Dog Bites & Animal Attacks
Deadlines to file Dog Bite/Animal Attack claims in Hawaii
Claims arising out of an animal attack and/or dog bites are generally subject to a two year statute of limitations in Hawaii. It should be noted, however, that there are exceptions to this rule for example, claims against the City and County of Honolulu and the various other Counties must be filed with the appropriate agency within six (6) months of the date of the accident. These claims most frequently arise from an unexpected attack by a dog on a person—frequently on a child. You must file your claims in court prior to the expiration of such deadlines, or your claims may be lost—regardless of their merit. To be wise it is recommended that you immediately contact an attorney after an accident giving rise to injuries occurs please do not hesitate to :
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Hawaii law on dog bites and animal attacks
The lead case on dog bites in the state of Hawaii is the case of Farrior v. Payton, 57 Haw. 620, 562 P.2d 779 (1977). In this case the injured victims brought action against the three joint owners of a German Shepherd dog to recover for injuries sustained when, in an attempt to avoid what was believed to be an imminent attack by the dog, they fell off a natural rock wall bordering the owners’ property.
In that case the Hawaii Supreme Court set out the basic considerations regarding the liability of an owner of an animal for an attack made by that animal. First, the Court stated that in an action against an owner or harborer of a dog for injury inflicted by such animal, the owner/harborer’s actual or constructive knowledge of the “vicious or dangerous propensities” of the dog is, except where removed by statute, an essential element of the cause of action and a necessary prerequisite to recovery.
The Court went on to say, however, that the phrase “vicious or dangerous propensities” means any propensity on part of dog, which is likely to cause injury under circumstances in which person controlling the dog placed it, and does not require only the type of malignancy exhibited by dog which has already attacked human beings. Such propensities include a natural fierceness and/or a disposition to mischief as might lead the animal to attack human beings without provocation.
The Court went on to clarify that the owner or keeper is bound to take notice of general propensities of the class to which his animal belongs (eg. the breed of the dog), and also of any particular propensities peculiar to animal itself of which he has knowledge or is put on notice; and, insofar as such propensities are of a nature likely to cause injury, the owner must exercise reasonable care to guard against them and to prevent injuries which are reasonably to be anticipated from them; in this respect, a vicious or dangerous disposition or propensity may consist of mere mischievousness or playfulness of animal, which, because of its size or nature, might lead to injury, since it is the act of the animal, rather than its state of mind which charges the owner or keeper with liability.
With respect to the liability of one who harbors a dog or other animal on there property, the Court stated “A possessor of land who is in immediate control of a force, and knows or has reason to know of the presence of trespassers in dangerous proximity to it, is subject to liability for physical harm thereby caused to them by his failure to exercise reasonable care so to control the force as to prevent it from doing harm to them, or to give a warning which is reasonably adequate to enable them to protect themselves. An occupier of land has a duty to use reasonable care for the safety of all persons reasonably anticipated to be upon the premises, regardless of the legal status of the individual.
Nationwide concerns and statistics
The following article [covering US law in general as opposed to Hawaii law] demonstrates the concern that many agencies have shown toward the alarming amounts of damage caused by dog bites and animal attacks each year.The US Postal Service (which says more than 2,500 postal workers were attacked by dogs last year), the Independent Insurance Agents of America, Inc., the Humane Society of the United States, and the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons have all sought to increase public awareness of the extent of the damage caused by dog bites each year.
Owners of Dangerous Dogs Getting Bitten By Lawsuits, Insurance Companies
Bruce Jacobson thought it was a no brainer. The Rhode Island independent insurance agent’s client had taken every precaution to keep unwitting guests out of the bedroom where her protective Rottweiler was secluded nursing her litter of new puppies. But the client’s neighbor sued anyway when the mother dog bit her after entering the client’s house without her knowledge.
Five years later, the court ruled in the client’s favor, but not before her insurance company paid out nearly $40,000 in legal defense costs.
Jacobson’s client learned a hard lesson from her ordeal. Owning a dog is financially risky, even when you take precautions to protect others. And she is not alone.
Lawsuits and insurance claims resulting from dog attacks are not unusual, according to many insurance agents and lawyers and, in fact, represent a growing trend in some areas. “At this time we’re experiencing a run on dog bite related claims in this state,” says Jacobson.
The reason is the injured now have the law on their side, according to Mary Randolph, author of the legal guide, Dog Law. “In the old days, the law gave dog owners what was called ‘one free bite’. Put simply, an owner wasn’t liable for injuries unless a dog had already shown it was likely to hurt someone.” But times have changed. “Most states now make owners liable for any harm their dog causes, whether or not the owner had reason to suspect that the dog was dangerous,”
It also appears that the number of dog attacks in the U.S. is on the rise. The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control reported that the number of dog bites that caused people to seek medical care increased from 585,000 in 1986 to 800,000 in 1994, a 37 percent increase during a period in which the dog population rose less than 2 percent. Recent data appearing in The Journal of the American Medical Association pegged the number of dog bites at a whopping 4.5 million a year.
All of this is bad news to insurers. The New York based Insurance Information Institute estimates that an overwhelming one third of all homeowners’ liability claims are related to dog bites, translating to an estimated annual payout of as much as $1 billion. Those numbers will likely increase if the number of reported dog attacks and resulting lawsuits continue on their upward spiral.
Agents say some companies increasingly are responding to this disturbing trend by passing the cost on to consumers through higher personal liability insurance premiums or by restricting coverage altogether for homeowners who have certain types of dogs especially those pegged as dangerous breeds, such as Rottweilers, Pit Bulls and German Shepherds, or those who demonstrate a history of aggressive behavior.
The situation has gotten so bad that “I tell clients that if you get one of those breeds on the insurance companies’ hit lists, you take a chance of losing your insurance,” says Jacobson.
Jacobson does not criticize the companies’ actions. In fact he understands the situation all too well. The companies are under pressure to find a way to cover large losses.
Padded by exorbitant legal fees, many dog bite claims result in big payouts by insurance companies, Jacobson points out. “You get bitten, you seek medical attention and the insurance company will write you a check for $5,000. [Victims] rarely settle for less in these cases.” Additionally, dog bite victims who are seriously injured often require expensive reconstructive surgery, pushing the claim’s price tag up even further.
How can consumers protect themselves? Be honest with your agent and insurance company if you buy a dog, Jacobson suggests. Most insurance agents and companies routinely ask in their application forms whether a potential client owns a dog and can deny coverage if the risk is considered too high, and many companies send out periodic renewal questionnaires asking consumers to list their risks and exposures.
Mary Dunkel, an independent agent in State College, Pa., points out that personal responsibility is the key to avoid being bitten by a lawsuit or your insurance company. She says that dog owners too often ignore the risks their pets can pose to others. “I urge people who want pets that there are many good training programs that help people gain control of their dog. The client must exercise some judgment. Bad owners can be much more dangerous than bad dogs.”
Dunkel remembers a client whose dog became a neighborhood scourge, biting four or five different times. The woman’s insurance company bent over backward to accommodate her through the first few claims, but cancelled her after the last incident when she failed to take precautions to prevent her dog from attacking again.
Although Dunkel was able to locate alternate liability coverage, the client refused to pay the nearly $2,000 annual premium. She now has no insurance. “I did everything I could, but she made it impossible for me to represent her,” Dunkel recalls with resignation.
Going without insurance is what some agents fear consumers will do if they feel they are at risk. “Homeowners and renters who own dogs should never go without liability insurance (which is part of most standard homeowners or renters policies) or they may be in for a rude awakening if sued,” says Madelyn Flannagan, research and information director with the Independent Insurance Agents of America. “Without insurance, victims and their lawyers will go after your personal assets. For most that can be financially devastating.”
Flannagan said that home based business owners and renters are at particular financial risk when their dogs bite because they often are not aware they lack the proper liability coverage.
“Because homeowners policies exclude coverage for business related losses, an in home entrepreneur without business insurance may not be covered if sued by a customer who was bitten by the entrepreneur’s family dog,” she cautions. “Renters are also subject to higher risk because many people who rent are still uninsured for personal property losses and liability claims. Some mistakenly believe that their landlord’s insurance will cover their losses.”
Flannagan suggests that those who own dogs of certain breeds, such as Pit Bulls and Rottweilers, or those with dogs that have demonstrated aggressive tendencies purchase an umbrella liability policy which provides increased coverage in case of an attack. But, Flannagan cautions, others should be careful as well. All dog owners should be cautious around children. “Although most dogs are good natured and well behaved, every dog has the capacity to bite, and children are most often the victims,” she says.
Dr. Leslie Sinclair, a veterinarian and director of The Humane Society of the United States’ Companion Animal Care program agrees. “Parents speak with their children about bike safety, the dangers of drugs and a whole host of other issues, but dog bites are too often overlooked as a serious threat. Dog bite prevention lessons are simple to teach and can prevent an injury that can leave physical and emotional scars for years.”
“Dog owners need to be aware of the financial as well as physical implications of letting dogs roam free and of not taking precautions to prevent injuries, even at home,” says Flannagan. While many dog owners take precautions when walking their animals in the park, for instance, dogs don’t always bite in public places. It is estimated that 60 to 70 percent of dog attacks occur on the owners’ property.
Legal experts point out that leash and muzzle laws vary from state to state as does owner liability, so consumers should also be aware of the presence of such statutes and the potential legal and financial repercussions of disregarding them. In many cases, a dog doesn’t actually have to bite someone for the owner to be liable for a victim’s injury. On the other hand, in some cases, the owner may not be liable for injuries caused by an animal if the injured party was negligent, if the animal had no history of aggression or if the owner posted approved warning signs.
In May, 1999, the Independent Insurance Agents of America, Inc., the Humane Society of the United States, the U.S. Postal Service (which says more than 2,500 postal workers were attacked by dogs last year), the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons and several other co sponsors marked National Dog Bite Prevention Week 1999. The groups offered the following suggestions to consumers to help reduce the number of dog bites.
- Spay or neuter all dogs. Unaltered animals are three times more likely to bite.
- Properly train and socialize your dog to behave properly around people.
- Consult a veterinarian or animal behaviorist if your dog growls, nips or bites.
- Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.
- Do not pet any dog without letting him see and smell you.
- Do not approach a dog without his owner, especially if the dog is in a car, behind a fence or on a chain.
- Do not run or scream if attacked by a dog. Instead, stand still with your arms at your side. Don’t make eye contact or speak to the dog. If you are knocked over, curl into a ball and put your hands over your ears.
- Do not base decisions about how to act around dogs on their breed. Any kind of dog can bite.
Dog Bite Facts:
Each year, dog bites are responsible for:
- 4.7 million injuries
- More than 750,000 injuries requiring medical attention
- Nearly 334,000 emergency room visits (914 people a day)
Source: Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
Number of dog bite fatalities (1979-1996): 304
States with highest numbers of fatal dog attacks (1979-1996):
New York 12
Washington (state) 8
These five breeds were responsible for two thirds of all fatal dog attacks during the years 1979-1996:
Pit Bull 60
German Shepherd 19
Alaskan Malamute 12
Source: Humane Society of the United States
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