The yearly number of fatal dog bites in the United States has risen from approximately 17 in the 1980s and 1990s to a total of 34 in 2010. That rising number can be easily correlated to a similar increase in the number of dog bite liability lawsuits and payouts.
U.S. insurance companies paid more than $479 million in dog bite claims in 2011, although relatively few of those claims came from Hawaii, which ranks second-to-last in the U.S. for number of claims and payout amounts. California, home to the highest number of dogs and people, ranked highest.
The Centers for Disease Control says approximately 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year, with about 800,000 of those cases seeking medical attention. May was National Dog Bite Prevention Month, and was promoted by the CDC, American Veterinary Medical Association, and the U.S. Postal Service, which paid over $1 million in dog bite related medical expenses in 2011.
Children aged five to nine are the largest at-risk group for dog bites, followed by senior citizens and postal carriers. Children make up half of all dog bite victims, with half of those victims being bitten in the face.
Hawaii is a “one-bite” state, meaning that a dog owner faces liability for damages from a dog bite even if a dog bites only once, without a history of attacks. In the event of intent, neglect, abuse, or recklessness, dog owners may face punitive damages in addition to the costs of medical treatment, lost wages, pain and suffering and property damage.
Property owners in Hawaii are required by law to take reasonable care to control pets and warn of any danger they pose on the property. Dog owners are advised to properly care for their pets with the appropriate amount of attention, food and exercise. Spaying or neutering a dog can also reduce the risk of an attack.
Tips for avoiding dog bites include not approaching a strange dog, or a dog that is tethered, eating, sleeping, or caring for puppies. Children should not be left alone with a dog. Dogs have a natural instinct to chase and catch, so running past a dog could poses a threat of attack. Always ask permission from a dog’s owner before petting it, and allow it to see and sniff you before petting it.