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Understanding your rights after a dog attack

America has a love affair with dogs. People often treat their pets like members of the family, and more businesses are friendly to dogs. Many hotels, restaurants and retail stores do not turn away a pet owner whose dog is leashed or carried like a child.

Nevertheless, dogs are not people, and as much as society loves them, dogs are still animals with animal tendencies many humans do not understand. This is why almost 5 million people across the country suffer from dog bites each year, and California ranks number one among the states with the highest number of injuries from animal attacks. If you are among those hundreds whose encounter with a dog left you injured, you understand the effect it can have on your life.

Who are the common victims of dog bites?

Children are most vulnerable to dog bites. In fact, State Farm reports that over half the claims they receive for dog bites are for children. Postal carriers are a close second, especially in Los Angeles where more mail carriers are bitten by dogs than in any other city in California. The elderly are often victims of dog attacks.

However, you may simply have been walking in your neighborhood or visiting a friend when the attack occurred. You may even have been on your own property. Nevertheless, the owner of the dog is entirely liable for an unprovoked attack that results in a bite injury. This can mean paying for your hospital and other medical bills, and compensating you for pain, suffering and emotional distress.

What should dog owners do?

To minimize the chances that you or others will suffer injuries from bites or attacks, dog owners can take some reasonable steps to protect the public:

  • Spaying or neutering dogs to reduce their tendencies to be aggressive
  • Confining dogs when unfamiliar people are around or in stressful situations
  • Ensuring their dogs have all current vaccinations, especially rabies
  • Training their dogs to behave in social situations
  • Learning the signs when their dog is feeling threatened or stressed

An owner who takes these precautions may reduce the likelihood of an unprovoked attack, but you may still find yourself the victim of a dog bite. Whether you know the dog or the dog is a stranger, it is important to contact animal control if the dog bites you or your child. The proper authorities will contact the dog's owner for confirmation that the dog is properly vaccinated. You may then find it helpful to meet with an attorney to discuss your legal options.

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