In West Virginia, the actions or inactions of public officials are often protected by the “public duty doctrine.” Under the public duty doctrine, the general services that public officials and agencies provide to their community do not create a legal duty to any specific member of that community. For example, while firemen owe a duty to fight fires to the general community, they do not owe that duty to any one specific individual, and thus, that individual cannot sue them for a failure to meet their duty. When a public official or agency violates a duty to the community at large, it does not create private liability for any specific member of that community. West Virginia law does, however, create an exception to the public duty doctrine – when a municipality or public official creates a special relationship with a member of the community, that can serve as the basis for a lawsuit. In a recent case before the Supreme Court of Appeals for West Virginia, the court considered whether a special relationship could save a lawsuit dismissed by the lower court.
Dog bite insurance claims are on the rise nationwide, and settlements for such cases are getting bigger every year. The Insurance Information Institute recently released statistics on dog bite claims through 2009 and the numbers are up drastically from 2003, when the III first began collecting data. In 2009, dog-bite insurance claims totaled more than $412 million, markedly higher than 2008’s $387.2 million in claims.
The Institute reports that the costs of dog bites has increased greatly as medical care costs rise, and as larger court settlements are being granted across the country. The average cost per-claim was $24,840 in 2009, which was up 1.5 percent from 2008. Since 2003, dog-bite claim costs have risen 30 percent, but the actual number of claims is down 2 percent. In 2009, 16,586 dog bites were reported throughout the U.S.
Furthermore, dog bites made up more than one-third of homeowners’ insurance liability claims in 2009, according to the Chicago Tribune. Most homeowners’ and renters’ policies will cover anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 in damages and/or medical bills. Most dog bites result in medical bills for lacerations, stitches, broken bones and other minor injuries, although more severe injuries can increase settlement amounts to much higher levels than most basic policies cover.
Every state has its own set of rules for dog bites, and West Virginia is no exception. Strange but true animal stories are often difficult to try in court, and it takes an experienced personal injury attorney to successfully argue these types of cases. For instance, when your dog bites another person, you know that you can be held liable. However, what happens when your dog bites another dog, who is responsible?
The answer is: it depends. Some towns have ordinances holding the more aggressive dog responsible, even if that dog is injured as well. Other local governments rely on the rule that the owner of the dog that was not injured is liable, regardless of which dog started the fight. Generally speaking, though, the owner of the dog who caused the injuries is liable to pay for the other dog’s vet bills. In the cases in which both dogs have vet bills, the case can be more complicated. Similarly, other unusual animal injuries can be just as confusing to sort out.
Instead of trying to defend yourself against an angry dog owner, talk to a lawyer who can help you figure out what you are liable for in your particular situation. Before you accept responsibility, it’s a good idea to get witness statements and a professional opinion from an attorney who can accurately diagnose fault. Especially in cases where dogs or other animals receive fatal injuries, you’ve got to have legal representation on your side.
A lot of times, when you hear someone say they were bitten by a dog, you kind of shrug it off as if it’s not a big deal. You don’t think of it as a legal issue. Dog bites are not uncommon and the majority of dog bites are more often little nips that don’t really cause any damage. However, some dog bites can cause serious bodily harm, permanent disfigurement and even death.
Most people don’t realize how serious a dog bite can be until they or a loved one is bitten and sustains serious injuries. In West Virginia, dog owners are strictly liable for damages caused by their dogs. If a dog is running unattended at the time of injury, the owner’s negligence need not be proven to hold the owner liable. If the dog is not running wild at the time of the injury, the owner still may be liable if you can prove the owner knew of the dog’s vicious propensity or that the owners negligence somehow caused the injury. This is true even on the owner’s property. A dog owner has a duty of care to secure a dog and prevent it from injuring people who lawfully enter the owner’s property.
It is good to know your rights under the law in the event of a serious dog bite, but the fact is that serious dog bite scenarios are usually more complicated than just figuring out who is liable. The nature of most serious dog bites adds a unique element to the legal issues surrounding dog bites. Over 77% of dog bite injuries are inflicted by the family dog or by a dog that the victim is familiar with. To make it worse, the most common victims of dog bites in the United States are children and the majority of dog bite injuries are to the face and neck.
What do you do if your family dog or your friend’s dog bites your child, causing serious injuries to the face that require extensive medical attention? All of the sudden, your legal issues are intertwined with personal sentiments. You don’t want to put the family dog to sleep and you don’t want to sue your friends or have their dog put to sleep, but you also don’t want to pay the hospital bills that resulted from the dog bite.
With over 4 million dog bites reported every year in the United States, the law understands the seriousness of the problem. Fortunately, most homeowner’s insurance policies cover dog bites. So if the family dog causes injuries to someone, whether it’s a family member or a guest, the insurance should cover the damages. Similarly if someone else’s dog causes an injury to you, the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance should cover the damages.
A West Virginia Sheriff’s deputy from Martinsburg is back on the job this week after being severely bitten by a dog at a private residence. On July 13, 2009, deputy W. D. Christian was trying to serve legal documents when a dog believed to be a large Rottweiler attacked him. Although the dog did not initially appear aggressive, he lunged at the deputy from inside the house, causing deep puncture wounds to his right wrist.
Although signs of a dog’s presence were posted on the property, who’s at fault in this case? The deputy or the dog’s owner? Dog bite cases happen all the time in West Virginia, and sometimes it’s tough to determine who’s at fault.
Although some dog bites are minor, many can cause disfigurement and serious injury. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), dogs bite 4.5 million Americans each year, and one in five dog bites require medical attention. The costs associated with treating a dog bite can be quite high, depending on the severity of the case. In addition to stitches, bandages, anesthetic and antibiotics, you may need blood tests to rule out rabies or other blood-borne diseases that domesticated pets can carry.