Godfrey, Leibsle, Blackbourn & Howarth, S.C.
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Elkhorn, WI

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Dog bite causes serious facial injury to 2-year-old boy

It used to be that every dog got one bite. That was literally the wisdom underlying personal injury law relating to dog bites. In Wisconsin and many other states, however, that one-bite approach has given way to laws providing that the owner has absolute liability for any dog bite injury caused by the dog. Even if the owner uses due care in restraining the dog, the owner will be absolutely liable to compensate the injured person. Some states provide some exceptions to strict liability, such as provocation or for a dog used in law enforcement.

Recently, a 12-year-old Labrador retriever bit a 2-year-old boy in the face. It was the second time that the same dog had bit the same boy, according to investigating authorities. They said that the dog was owned by a relative of the victim. The dog had reportedly caused injury to the boy by biting him in the shoulder in July 2012. The incident occurred in the village of Franksville in Racine County.

The child had serious facial injury and was taken to Children’s Hospital. The dog was quarantined at the Wisconsin Humane Society. Historically, the law attributed liability to an owner who is aware of the ‘vicious propensities’ of a dog. That awareness was legally imputed to the owner after the dog’s first bite of an innocent victim.

The owner is likely responsible for compensating the child for his injury, including pain and suffering, permanent scarring and other injury caused by the bite. This includes reimbursement for the estimated value of future plastic surgery. However, there’s a potential complication in this case. If the dog’s owner had homeowner’s insurance or other liability coverage, the insurance company will first want to determine the relationship of the child to the dog owner, and their respective residence addresses.

Under many liability insurance policies in Wisconsin and elsewhere, payment for injury will not be covered for a victim who resides in the same household as the insured policy holder. In some instances, there may be an exclusion of coverage for injury sustained by any immediate family member, as that term is defined in the policy. The child’s family can determine the answers to these questions and others by consulting with a personal injury practitioner as soon as possible after the injury occurs.

Source: CBS 58 News, “Dog bites two-year-old child in the face,” Chris Patterson, April 30, 2013

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