==> If you didn't follow last week's advice you may soon need this week's advice
It can happen to every dog owner
What to do if our dog injured someone!
Last week's Periodical ended with How Can We Prevent that Our GSD Harms Someone for No Good Reason?
Now this week's Periodical perfectly continues with: "But what if we were unable to prevent an injury of someone?"
In this Periodical:
- How likely are injuries inflicted by dogs?
- How likely is it to get sued as a dog owner?
- Who pays for a dog bite injury or non-bite injury?
- Crucial differences when our dog (supposedly) injured someone
- Best practice to react when we saw that our dog injured someone
- Best practice to react when we get a personal injury claim
- Best practice to react when the police or animal control gets involved
How likely are injuries inflicted by dogs?
Important to accept is that it can happen to any dog owner (even the most decent citizens), with any dog breed or mix (even the tiny Chihuahua!) that we were unable to prevent an injury of someone inflicted by our dog.
No matter how much you and I take care, if we are unlucky then one day it can happen that our dog (supposedly) injured someone.
The word supposedly already indicates: Our dog need not even be at fault, but we may get sued anyway! And the past tense injured indicates: We may not have been around at the time of the incident, but we are told so later.
Also, it's not always about dog bites, personal injury claims can be brought upon us without any dog bite at all!
Examples of typical dog injury situations that do not involve a dog bite:
- Third party got scared, stepped back, fell and broke rips etc
- Third party panicked and got heart attack
- Third party was pushed by dog jumping up, and suffered fractures or inner body injuries, or a 'trauma' (whether alleged or de facto)
Note that in none of these situations (and countless other) the dog was vicious, not even dangerous; in fact the dog may have been cheerful and friendly to the third party (and always is), or jumped up simply to greet or play.
Also note that direct contact between our dog and the third party is not necessary, we may get sued without any dog-person contact whatsoever!
Because the third party suffered an injury while our dog was in his or her vicinity. That's enough. - Of course, it doesn't even need that: Really mean people may just claim that our dog caused their injury, because they know from the neighborhood that we have a dog (but they may not even have seen the dog).
Although the latter case is rare, it makes something very clear:
Who is most at risk of a dog-inflicted injury?
- The elderly
Children between the ages of 5 and 9 are 900 times more likely to be bitten by a dog than postmen/women!!
US-cities with most dog attacks against postal workers:
- Los Angeles
- San Antonio
- San Francisco
According to dogsbite.org, in the 8-year period from 2005 to 2012, pitbulls killed 151 Americans and thus accounted for 60% of the total recorded dog-bite-related fatalities (DBRFs) - which were 251. Combined, pitbulls and rottweilers accounted for 73% of the 251 deaths in the 8-year timespan: 183 deaths (or 23 annually on average).
I compared this to Animal People's report (which is based on media reports) which featured in our last week's Periodical Are German Shepherds dangerous, and again it shows: You cannot just blindly trust any statistic!
If both dogsbite and Animal People were correct, it would mean that during 2005 to 2012 (8 years) pitbulls killed 151 people, but during 1982 to 2004 (23 years!) 'just' 56!?
Dog Bite Treatment
Similarly questionable is: "1 of every 6 dog bite injuries requires medical care, 1 of every 14 requires emergency care."
If 5 of 6 dog bite injuries aren't even recorded because they don't require medical care, then how can we know that 1 of 6 dog bite injuries does require medical care??
Anyway, statistics are always interesting, so we show them!
Statistics from Insurers however are reliable (unless they fake them intentionally), because insurers wouldn't be in business couldn't they accurately assess risk.
Since most reconstructive surgeries are probably paid for by an insurer, this figure is probably fairly correct: In 2006, more than 31,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten by dogs. Shocking, really!
Among adults, males are more likely than females to be bitten. Among children 4 years of age and younger, almost two thirds of injuries are to the head or neck region!!
Injury rates in children are significantly higher for boys than for girls. Presumably boys tease dogs more often, or they are more out and about?
Not a real surprise is this statistic: Adults with two or more dogs in the household are five times more likely to be bitten than those living without dogs at home, doh!
- Yes, dogs do bite their owner or family pack members too, and this we will address in another special Periodical next week.
How likely is it to get sued as a dog owner?
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
In highly litigious nations (like primarily the USA) this risk is much higher than in nations where a high payout to the victim typically doesn't happen anyway (like say in India).
The more lucrative a lawsuit looks, the more lawyers (attorneys/solicitors) will compete to be awarded the case by the client. Conversely, where lawyers - based on past experience - believe that:
- a case has no chance to win in court
- or the payout will be insignificant even if the case wins in court(!)
...then no sensible lawyer will take on the case.
The situation is slightly different if a prosecutor gets involved because the circumstances of the incident suggest that our dog poses a risk to the general public and criminal charges should be made. Example:
According to CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) at least 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs every year. But only 800,000 (17%) of those dog bite victims seek medical attention (half of them are children). Insurance companies however pay out on less than 1% of the cases.
Since insurers won't pay out if not even medical attention was sought, we can infer that the "less than 1%" payout rate relates to the figure of 800,000 dog bite cases that get medical attention. This means that 'only' 8,000 dog bite injuries a year end with a payout of an insurance company.
The total amount paid out by US insurance companies for dog-inflicted injuries in 2012 was $479 million on 16,700 cases. Which means that a further 8,700 successful injury claims did not involve a dog bite.
This is important to grasp:
The list of "Top 10 states of dog injury claims" has been publicized everywhere in the US media, but that list is meaningless because it lists the US states with the highest total claim payouts. Who cares about the total here??
Instead, what really matters is of course: What's the average individual payout in such claims? On average, how much money would a successful claim against our dog cost us?
So we created a new Top 10 list that matters, one that sheds light on this topic.
US states with the highest settlements in dog-inflicted injury claims:
|Rank||US State||Average Payout Per Claim!|
Data source: State Farm Dog Bite Claims 2011 - Calculations by mygermanshepherd.org
Average payout over all claims for this insurer (all states): $28,684 per claim in 2011, $25,714 per claim in 2010 - ie a 11.5% increase in just one year!
The national average (all insurers) is even slightly higher: $29,396 per claim on average.
In other words: If you live in the USA, then have at least $30,000 ready at hand just in case your dog ever (supposedly) injures someone. - Or else: be insured.
Who pays for a dog bite injury or non-bite injury?
If we are not insured, we have to pay ourselves, doh! This can amount to a LOT of cash, see above.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites account for over a third of all homeowners insurance liability claims!
In the USA and Canada, dogs are typically insured via home insurance - unless the home insurer excludes liability for the dog, which is increasingly the case for dogs that are considered 'dangerous dogs'.
Now sit tight: It says there that the 'usual suspects' on insurers' lists of dangerous dogs include:
YOU know that this is of course ridiculous: Since you saw last week's Periodical Are German Shepherds dangerous, you know that GSDs are not dangerous by any comparable standard.
But law enforcement officers, insurers, etc don't know this (don't believe it) - because no one has told them to study our Periodicals!!
In Europe including the UK it is common practice to have a distinct liability dog insurance because:
- it's just common sense not to ruin your no claims bonus of your home insurance when your dog injures someone
- and likewise not to ruin your no claims bonus of your dog liability insurance when your home insurance has to pay out.
How it is say in India and other parts of Asia I personally don't know. In Australia it's probably like in the UK: distinct dog liability insurance.
As always, your input is welcome! YOURS, yes. Just click the new fixed-position Comment button. You may now even post comments per email(!) once you subscribed to a comment thread. An awesome new feature, in my opinion.
For a victim, the usual method of getting medical reimbursement is through the liability dog insurance - or for North America, through the dog owner's home insurance policy (if they have one).
Most homeowner's insurance policies in the USA provide $100,000 to $300,000 in liability coverage, but in Europe the amount of the distinct liability dog insurance is typically much higher (rather 2 million Pound or Euro!), because there in many nations the forgone lifetime earnings of the victim are the basis for the claim (eg in Germany).
If the dog owner is renting and doesn't have a homeowner's liability insurance (in the USA), or doesn't have a distinct dog liability insurance (in Europe), then the victim is usually out of luck(!) - unless the landlord or property owner can be held liable, which in the USA somewhat automatically is the case if the landlord or property owner has ever received a written letter of concern from any individual!
Meaning: If you as home owner (of the home in which you live or of a house that you rent out) ever get an inconspicuous letter that someone is concerned about your dog, be wary:
Dog owners that did not put up 'dangerous dog' signs on their property in many states/nations have successfully been sued when their dog injured someone on their property!
This legal logic is similar to: If you know that your dog bites, you must have your dog wear a muzzle outdoors.
What to do if not insured?
So what can you do if you checked your insurance policy(ies), and you realize that you don't have (sufficient) liability cover for your German Shepherd?
- your home insurer withdrew dog liability cover (as is increasingly the case in eg the USA)
- or because you rent and don't have a homeowner's insurance anyway
- or your policy does include cover but you realize that the limit is inadequate
Meanwhile there are a few solutions available, and this market is growing in line with home insurers increasingly excluding dog liability:
- Umbrella policy
- Excess policy
- Canine liability policy
An umbrella policy provides liability coverage for injuries, damages and losses that are not covered by a person's primary insurance (eg an umbrella would cover a dog bite that is not covered by the dog owner's homeowner policy).
An excess policy provides a higher policy limit for losses that are covered by the primary insurance.
A canine liability policy is a policy written specifically for dog owners who do not have (or did not get) cover for their dog(s).
The usual solution for dog owners was to purchase an umbrella policy. If you have homeowner insurance or renters insurance, and it does not cover canine inflicted injures, talk to your insurance agent about purchasing a personal umbrella liability policy and explicitely mention that it must cover your German Shepherd.
Why? Because it is likely that GSDs are on the insurer's list of 'dangerous dogs' (see above), which means your GSD would silently be excluded from cover, and so you'd be paying insurance premiums without being insured!
There is no standard form for this kind of policy, but generally the form requires the maintenance of underlying homeowners and auto liability policies with minimum combined single liability limits of $300,000 each.
The important point is to ascertain that the umbrella policy under consideration does include cover for canine inflicted injuries for owners of a German Shepherd Dog.
If this is refused, or it turns out to be too expensive, do enquire about the purchase of a policy of canine liability insurance.
Do not be put off by statements that specialty insurance policies for dog inflicted injuries would be cost-prohibitive. They are normally not: In Europe canine liability coverage are the standard policies.
Here are a few sources for specialty canine liability insurers:
Important to understand:
- Some specialty canine liability insurers insure any dog breed. This doesn't necessarily mean that they insure any dog - because often they exclude dogs with a bite history (also called bite record).
- An insurer that does insure any dog breed, or an insurer that does insure dogs with a bite history, typically is cost-prohibitive for owners of a German Shepherd Dog without bite history.
- As owner of a GSD that does not have a bite record, to get the cheapest insurance you must ensure that the insurer does not allocate your policy to a plan (group of insured) that includes either of the above!
- For a German Shepherd without bite record you should get a standard policy (also called manuscript policy or form policy), not a specific policy (also called customized policy or tailored policy). The latter are typically for pitbull class dogs and dogs with a bite history.
In the USA, canine liability insurance normally costs $450 to $2,500 a year, because many of these specialty insurers owe their existance to pitbull advocates (Einhorn admit this openly). As you may know, Pitbulls are extremely expensive to insure. Hence why I said, avoid such policy plans (group of insured).
What's the law?
Some states/nations are governed by a One Bite rule, which typically requires the victim to prove the dog owner knew or should have known that the dog is dangerous (eg because there was a previous bite) in order to receive compensation.
To lay the burden of proof onto the victim is of course a strange view of the legal system's advocates (as so often). How possibly can a victim prove this, unless the owner has put up an indicative sign??
Other states/nations impose statutory strict liability, making a dog owner outright fully liable to a victim who was injured by a dog.
In the USA most states impose this - except: Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, New Mexico, North and South Dakota, Kansas, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, and Vermont.
However, almost every state has made amendments to the strict liability, so legal advice should be sought if your GSD has injured someone.
Fourteen states and the District of Columbia require owners of dogs that have been labeled dangerous or vicious - or in some cases, potentially dangerous - to buy pet liability insurance: Delaware, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
Another important legal concept is that of residential exclusion. It omits liability when the attack occurs on the dog owner's property - unless the victim can provide the same burden of proof that is required by the One Bite rule.
Residential exclusion prevents the majority of dog bite victims from receiving compensation: in the USA over 50% of all dog bites occur on the dog owner's property! I assume, this figure is very different in densely populated Europe, where dog owners often have no other chance than to walk their dog around the block (neighborhood, woods, wherever).
So basically, in states/nations with a One Bite rule or residential exclusion, it seems it would not be smart to put up any sign that could be construed to indicate that you know your dog is dangerous.
But if your dog actually is 'dangerous' - particularly if the dog has once bitten in the past - then of course safeguard the public:
Put up warning signs
Use a muzzle. But then don't get the quick-fit-style muzzle. Despite their advertising, this muzzle type isn't even comfortable in leather, it covers too much of the mouth: it's sweaty, no airflow, and a dog cannot breathe well enough when panting. The quick-fit-style muzzle should be legally forbidden, so dangerous they are!
Instead, get a basket-style muzzle made of leather or, cheaper, rubber. - Leather is the most comfortable material for dogs, that's why the 'everyday' collar should be a leather collar.
And gently make your dog familiar with the muzzle: Watch this video on muzzle training. Not muscle training, no.
And now really learn to train your dog like a professional! - without the cost and risk of a local trainer!
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
Why risk, you may wonder? Because most dog trainers - and particularly the "certified" ones - are mediocre: They do more harm to the dog, and more harm to the relationship between dog and owner, than they do good. This personal experience is supported by thousands of statements received from other dog owners here. So while your local trainer may be a great salesperson (making you feel (s)he's the best), the actual training approach typically is neither gentle nor effective - yet it certainly costs MUCH more than a TOP online dog trainer costs.
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
Pit Bull Terriers and in most cases also Staffordshire Terriers, Cane Corso, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro, Presa Canario, Presa Mallorquin, Rottweilers, Staffordshire Bullterriers, Tosa Inu, and Wolf Hybrids...
...are now banned in Argentina, Bermuda, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Germany, Guyana, Israel, Liechtenstein, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Latvia, Singapore, Spain, St. Kitts and Nevis, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, the UAE, United Kingdom, Venezuela, and parts of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Malaysia, China, and Japan.
Because they are considered dangerous dogs by law, as opposed to by insurance policy.
Meaning, owners of these dogs are automatically deemed guilty if their dog injured someone - whether supposedly or de facto!
Thankfully, by law German Shepherds are NOT considered dangerous dogs - although they were somewhat considered such and banned from Australia between the 1950s and 1990s, because Australian bureaucrats feared for their livestock - not realizing that GSDs actually protect livestock. 😕
Crucial differences when our dog (supposedly) injured someone
Legally, there are certain distinctions to make when our dog (supposedly) injured someone, and it's helpful that you know of these even if you were to seek paid-for legal advice:
- Did the incident happen on our premises, the victim's premises, or third party premises, or on communal premises?
- Did the victim fall over (eg because of panic), or did our dog push the victim, or did our dog bite the victim?
- Was a child hurt or an adult?
- Are we sufficiently insured or not?
- Was our dog on-leash or off-leash?
- Were we present during the incident, or was it subsequently reported to us?
- Can it be argued that the incident was provoked, either by the victim itself or by a third party?
- Is our dog a trained protection dog or not?
- Has our dog a bite record, ie had there been an earlier incident?
- Do we have visible signs on our property that warn of a "dangerous dog"?
- And does our dog have all legally required vaccinations?
It is not the purpose of this MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL or indeed our organization to give legal advice, and every incident would need to be looked at individually and in detail anyway.
But the above list of considerations can help to ascertain an individual case should it ever arise, before you contact a lawyer or insurer. Best actually is to think about each of these points now because that can help to be more organized about your dog, and to be a responsible dog owner and citizen.
Best practice to react when we saw that our dog injured someone
This means we know for sure that any claim of the victim would be real, not fake.
- Most importantly, do not discourage the victim (or their relatives) from calling the police or animal control or lawyer, or from filing a dog bite report! This would certainly bring you into much more trouble as it suggests that you have something to hide about the history of your dog, and in any case such action would be held against you later.
- If still possible, of course try to prevent any further injury. Take your dog away and use a suitable leash to contain your dog say at a lamp post, tree, or whatever (here you see again, why we always suggest certain products: they have so many useful applications!)
- Also, of course try to first-aid the victim if you can without injury to yourself, the victim, or a third party!
- But do not attempt to 'home doctor' the victim. Again, this would be held against you later.
- If the injury looks serious, immediately call the ambulance yourself! Do not worry about the consequences, these will always be much better for you if you take all of these actions, rather than trying to 'gloss over' the incident.
- If a child got injured, always involve a doctor/ambulance yourself (and depending on severity the police too), regardless if the child speaks against it, because by law a child cannot discharge you from liability.
Be aware that children may sometimes fear that their parents scold them, and so they might discourage you from involving anyone (if the injury is not too serious). Do not agree, it will be held against you later! Always make sure that an injured child gets medical care immediately.
A further reason is that if your dog actually bit the child, then the child may have contracted an infection or may get an allergic reaction, either of which could be life-threatening.
Best practice to react when we get a personal injury claim
This means we were not present during the incident, and we cannot be sure what was going on. The claim may be justified, or it may not.
- In this case I would always suggest to involve your own lawyer if you have a legal insurance, because then the first consultation to get an assessment of a case will not affect your no claims bonus, and you won't have to pay the lawyer.
- If you don't have a legal insurance, I would suggest to involve a lawyer anyway (if the claim seems significant), or to contact your insurer (if the claim seems not significant) - they will then involve a lawyer for you.
- The reason why it is not wise to outright always involve your insurer is that this can harm your policy even if the claim has no merit at all. But note that insurance policy terms do not allow you to delay notifying your insurer.
- If you don't have an insurance for your GSD either (home insurance or dog liability insurance), then I would highly recommend to get one now, before it's too late!
- Or do you have $30,000 at hand?
And possibly much more. Eg in Germany, Switzerland, and some other 'richer' European nations the dog injury awards can reach millions, because there they consider the lost life-time earnings of the mauled or killed victim!
Best practice to react when the police or animal control gets involved
This means we either were present during the incident and know what was going on, or we are being surprised that someone involved the police or animal control because of an alleged incident with our dog.
Now it is important not to make any statement without having consulted your lawyer (whether you have legal insurance or not), because like myself you probably don't know all the law revolving around dog ownership in your state, and if you say something unsuitable you'll regret it later!
If you are a member of a German Shepherd dog club, it can be worthwile to contact them as well/instead if they have an 'urgent response' line, because larger clubs often do offer legal advice.
In any case it is certainly helpful for all situations above, if you know a bit more than the average dog owner (and law enforcement officer!) about how dangerous GSDs as a dog breed really are - hence last week's Periodical!
Knowing about the different kinds of 'bite' of a GSD, or that there is not a single recorded case (in North America at least) where a German Shepherd exhibited predatory behavior - facts like these certainly help to educate other GSD owners and non-owners about what our breed really is like.
We here should always be aware that we are not the average citizen and GSD owner. This applies to you too if you have followed our Periodicals weekly. Because then you know much more than the masses of GSD owners and non-owners out there!
You too can help to change public perceptions, eg about the German Shepherd not being a dangerous dog breed.
A few individual cases of poorly bred and raised GSDs (and of course all cases of GSD-Wolf Hybrids!) must not be allowed to shape public perception - and thus that of insurers too.
Next edition: How to Save the Relationship When Your Dog Bit You!