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Dog Bite Cases Involving Children and Young Adults: The Owner is Strictly Liable for Dog Bites and for the Injuries Caused to the Victim

| Feb 16, 2021 | Articles

It is well known that dog bites can cause significant injuries leading to death or long-lasting disability.  In children and young adults being threatened by a dog can have a devastating physical and emotional consequence to them. The experience of being attacked by an animal is sometimes life altering.

The typical dog bite on a child hits them at or above their shoulders. These attacks equate to that of a bear attack on an adult, in terms of the shock, overwhelming fear and residual stress. The emotional impact on the child is huge.. The child will not talk about it and greatly needs to. This is because the child sees the sad faces of his parents anytime the topic comes up. They remain silent to save their parents from additional grief. So the child keeps this emotion load locked up in his mind.  This explains why therapy is needed.

Dog bites threaten disease to the victim (e.g. rabies). The fear from that is enough, but the treatment involving shots can be even more emotionally traumatizing.

Victims are likely to have permanent scarring which will be a visual reminder of this horrific episode, and which will there for that victim’s life. That is these scars will contribute to the emotional pain and psychological response to the fear and anxiety of these events.

As one author writes:

The emotional reactions of children who are the victims of, or witnesses to, dog attacks include fear, depression, withdrawal and anger.  These problems can occur immediately or sometime after the tragic event.  Many such children will develop post- traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and/or other persistent problems.”

Trauma” includes emotional as well as physical experiences and injuries.  Emotional injuries are essentially a normal response to an extreme event.  Emotional injury involves the creation of emotional memories, which arise through a long lasting effect on structures deep within the brain.  The more direct exposure to the traumatic event, the higher the risk for emotional harm.

The “undifferentiated thinking” of children frequently leads them to derive “wrong” conclusions from traumatic events. A child, especially a very young one, attempts to read the environment in order to enhance his comfort and further survival. A traumatic event like a dog bite is often misunderstood as a statement about life in general, that it is uncertain, painful and precarious. Furthermore, such an event might be internalized as a statement about the child himself, that he is somehow “bad” and even responsible for not only his physical pain but even the emotional pain suffered by his parents as a result of the dog attack. These psychic wounds may become significant determinants of the adult personality, so that the dog attack truly affects the child victim for life.

An animal attack would be a traumatic event in anyone’s life, but young people are most vulnerable simply because they are smaller, most likely in less emotional control of themselves when faced with a crisis, and more likely to suffer a psychological impact afterwards since this is a new experience in their young lives of a potential life threatening event.  In short, they are the most vulnerable victims of such events, which can leave them emotionally injured for life.

Some of the common after effects of an animal attack are:

  • Extreme Fear Toward Dogs
    An attack can turn a dog lover into someone fearful of the canine. This morbid feeling will cause them to feel uncomfortable enjoying the company of the “man’s best friend,” or even with other animals. The horror of the attack may rush back in whenever they are around dogs. Such trauma may affect their quality of life as they grow old, possibly hindering them from doing a variety of things.
  • Long-term Outdoor Anxiety
    Dog bite victims may develop a fear of going outdoors, specifically to the place where the event occurred. Some may find themselves afraid of revisiting the area where they were attacked or bitten. This type of anxiety may limit the places where they can go. Even if the event had happened a long time ago, the painful memories of the incident may have been planted deep within the brain and stay with them for years.
  • Wrong Perception of Self
    Children and very young adults have undifferentiated thinking to analyze things in the environment and make hasty conclusions. It’s possible for youngsters to misinterpret a dog attack and have a wrong perception about themselves. They may feel that they are responsible for their physical injuries and the emotional harm their parents or siblings suffer. A single dog attack can change the lives of children forever.

In California, owners are strictly liable of injuries suffered by their animals. That is, negligence does not have to be proven.  You own a dog or other animal that attacks someone, the owners is responsible for the physical and emotional injuries caused.  At one time there was a “one bite” rule – allowing a dog to have one bite before there was liability.  No longer. Leash laws were passed to prevent this from occurring and make sure the owner is in control of the dog when in public places.  So owners are wise to keep their animals under control, and avoid the trauma to them of a claim for injuries done by their pet, which usually involves a claim to the owner’s homeowner’s insurance company which can provide coverage for the owner’s liability to the victim.