds that become infected. Symptoms include swollen glands and difficulty moving due to swollen joints.
- Capnocytophaga: This bacterium is especially serious for those with weakened immune systems. Symptoms of infection include fever, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and headache.
- MRSA: This staph infection, which can affect the urinary tract, lungs, and skin, can cause life-threatening complications if it reaches your bloodstream.
- Tetanus: You can contract tetanus from a dog bite if you aren’t current with your tetanus vaccinations.
What to Do After a Dog Bite and Attack
No one will blame you for being frightened and traumatized after a harmful dog attack, but if possible, take the following steps to protect your future personal injury claim.
Identify the Dog’s Owner
If the dog’s owner or custodian is present at the attack, get their name and contact information. If they refuse to give it to you and leave, take photos of the animal and its keeper and call the police. If there were witnesses, get their contact details or ask them to speak to the police.
Collect Information About the Dog
If the owner or custodian is cooperative, ask them about the dog’s vaccination history and whether the dog has any prior history of biting people or other animals.
Seek Medical Attention
Seek medical treatment for your injuries as soon as possible. If you are bleeding heavily and/or have wounds around the face and neck, it may be necessary to call an ambulance. You may need stitches and even a rabies shot if you couldn’t get any information about the dog’s vaccination history. Be sure to follow the doctor’s instructions afterward.
File a Dog Bite Report
Contact county authorities and file a dog bite report, so that there is legal documentation of the incident. If the dog has bitten anyone before, there may be a record that supports your case.
Contact a West Virginia Dog Bite Attorney
At Johnstone & Gabhart, we understand how traumatizing a dog attack can be. Depending on the severity of the incident, you may have significant medical expenses and need to take time off of work. Our skilled and experienced personal injury attorneys will work relentlessly for the compensation you need to cover your financial losses and recover from the attack. Please contact our office for a consultation today.