What is Considered a Serious Dog Bite?

Categories: Dog Bites

Angry dog with bare teeth shown.

Dog bites, even those that do not leave permanent scars, are emotionally and mentally traumatic. However, when it comes to filing a claim against the dog’s owner, the courts look at the severity of the bite to determine fair compensation.

So, what is a severe bite?

While minor bites can leave a person emotionally traumatized for years, is that bite considered severe? Or, does it require that the victim be permanently scarred and require surgery to be severe?

Vets specializing in dog behavior and modification have multiple levels they assign to dog bites, and these levels often correlate with how the courts classify a bite as severe, but they are not the only factor. Instead, multiple variables are taken into consideration when determining if a bite is “severe,” or not.

What Factors Determine the Severity of the Dog Bite?

It is not just one factor that makes a bite severe; instead, multiple items are considered by attorneys, insurance companies, and the court, to say if a bite was truly severe or not.

Levels of Bites – as Veterinarians See Them

Veterinarians classify bites as animal behaviors, and specific levels indicate a potential risk factor for more aggressive attacks in the future.

These are classified by:

  • Pre-Bite: In this case, the dog gets aggressive but only snaps or bites into the air – no contact with human skin. Owners often mistake this as they got out of the way, but in reality, a pre-bite means the dog could have bitten the person but chose not to. Regardless, pre-bites are a warning that the dog could bite again, and if an owner does not seek behavioral treatment or assessment, they are putting people who come around their dog at risk.
  • Near Bite: In the near bite stage, a dog’s teeth come into contact with human skin, but the dog doesn’t puncture the skin. Usually a dog has warning signs before they ever clamp onto someone’s arm or other extremity. Regardless, a near bite is a serious warning sign of a dog that can and will do an actual bite in the future. Vets are required to report near bite incidents in some states.
  • Shallow Puncture: In a shallow puncture, the dog punctures the skin, but only in the shallow layers of tissue. The bite is still painful for the victim, and there is still a risk of infection and rabies transmission. All veterinarians and dog owners are required by law to report shallow punctures to animal control. Once a dog has done this bite, they are a significant liability.
  • Multiple Shallow Punctures: The dog bites multiple times, but again, these are shallow. Just like a shallow bite, the dog has reacted and attacked, and it is a serious risk.
  • Deep Puncture: There are two types of deep puncture bites: single and multiple. Both are serious and the bite is often severe. Instead of stitches, a person might require surgery – or multiple surgeries – to recover.
  • Death: If a dog kills or consumes a person’s flesh, they have reached the highest bite level. Note, a dog can do a minor bite that would normally be a shallow puncture on an adult, but results in a deep, fatal puncture on a small child.

Age of the Victim

The age of the victim plays a role in determining severity. A child is smaller, has less tissue before bone, and a bite that would normally be minor on an adult can be severe on a small child.

Furthermore, when the victim is young, suffering such trauma can leave them with a lifetime of disfigurement and emotional suffering. Therefore, a bite might be considered more severe for a child than if the same bite were on an adult.

Medical Expenses from the Dog Bite

The medical expenses and overall care a victim needs after suffering a bite also determine severity.

Some information gathered just by looking at a victim’s medical expenses include:

  • Number of Surgeries: The number of surgical procedures the victim endured from the injury, such as multiple reconstructive surgeries to correct defects, skin grafts, or surgery to fix infections.
  • Number of Bites and Treatments: In a vicious attack, a victim might not have a single bite wound, but multiple. Each wound may have various treatments required depending on how deep it goes into the tissue and where it was on the body.
  • Total Cost of Medical Bills: To ensure a victim doesn’t pay for medical costs, part of his or her settlement will include the total cost of medical expenses related to the bite itself. Also, any estimated future medical expenses are included in the settlement to ensure a victim receives the care they need.

Permanency of the Bite

The permanency of the injury helps determine severity as well. If a person only has a few small stitches and little to no scarring, then that wound is not as severe as someone with permanent disfigurement, missing extremities that were amputated from the incident, or a victim that requires multiple plastic surgeries to correct the injury as much as possible.

Emotional and Mental Trauma

Emotional and mental trauma are factored into the severity of a dog attack. Not everyone reacts the same to trauma, and while one person may not be fearful or suffering any psychological effects, another could suffer from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, have a fear of animals, and be unable to cope. They may have difficulty working, interacting with loved ones, and their quality of life suffers.

Depending on the factors above, emotional trauma can play a crucial role in determining if an injury is severe.

Were You Attacked by a Dog? You May be Entitled to Compensation

If you or a loved one were attacked by a dog, you may be able to hold that dog’s owner accountable for the actions of their pet. Dog owners are liable for the actions of their animals, and you can file a claim for compensation to cover your medical expenses, lost wages, and emotional suffering.

To get started, contact Jeffrey H. Penneys, Esq. toll-free at 800-465-8795, on his cell at 215-771-0430, or fill out an online contact form.