A family is mourning the tragic loss of their infant after a reported attack on the child by the family’s dog. The Bangor Police Department reported emergency responders were called to the family home about an injured infant, who was transported to Eastern Maine Medical Center. Sadly, the child died of those injuries about a week later.
The death is under investigation by police. This devastating incident underscores the fact that of the 4.5 million dog bites reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year, it is children who are the most at risk.
While there are almost always a handful of Maine dog bite attacks reported annually, they are not often fatal. Six years ago in Frankfort, a seven-month-old infant was mauled to death by the family’s Rottweiler while at home with her mother and toddler brother. Then, in Corinna last year, a seven-year-old was killed in an attack by a pit bull while playing outside his father’s home.
Maine’s dog bite law, M.R.S. 3961, allows for damages when an animal causes damages due to negligence by the animal’s owner or keeper. That assumes damages were not occasioned through the fault of the person injured. When a dog injures a person who is not on the owner/keeper’s premises at the time of the injury, the owner/keeper of the dog can be held civilly liable for those damages. Any fault on the part of the injured person won’t reduce damages recovered for physical injuries, unless the court finds the fault of that person exceeds the fault of the dog’s keeper/owner. This is different from the strict liability standard recognized by many other state courts.
The Insurance Information Institute reports claims for dog bites and other dog-related injuries account for approximately one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims. Last year, homeowner insurers paid out more than $600 million in premises liability injury claims for dog bites.
The number of dog bite claims has been on the rise too, with roughly 18,100 last year, compared to 15,300 in 2015. That’s an 18 percent uptick. However, the average cost-per-claim has fallen by about 10 percent. The average paid out in most claims was $33,000 last year, compared to $37,000 the year before. Speculation is that on the whole, the severity of injuries has declined. This drop, though, follows more than 15 years of steady increases in claims.
Given that approximately 60 percent of U.S. households have a dog, these numbers aren’t entirely startling. We tend to think of dogs as our “best friends,” but in truth, while domesticated, they are still animals who can be unpredictable – especially around young children, who may not always pick up on the visual and behavior cues that a dog feels threatened or is taking an aggressive stance.
Many insurers have been limiting their liability in these cases, imposing limits of somewhere between $100,000 and $300,000 on claims. If damages for a dog bite injury claim exceed that amount, owners may be held personally liable for damages.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of a dog bite, our experienced personal injury lawyers can help you explore your legal options.
Contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
Bangor infant dies after being injured by family dog, Aug. 6, 2017, By Dawn Gagnon, Bangor Daily News