In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study that examined the frequency of dog bite-related injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments. In 2001, an estimated 368,245 persons were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for nonfatal dog bite-related injuries. 42% of dog bites in 2001 occurred among children aged 14 years and younger; injury rates were highest among children aged 5-9 years and were significantly higher for boys than for girls.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality published a study in 2010 showing that the number of Americans hospitalized for dog bites almost doubled over a 15-year period. The average cost of a dog bite-related hospital stay was $18,200, approximately 50 percent higher than the average injury-related hospital stay. There were 4 times as many dog bite-related ED visits and 3 times as many hospital stays in rural areas than in urban areas.
Dog Bites in Colorado
In 2005, the Colorado legislature passed the Colorado Dog Bite Law, C.R.S. § 13-21-124, making dog owners strictly liable for dog bites, but only if the victim of the bite, suffers serious bodily injury or death from being bitten by a dog. The viciousness or dangerous propensities of the dog or the dog owner’s knowledge or lack of knowledge of the dog’s viciousness or dangerous propensities does not matter. Colorado’s dog bite statute provides for strict liability but applies only to “serious bodily injuries” and gives a limited remedy (only the medical costs Recovery under the statute is limited only to economic damages (as opposed to noneconomic damages like pain and suffering, loss of quality of life, etc.) in a civil suit against the dog owner.
The statute defines “serious bodily injury” as “bodily injury” which, either at the time of the actual injury or at a later time, involves a substantial risk of death, a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement, a substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, or breaks, fractures, or burns of the second or third degree.” C.R.S. § 18-1-901(3)(p) A “bodily injury” means “any physical injury that results in severe bruising, muscle tears, or skin lacerations requiring professional medical treatment or any physical injury that requires corrective or cosmetic surgery.” (C.R.S. § 13-21-124 (1) (a)) Non-economic damages such as emotional distress are not covered under the statute, unless they are the result of actual physical injury.
If a victim relies solely on the dog bite statute, recovery will be limited to “economic damages” which includes such things as past, present and future medical bills, loss of income, and loss of earning power as a result of disability or disfigurement. To recover noneconomic losses, including pain and suffering, inconvenience, emotional stress, and impairment of the quality of life, your attorney will develop and investigate other additional clams against the owner of the dog, including other claims of negligence or negligence per se.
Even if the Colorado dog bite statute applies, Colorado case law holds that a person who owns keeps or harbors a dog which causes injury can be held liable, under other theories of negligence and negligence per se. It is likely that the victim of a dog bite will not recover his/her full damages unless he can prove the requirements of one of the traditional grounds for dog bite liability, including negligence and negligence per se.
The availability of negligence per se, when violating a statute, is of great importance in Colorado dog bite victims because it allows the victim to bring additional causes of action, outside of the dog bite statute, when the dog inflicts serious injury. For example, a dog owner would be negligence per se, if they violate Unlawful Ownership of Dangerous Dog statute, C.RS. § 18‑9‑204, which makes it a criminal offense to have a dangerous dog. (“A person commits ownership of a dangerous dog if such person owns, possesses, harbors, keeps, has a financial or property interest in, or has custody or control over a dangerous dog.”). A “dangerous dog” is “any dog that …