Dog ownership comes with joys and responsibilities, but what happens when a dog bite occurs? Understanding dog bite liability in Missouri is crucial for dog owners and victims. Whether a dog has a history of aggression or not, various legal factors come into play.
Dog bites affect millions of people in the United States each year. DogsBite.org reports that approximately 1,000 individuals in the United States necessitate urgent medical attention for severe injuries caused by dog bites. They also note that around 12,480 citizens are hospitalized yearly due to injuries inflicted by dog bites. Children, in particular, bear the brunt of these incidents, accounting for at least half of all dog bite victims.
Here's what you need to know:
1. Owner Responsibility on Their Property
Even if a dog has never displayed vicious tendencies, a dog owner can still be held liable for a bite on their property. You may have legal grounds for compensation if a dog bites you while on the owner's premises.
2. Leash Law Violations and Negligence
Missouri's leash laws require dogs to be on a leash or confined to their property. If a dog owner violates this law and a bite occurs, it is considered negligence per se. This means that proving negligence on the owner's part might not be necessary for the victim to seek compensation.
3. Condominium and Landlord Liability
Condominium associations can be liable if a dog bite happens in a common area where rules were established. Landlords, however, might not be held responsible for attacks by dogs owned by their tenants, as they are not considered to harbor the dog.
4. Strict Liability for Unprovoked Dog Bites
Like some other states, Missouri enforces strict liability for dog bites that are not provoked. This means that the owner is held responsible for injuries caused by their dog, regardless of previous history, location of the attack, or the existence of leash laws.
5. The Impact of Dog Bites
- Medical Attention: According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, almost 1 in 5 individuals who are bit require medical treatment. These injuries range from minor cuts and abrasions to more severe wounds requiring immediate medical attention.
- Children at Risk: Children are most susceptible to dog bites and are more likely to suffer severe injuries due to their smaller size and vulnerability.
- Common Scenarios: Many dog bites involving young children occur during everyday activities and interactions with familiar dogs, emphasizing the importance of caution even with seemingly friendly pets.
6. Any Dog Can Bite
It's crucial to understand that any dog can bite regardless of its breed. While certain breeds may be more prone to aggression due to their history and behavior, it's essential not to generalize about an entire breed based on the actions of a few individuals. Factors such as socialization, training, and the dog's environment significantly influence their behavior.
7. Preventing Dog Bites
The good news is that most dog bites are preventable through responsible pet ownership and community awareness. Here are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of dog bites:
- Education: Educate yourself and your family about dog behavior, body language, and signs of stress or discomfort in dogs.
- Supervision: Always supervise interactions between children and dogs, regardless of the dog's size or breed.
- Training: Proper training and socialization are essential for all dogs. Enroll your dog in obedience classes and expose them to various environments, people, and animals.
- Respect Boundaries: Teach children to respect a dog's boundaries and not to approach unfamiliar dogs without the owner's permission.
8. Breeds and Bite Risk
While any dog can bite, certain breeds have historically been associated with a higher bite risk. The World Animal Foundation (WAF) has identified breeds that may have a higher propensity for bites based on their bite force and history. These breeds include:
- Pit bulls (and related breeds)
- German Shepherds
- Doberman Pinschers
- Bull Mastiffs
- Wolf Hybrids
- Great Danes
It's important to note that breed-specific legislation and stereotypes can be misleading. Responsible ownership, training, and proper handling are crucial to preventing bites from any dog.
Seeking Legal Help After a Dog Bite
If a dog has bitten you or a family member, seeking legal advice is essential. The experienced attorneys at Henry, Williams & Kinder, P.C. deeply understand Missouri's dog bite liability laws and can help you navigate your case. With over 80 years of combined experience, our team offers a free, no-obligation consultation to review your situation and provide guidance. Call us by dialing (800) 526-1949.
Remember, dog bites are preventable. By understanding your rights and responsibilities, you can take steps to protect yourself, your family, and your community.