Delaware dog bite law: a primer

On behalf of Gary Nitsche

State law provides for legal remedies for dog bite victims in most situations.

In May 2015, the Delaware Division of Public Health or DPH, a state agency that is part of Delaware Health and Social Services, published an online piece emphasizing dog bite prevention. The article urges dog owners to prevent dog bites and provides state residents with information to protect themselves.

Any breed or size of dog is potentially dangerous, including a dog who knows the victim.

For example, many dog bite victims are children, who should be supervised around dogs and taught how to safely pet them. The Division's Office of Animal Welfare advises that a person fearing a dog attack should stand "tall and still" and not move wildly, scream or run; not make eye contact with the animal; and back away slowly after the dog's attention wanders.

Should the dog attack, the victim should attempt to put an object between him or herself and the animal and grab the dog's collar if possible. If the victim falls, he or she should curl up and lock his or her fingers behind the person's neck in an attempt to protect the neck and ears, according to the agency.

As is commonly known, a dog that is eating or a mother dog with puppies is best left alone.

Of course, despite precautions, dog attacks occur and resulting dog bites injuries and their ramifications can be extremely severe, including:

  • Puncture wounds
  • Infection and related diseases
  • Scarring and disfigurement that may require later plastic surgery
  • Eye or ear injury
  • Scratches and cuts
  • Injuries to face, neck and trunk
  • Injuries to extremities
  • Anxiety and panic, including post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Pain and suffering

Victims and their families may incur extensive medical costs, including physical and occupational therapies and mental health care, as well as lost wages and other financial strain.

Delaware has a dog bite statute that imposes strict liability on a dog owner for dog bite damages for injury, death or property loss caused by a dog unless the victim was doing any of three things at the time:

  • Trespassing or committing another crime, or attempting either of these, on the dog owner's property
  • Committing or attempting to commit a crime against any person
  • Teasing, abusing or tormenting the animal

Strict liability in this context means that for the owner to be liable, the victim does not have to prove that the owner was at fault in the incident or that the owner knew of any vicious tendencies of the particular dog. Even if the victim was negligent in some way, unless the behavior rose to the level of any of the three exceptions, the dog owner will still be strictly liable.

Any victim of a dog bite or with a loved one or child who was bitten should immediately seek legal advice from an experienced attorney to understand what legal remedies may be available, including a potential lawsuit under the dog bite statute or any other law.

With offices in Wilmington, Dear, Smyrna and Georgetown, Delaware, the personal injury lawyers of Weik, Nitsche & Dougherty represent dog bite victims and their families throughout the entire state.

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