According to a recent article published on the website of Bend, Oregon TV station KTVZ our country is home to almost 90 million dogs, and “every year, more than 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs, resulting in an estimated 800,000 injuries that need medical attention.”
Those are pretty extraordinary numbers. Closer to home “insurers in Oregon paid $5.1 million to settle 184 dog bite claims in 2018.” Those numbers do not put our state in the top ten nationwide, according to a recent analysis published by the Insurance Information Institute (III), but they are still significant for a state our size. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the article notes that senior citizens and children are the people most often injured in dog bite incidents.
There is, in fact, an entire chapter of Oregon law (ORS 609) concerning dogs. ORS 609.115 deals specifically with liability issues surrounding “potentially dangerous” animals and ORS 609.098 lays out the liability issues surrounding “dangerous dogs.”
For most people who have suffered from a dog bite the legal issues are relatively straightforward. As the III analysis notes “homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability legal expenses, up to the liability limits (typically $100,000 to $300,000). If the claim exceeds the limit, the dog owner is responsible for damages above that amount.” In addition, as the article notes, “some insurance companies will not cover homeowners who own certain breeds of dogs categorized as dangerous, such as pit bulls.”
For someone who has been the victim of a dog bite, then, the question becomes mainly one of judging the extent of the dog owner’s responsibility and of assessing damages. Failure to control one’s animal could be seen as a case of negligence, similar, legally speaking, to a job accident or a car crash. In fact, these statutes establish strict liability for dog owners – in legal terms, something much more serious. If the dog meets the criteria laid out in the statute then the owner can be held liable for all the damages the animal causes.
An especially interesting fact in the III analysis is its finding that “the average cost for dog bite claims nationwide was $39,017 (in 2018)” but, more importantly, “the average cost per claim nationally has risen more than 103 percent from 2003 to 2018, due to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgements and jury awards.” As a Portland personal injury lawyer practicing in both Oregon and Washington these are questions that I consider every day. People who have been the victims of dog bites need to understand that the law is here to compensate them not only for immediate injuries, such as medical expenses, but also for additional bills that may have been incurred as a result of the injury. Damages can also be claimed for lost wages, scarring or for pain and suffering.
Sorting through these issues can be complex, but it is important for victims and their families to understand that attorneys, and our court system, are here to help.
Insurance Information Institute: Spotlight on Dog Bite Liability