A five year old and seven year old were injured in pit bull attacks in New Orleans March 30 and 31. Shockingly, these attacks both occurred within only 18 hours! First, a five year old girl was mauled in the Gentilly area. A mere eighteen hours later a seven year old was attacked in Algiers and suffered an injury to her ankle.
In Gentilly, the girl was playing basketball with other kids around 6:40 p.m. near the 55000 block of Warrington Drive. Three dogs charged the children. An intact pit bull (not spayed or neutered) chased the girl into a yard and cornered her, biting her on the head, ears, shoulder, and chest. A neighbor called police who arrived on the scene while the child was still under attack. The officers were able to lure the dog away before shooting and killing the animal. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) cited the dog owner for owning a vicious animal and having a roaming dog. The municipal violations could later be upgraded to criminal charges. An investigation has shown that someone may have let the dogs out of the owner’s possession. The owner was unaware his dog was involved in an attack.
The second incident involved a seven year old girl who was walking between two homes in her Algiers neighborhood when she was attacked by a brown pit bull. The girl was shaken up and unable to tell authorities what happened. Witnesses saw other dogs fighting with the pit bull shortly after the attack. The owner of the brown pit bull was cited for owning a vicious dog, allowing it to roam at large, and having no proof of a rabies vaccination. The dog will be held for ten days while a rabies test is completed before a judge decides its fate.
None of the dogs involved in the attacks were neutered, making them much more likely to attack. In fact, according to the article on New Orleans’ Nola.com:
Statistics show that an unneutered dog is 2.6 times more likely to bite a person…about 97 percent of all dog-related human deaths involve unsterilized dogs.
Given the dangerous nature of dog bites and also risks involved for children, what are the legal ramifications here?
Owner liability for injuries in a dog bit case can be based on a couple of different legal theories. In a negligence claim the injured person must show that they were owed a legal duty by the owner of the dog and the duty was breached. The duty can arise from failing to properly secure the dog or leaving the dog with someone unable to restrain him. It can also exist if the dog owner violates a local ordinance, like those cited in this story.
States may also impose a more stringent standard of fault, strict liability. In those states (including Louisiana) liability automatically arises when an animal that is known to have a vicious propensity, bites, injures, or even just chases someone. Negligence of the owner does not need to be proven.
Regardless of whether the dog bite claim is based on negligence or strict liability whether the victim provoked the attack will undoubtedly be taken into account. Provocation occurs when a dog is incited or encouraged to bite a person. A person who knew that his actions would be painful or annoying to a dog is deemed to have provoked the dog. Even in strict liability states the dog owner may use provocation as a defense to reduce their liability or avoid liability completely.