A Lesson From A Famous Dog Attack

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In February 2014 three-year-old Kevin Vicente was attacked by a dog, “Mickey” the pit bull. The case garnered national attention as thousands of dog advocates across the nation took to the internet to ensure that Mickey would not be put down. Kevin Vicente has since had numerous operations to repair the injuries he sustained during the attack. The case brought great attention to the severity of dog attacks, and what can happen when a child is left alone with the presumably safe family pet.

Approximately 4.5 million people a year across the nation are victims of dog bites. More than 300,000 people are admitted to hospitals every year for treatment of dog bite wounds. Close to half of all victims are children under the age of twelve. With the prevalence of dog bites, it’s important you know how to protect your family from the initial bite, but also from any legal fall-out.

Warning Signs

There are some warning signs you should watch out for if you are going to be around dogs.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, all dogs can bite, regardless of their type of breed. While pit bulls are most commonly seen as the “dog bite” dogs, other breeds that can cause serious bite injuries include: German Shepherds, Jack Russell Terriers, Rottweilers, Labradors, Collies, and Spaniels.

While you may trust your pet, more than 70 percent of dog bites happen in homes with the family pet. A family pet might not meant to harm you, often times children are unaware of how to approach dogs or are not aware of when they should stop bothering a dog.

“Even very young children can learn how to respect a dog’s space and approach them safely,” says Michelle Ramos, Director of Education for the Arizona Animal Welfare League and Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“When a child is very outgoing, they forget that the animal may not want to be approached at certain times, and that it may react because it’s startled or protecting its food. The good news is, kids can learn the right way to interact with animals.”

Here are some things to remember when children are around pets:

  •  Always supervise children, even if the pet belongs to you
  • Never surprise or scare a dog who is sleeping, eating, or not aware of you
  • Don’t ever take food, toys, or bones away from a dog
  • Do not let your child approach, touch, or hug a dog that is not his or her pet unless an owner gives permission

Signs to Watch For

There are some warning signs you will want to be aware of, including: yawning, pulling their ears back, stiffening up and staring, changing boy language quickly, growling, or acting out of the ordinary.

With approximately 53 million dogs across the U.S., it’s important you know your rights should be become a victim of a dog bite.

Free Bite and No Free Bite Law

There are variances from state to state when it comes to dog bite law. Many U.S. states are “one free bite” states. In these states, if a dog bites a person, the owner is not liable for any damages caused by the first time a dog bites a person unless the owner knew, or should have been aware of, the fact that the dog had a propensity for biting. Other states are no free bite states. In these states, if a dog has never bitten anyone, and the owner had no idea that the dog had a propensity to bite someone, the owner is still responsible for the damages done by the first bite.

Arizona is a No Free Bite State

Arizona is not a one free bite state. The law imposes strict liability on the owner of any dog that bites a victim, even if it is the first time the dog has bitten someone. Laws regarding dog bites in Arizona can be found in Arizona Revised Statutes Section 11-1001 through 11-1029. One caveat to this: Arizona courts have decided and ruled that if the dog bite victim was bitten by a stolen dog, the owner of the stolen dog is not liable.  If you are a victim of a dog bite, or the owner of a dog that has bitten someone, you’ll want to work with an attorney that has handled dog bite lawsuits before. There are many ins and outs of these types of cases, and they will be able to help build your case, while also advise you on the specific laws regarding dog bites.

Building Your Dog Bite Case

You’ll want to make sure you give all you information to your dog bite attorney, including where the dog bite happened, how you recall it happening, time, and if there were any victims. If you had to go to the hospital for treatment, you’ll want to provide your attorney with medical records, and any other information regarding the injuries you suffered.

**Victim. **To win a dog bite case, a victim needs to show they were in or on a public place, or lawfully in or on the private property of the dog owner.

**Owner. **If you are a dog owner, the defenses you can claim to a lawsuit filed under Sections 11-1020 and 11-1025 are if the victim provoked the attack. Conduct is considered provocation only if _a reasonable person would expect that it would be likely to provoke a dog. _This is often left to the determination of a jury.

Other Dog Bite Injuries

The statute applies only to dog bites, not any other kind of injury caused by a dog. If another type of injury, such as if you were knocked down by a dog that jumped on you, you will need to show that the dog’s owner, or the person in charge of it, failed to use reasonable care to prevent the dog from jumping on you and knocking you down.

Important Information for Dog Owners

There are a number of things you might not be aware of if you are a dog owner. Here are some lesser known facts:

  • Unless you have posted warnings for people to stay off your property with signs or locked gates, it can be considered that you have given “implied invitation to members of the public to approach your door on common errands.”
  • Dog owners are not the only ones that can be held responsible, but also any one who is responsible for the dog at the time of the dog bite. They are also held liable for the dogs actions, regardless of if the victim is in a public place, or if the victim has been invited as a guest into a home. The owner or the person responsible for the dog is also liable if the dog was running loose or not on a leash.
  • If you are walking a neighbor’s dog and it bites another person, both you, and the owner, can be held liable for the dog bite.
  • If you have kept a dog for 6 or more consecutive days, you are legally considered to be a “temporary owner” of the dog.
  • Landlords are not usually found responsible for their tenant’s dogs unless the landlord is aware that the dog might be dangerous. A landlord must also be made aware that there is a dog on the premises.

Recovering Damages for Dog Bite Victim

A victim can be compensated for the following if it is proved that the owner is liable:

  • Any present or future pain, discomfort, suffering, disability, disfigurement, and/or anxiety.
  • Present and future expenses of medical care, treatment, and services rendered.
  • The estimated cost of future care for treatment of any permanent scars or wounds.
  • The cost for legal counsel prior and after the trial.
  • Lost earnings in the present or future.
  • The cost of replacing damaged personal property.
  • Loss of enjoyment of life.

Filing a Dog Bite Claim

If you have been bitten by a dog, immediately seek medical treatment, but also, do not wait to file your claim. Do not sign anything unless you have spoken with a dog bite attorney. Because insurance companies often try to settle things quickly, you might not receive as much compensation as you deserve.

Also, collect any evidence possible, including photographs.

Under Arizona law, you have 1 year to file under the “strict liability” statue. You can file a claim based on negligence as well. This must be filed within 2 years from the date of the dog bite. An experienced dog bite attorney will build you case and ensure that evidence is not lost or overlooked.

Mickey the Pit Bull

Three-year-old Kevin Vicente was under the care of his baby-sitter, the mother of Mickey’s owner, on Feb. 20, 2014 when he was attacked by the dog from behind. Even why the babysitter attempted to pry the dog’s jaws open, it would not let go.  After the event, Mickey’s owner surrendered the dog and also asked for it to be put down.

But advocates for dog’s rights jumped to the aid of the dog. They took to social media to fight for the dog’s life, creating Facebook groups that urged financial support for the dog.

Meanwhile, Vicente went under numerous reconstructive surgeries to rebuild his face and mouth. There have been numerous people that have provided donations to help with the extensive surgery fees to help rebuild the young boy’s face. A year after the attack, Kevin has undergone what will be the last steps of his recovery: reconstructive surgery to hopefully lessen the scars left by the dog attack.

Pet Ownership

This case underscores the importance of responsible pet ownership, while also highlighting what can happen when pets are not appropriately raised, according to Assistant County Manager Rodrigo Silva.

“If we all, as pet owners, take the time to think about our lifestyle and the type of breed we’re attempting to acquire, then euthanasia will not be a problem for (dogs with) aggression,” Silva said. “It’s simply uneducated or uninformed selections of dogs that cause these animals to find themselves in a situation where they … hurt someone.”

Working with a Dog Bite Attorney

If you have been a victim of a dog bite, or if you are the owner of a dog who has bitten someone, immediately contact a dog bite attorney lawyer that can help investigate and build your case. It’s crucial that you work with someone that knows the intricacies of the laws surrounding these types of cases as well as your specific state’s laws.

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