Whether the dog in question is your own pet, belongs to a friend or family member, or is a stray or feral animal loose in public, aggressive dog bites can cause serious physical injury and risk infection, the need for hospitalization, or even death in the worst of cases.
What should you do in case of a dog bite? We have some important steps to make sure you and your rights are covered.
Once you've been bitten by a dog, a few immediate steps will start you off on solid ground:
- Take photos. This may seem strange in the moment, but it's important to get photographic evidence of the dog bite prior to receiving treatment. A few quick photos will do — just enough to make it clear what the original injury looked like.
- Obtain names and contact information for the dog's owner and any witnesses who saw the moment of aggression. If it's a friend or neighbor's dog, this may be fairly easy. If you are in a public place and the dog is a stray or does not belong to someone you already know, it's important that you still get the contact information of witnesses who can describe the dog and what happened at the moment of attack. If the dog belongs to one person but was in the custody of another, you need the contact information for both of those individuals.
- Obtain treatment immediately. Even if the bite is "just a scratch" or doesn't seem serious, you must see a doctor as soon as possible. Infection can set in rapidly and take a bite from non-serious to life-threatening without treatment.
- Contact Animal Control. Dog bites are taken very seriously in South Carolina, and you need to report this bite to local authorities. They will need your cooperation to investigate what happened.
Why Do I Need the Owner's Information?
The owner can provide proof that the animal is up-to-date on their rabies vaccination. If you cannot identify the dog's owner or no proof of vaccination is available, you may need to submit to preventative rabies treatment to make sure you don't come down with this possibly deadly disease. In the case of a stray or feral dog, an autopsy check for rabies will be done if it can be located, but you may still need to submit to rabies prevention.
You will also need this information in order to recoup damages for the costs of obtaining medical treatment, possibly lost wages, reconstructive surgery if needed, and to help recover from the pain and fear the event caused you.
Take a Photo Before Treatment? Are You Sure?
While you will understandably be full of adrenaline and the need to see a doctor, we recommend that you take a moment to ensure clear photographs of the wound as it initially appears after the attack are taken. You will need these to show Animal Control, since you won't see them until after the wounds are treated, and the photos will come in handy when it comes to recovering costs from the dog's owner.
Is It Even Worth It to Get Rabies Shots?
We are not qualified to dispense medical advice and so we cannot tell you what steps to take once you are at the doctor's office or emergency room. We can tell you that preventative rabies shots are recommended by the The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If preventative treatment is not sought, success rates of other postexposure treatments are much lower and contain higher rates of negative side effects. It may also help you to have documentation showing that you did all you needed to do to prevent complications from the bite.
Can I Just Call In My Report to Animal Control?
We actually suggest visiting in person. The hospital may say they already make a report, but their reports are primarily for general tracking of dog bites in your location and will not be particularly helpful for you. It's very important that your local police department or Animal Control (whoever handles dog bites in your area) is able to identify and confirm the owner of the dog who bit you, and understand the circumstances of the attack. You'll likely need to have answers for the following questions:
- What is your relationship, if any, to the owner of the dog?
- Was there a crowd, loud noises, inclement weather, or other qualifying circumstances when the dog become aggressive?
- Was the dog provoked by abuse, harassment, or in any other way to bite?
- Does the dog in question have a history of aggressive behavior towards other dogs or humans?
- What was the breed of the dog? Describe its appearance, approximate weight, and any other identifying details you may remember.
- Was the owner of the dog present and did they take responsibility for the bite?
If you have a friendly, familial, or close relationship with the dog's owner, it may be a good idea for them to go with you and for both of you to give reports at the same time.
The Owner's Insurance Called. What Now?
If the owner of the dog is insured, you may receive a call from an agent looking to find out important details that they will need to know in order to get things moving on their end. Before engaging in conversation, ask this agent for the following information:
- Name of the insurance company
- Address of the agent's office (do not accept a corporate address unless they personally work there)
- Telephone number
- Claims number
- Have them verify the name of the person they are insuring.
The agent should be able to provide all of this information without much difficulty. If they refuse to provide it or seem in any way untrustworthy, be careful to get whatever contact information you can, then call the larger corporate office for that insurance company and verify that this is in fact an agent working on their behalf.
Do not do any of the following:
- Do not discuss terms of payment, settlements, injury value, or anything else related to money.
- Do not set an appointment to meet this person.
- Do not agree to provide any written information whatsoever until you have spoken with legal representation.
- Do not discuss "responsibility" or exact circumstances — save that for the report to Animal Control.
- Do not accept any money.
How Can I Ensure I'm Protected?
Contact a legal professional. South Carolina's dog bite laws generally favor the dog bite victim, even in circumstances where the dog in question was in the custody of someone other than its owner at the time of aggression. However, there are some complexities that you will want to discuss with a legal representative.
If you've been bitten by a dog and are looking for some advice, Bluestein Attorneys is here to help. Our personal injury team would be happy to speak with you about your unique situation and stand by your side as you decide what to do next. You can reach us by phone at (803) 779-7599 or contact us online at any time to schedule your free consultation.