In legal terms, a dog bite is more than just the bite itself. If you were injured by the animal in any way, you could have grounds to sue its owner. Here are some common ways you could be injured when a dog bites you.
Injuries to Your Skin
Abrasions are scrapes on the top layer of skin. Rug burns and skinned knees are examples of abrasions. While the scraping is not usually deep, it still burns quite a bit and may leave scarring. Any injury you sustained in a dog attack is legally considered part of the attack. You may have suffered abrasions from falling or being knocked into a solid surface. These count as part of your injuries during the animal attack.
When a dog attacks, it uses its teeth and claws as weapons, which tear at your skin. During an animal attack, you will likely suffer a laceration or an incision.
Lacerations are characterized by jaggedness. Incisions, by contrast, are straight, clean cuts in the skin. Surgeons use incisions during operations. Incisions normally take longer to heal than lacerations.
From the outside, a puncture wound may seem benign. It is just a small hole in the skin, after all. This is a dangerous assumption. When something punctures your skin, it travels deep into the inner layers. The object will have germs on it that touch those layers on the way in and again on the way out. Once trapped in the skin, those germs can fester and cause infections.
Contrary to popular belief, a dog’s mouth is not “clean.” It has its own ecology of bacteria and flora, and it can make you sick in a puncture wound.
In a severe injury, skin may avulse, or peel off. This is when skin fully separates from tissue, bone, or muscle underneath. This is a serious, potentially deadly injury. It will require multiple surgeries to fix, and surgery must be timely. If the skin begins to die, it cannot reattach. Dead skin will not accept blood flow, and the body will reject it. When an avulsion has gone that far, skin grafts may be the only option left.
Infections happen when germs are trapped inside a wound, unable to escape. They begin to spread to surrounding areas. When you have a small cut that becomes red and full of pus, that is an infection. Puncture wounds are particularly susceptible to infection, as the inner layers of skin are difficult to clean. Infection becomes serious when it spreads. It can reach surrounding organs, causing serious, life threatening conditions.
Infections can be viral or bacterial. Ferocious animals commonly carry the rabies virus. Infected people can develop flu-like symptoms: fever, chills, headaches, etc. Left untreated, rabies can cause serious damage, particularly to neurological function. People can have symptoms ranging from sleep problems to dissociative episodes. Once the infection affects cognitive function, the infected person may be beyond saving and will likely die.
Tetanus is a bacterial infection you could get from a dog bite. At its most severe, it locks jaw muscles in place, creating the aptly named “lockjaw.” People suffering from lockjaw will have difficulty eating and drinking. Their speech may be affected, and they may drool. A strong cocktail of antibiotics and tetanus immune globulin (TIG) will help fix the problem, along with muscle relaxers and a tetanus vaccine. Tetanus will not go away on its own, and it can be fatal if left untreated.
Injury to Bone
Depending on the size of the person and the dog, humans can incur bone injuries in a dog attack. Particularly large dogs can pounce onto a person with a smaller frame, breaking bones. Again, any related injury is considered to be part of the overall dog attack. Even larger people can be knocked over, causing bones to break against a solid surface.
Animal attacks often happen by surprise. If you are suddenly slammed in the back, your spine could be damaged. Spines can suddenly compress or extend. This causes problems with the separate sections of the spine and the discs between them. People can suffer herniated discs. When the discs between the bones protrude, they can stab the nerves that run along the spine. People with herniated discs suffer terrible pain and can become immobile. Rest and certain exercises can help herniated discs repair themselves, but the problem can reoccur. The only solution may be surgery.
If you were suddenly hit by an animal, your head may go flying forward, causing whiplash. Like a whip with a ball bearing on the end, the inertia of your head moves forward, suddenly stopped by muscles in the spine and neck. People who suffer whiplash can have mild pain, headaches, decreased mobility, or even difficulty keeping the head upright and stable. Severe cases may require surgical solutions.
Any sudden, traumatic event can leave scars that go beyond the physical. For example, people in car accidents may develop a fear of driving. Dog attacks are no different. Young children are particularly susceptible to emotional trauma after a dog bite. They can develop symptoms ranging from nightmares to an irrational fear of all dogs. They may even show signs of agoraphobia, a fear of the outdoors. Adults, too, can develop anxious mood swings, becoming hyper aware of their surroundings. Like any medical problem, emotional trauma requires long, expensive treatments.
Dog Bites and Personal Injury Law
Depending on the details of your dog attack, you may be able to sue the owner. If the owner was not properly leashing or confining the animal, they may be guilty of “negligence per se,” making them susceptible to a lawsuit. Also, if the dog has a history of attacking people, the owner is responsible for keeping the animal muzzled and controlled. A negligent owner is open to civil liability, and you can seek damages for your injuries.