What To Do If a Dog Attacks Your Child

child attacked by a dog

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are bitten or attacked by dogs in Indiana and throughout the country. In fact, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reveals that, in a single year, more than 316,000 dog bites resulted in emergency room visits. Sadly, many of these dog bites involve attacks against children. If your child is the one attacked, you should learn more about why the attack may have occurred, steps you can take in the immediate aftermath and your legal rights.

Why Do Dogs Bite?

Dogs bite for many different reasons. Some dogs are inherently aggressive, whether due to neurological disorders, breeding or other reasons. However, more often than not, the primary reason for dog attacks is that the owner failed to do a good job of caring for the animal. For instance, dog bites may occur because the owner:

  • Failed to adequately train the animal
  • Neglected to properly monitor and supervise the animal
  • Trained the animal to be vicious and aggressive
  • Failed to keep the animal on a leash or otherwise restrained.

In many cases, an adult or child has no warning before a violent dog attack occurs. Other times, a person may be able to pick up on subtle hints. Here are some red flags to watch for:

  • Ears pinned back – This may be a sign that the dog is preparing to attack or feels threatened.
  • Growling or snarling – Usually, this is a clear sign that the dog is upset and may bite.
  • Showing teeth – Dogs use their teeth as a warning to other animals. It’s a sign of dominance and a way to scare other animals away from a fight.
  • Prior bites or near-bites – If a dog has bitten people before, you should avoid letting your children play with it – period. A dog that has bitten people before is simply not safe for children.

Steps to Take After a Dog Attacks Your Child

If a dog bites your child, and you are present at the time, here are some things you should do. If your child is old enough to understand, you should teach him or her to follow these basic steps:

  • Don’t run – Many dogs (especially larger breeds) may see a toddler or smaller child as fair game. A child may look and move like a smaller animal, making the dog want to give chase. Instead of running, the child should face the dog, avoid eye contact and back away slowly. If possible, you should try to get between the dog and your child and stand tall. Dogs usually are less likely to attack a larger target. If you run, the dog will see it as an invitation to chase.
  • Move slowly – Fast movements may be threatening to the dog. So, your child should try to avoid the instinct to run or make sudden movements. Tell your child to use a calm tone and continue talking in a soothing and reassuring voice. Most domesticated dogs are used to hearing this tone from an owner, and it can trigger less aggressive behaviors.
  • Don’t be aggressive – Unless being aggressive is absolutely necessary, a child should refrain from fighting the dog or using threatening movements to “scare” or “intimidate” the animal. Remember: Dogs are not people. Hyper-aggressive posturing may scare a human, but for a dog, it can trigger the fight or flight mechanism and make the dog extremely violent.
  • Seek medical attention – As soon as you and your child have made it to a safe place, call 911 and have the police and EMS services come to the scene. Taking your child straight to the emergency room may be preferable. However, there are many benefits to having paramedics and police come to the scene. Many times, this helps when it comes to creating an accurate police report and documentation of the event.
  • Get all reports from police or animal control – After your child has received emergency medical treatment at a hospital, be sure to keep all paperwork you receive. This includes records from animal control and any police incident report.
  • Keep everything – Keep the clothes that your child wore on the day of the attack, witness contact information, insurance company letters or e-mails and everything else connected with the dog bite or attack.

Indiana Dog Bite Laws

Indiana generally follows what is called the “one-bite” rule. Under this rule, a dog owner cannot be held liable for a dog bite or attack unless the owner knew or reasonably should have known of the dog’s propensity to bite or attack others. For instance, the owner may have witnessed the dog’s attack of a person or may have actually trained the dog to attack or act aggressively.

If a dog attacks an adult, the adult may be deemed to be responsible in whole or in part for his or her injuries if it can be shown that the adult provoked or otherwise contributed to the attack. Under Indiana’s comparative fault rule, a person can still recover damages in a personal injury claim so long as the person is no more than 50 percent at fault. However, when it comes to children, it is much harder for a dog owner to claim that the child’s negligence contributed in any way to the dog attack.

Additionally, if a dog owner violates a local animal control ordinance, or “leash law,” and that violation leads to a dog attack on a child, the owner may be held liable for any harm which the dog causes. For instance, a local ordinance may require owners to keep their dogs “under restraint.” If a dog owner fails to follow that law, and a dog attacks a child as a result, the dog owner may be liable for the child’s injuries.

Our Fort Wayne Dog Bite Attorneys Can Help You

You should never try to resolve a dog bite insurance claim on your own. Instead, get help from Truitt Law Offices. For more than 40 years, we have protected the rights of dog bite victims and their families throughout Indiana. We can provide a free consultation today through our offices in Fort Wayne, Huntington and Indianapolis. Contact us today to learn more about your rights and options.

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About the Author

Phil Truitt joined Truitt Law Offices in 2018 after he earned his J.D. from Ohio Northern University Ohio Northern Pettit College of Law. However, his association with the law firm dates all the way back to childhood. His father, Richard, established the firm over 40 years ago. Growing up, Phil…