Samantha will likely live with a significant scar on her face. It’ll be there at prom time, at college graduation, at her wedding. It’ll be a constant reminder of the fear she faced when, as a two-year-old, she was attacked by a pit bull as her parents pushed her stroller through their Toledo neighborhood.
Pit bulls in 2007 inflicted more bites requiring medical treatment in Lucas County than any other breed. Of 329 reported bites, pit bulls accounted for 66, according to Tom Skeldon, Lucas County Dog Warden.That’s a lot of bites. Bites that can have a lasting impact both in physical and emotional scars.
That a lot of lawsuits.
Dale Emch is an attorney specializing in personal injury. Samantha was his client in January when he gave testimony before a committee of the Ohio General Assembly considering a change in the state’s vicious dog law.
As you might expect, Emch opposes changing the law which classifies pit bulls as vicious and mandates that owners carry special insurance to ensure adequate money to compensate the victim of an attack.
Of the 23 cases his firm, Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, handled at the time, nine involved pit bulls. While not a significant statistical number, pit bulls last year surpassed labs, shepherds and chows as the top breed whose bites required medical attention. Skeldon finds that noteworthy as there are fewer pit bulls in the county than the other three breeds.
Emch and fellow attorneys Charles Boyk and Michael Bruno have authored a book entitled The Ohio Dog Bite Book. In it, the trio provides advice for victims seeking compensation for their injuries.
They write that Ohio has a strict liability law, which means a victim need only prove who owned the dog that bit them to establish liability for injuries. There are few defenses, such as, did the victim criminally trespass or tease, torment or abuse the dog.
The 31-page booklet offers this advice if you are bitten:
Seek treatment immediately and follow your doctor’s orders;
• Notify the police or county dog warden to get on record;
• Don’t rush to settle your claim before you complete medical treatment;
• Don’t talk to the insurance adjuster, get a lawyer;
• Be honest and don’t hide anything from your lawyer.
The booklet also offers advice on how to keep hospitals and doctors from pressuring you for payment while your lawsuit is pending and what to expect from adjusters and the courts.
Skeldon says serious dog bites in the county have declined since a high of 697 in 2001. He attributes that to strong law enforcement, a licensing campaign and an aging population which prefers pets, like cats, that don’t require the attention a dog does.
He praises Lucas County residents for having the highest percentage of licensed dogs in the state. That shows most dog owners obey the law and take care of their dogs. His major problem with non-compliance is a three-mile radius from downtown Toledo, particularly the near north end. The problem is not with so-called watch dogs that alert homeowners of intruders, but with dogs trained to attack. “Pit bulls are not really a protective breed,” he said, “Unless you have a drug house. We go on drug raids and we don’t run into Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, we run into pit bulls.”
Not surprisingly, kids ages 3 to 9 are the most likely to be bitten and boys more than girls. Fast movements, particularly, across the dog’s field of vision, trigger most bites as does trespassing on a dog owner’s property. The most serious bites tend to occur when kids come within reach of dogs on chains.
Skeldon, who trained dogs for the military and his family’s security business, says some dog owners unwittingly train their dog to be more aggressive.
“If you want to make a dog uncontrollably aggressive, you hook him to a fixed post with a chain and you tease him. He knows he can’t run. He knows he can’t hide. So, all he can do is run the chain out and try to grab you. If you abruptly change your behavior—run away, jump back, cry—he gets a buzz out of it, a chemical turn-on. Pretty soon, that dog that was only trying to defend himself is getting a real rush out of coming after you. That’s a dog, which if the chain or collar breaks, will go off the property and come after you. That’s called post agitation and a whole lot of well meaning people are doing that unwittingly.”