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St. Louis Dog Bites: The Basics

You were tired of running in the gym, so you and your sister decided to jog in Carondelet Park instead. The fresh air was intoxicating and you were so happy to be off the treadmill. You had gone about two miles and had already caught up on your sister's latest work drama when all of a sudden a brown Rottweiler started running after you, barking. You tried to ignore it at first, but it wouldn't stop. Next thing you knew, it caught up to you and nipped you in the back of your calf. It didn't seem like much at first, but as you looked you saw that it had punctured the skin and was bleeding. What do you do now? What can you expect? Here is some information to help you navigate your dog bite in St. Louis.

First Steps

Immediately following a dog bite you should make sure to clean any wounds and attend to any medical needs. It is also a good idea to gather any information you can about the dog and the bite. This would include things like the dog's color, breed and size, owner's name and contact information and any witnesses to the incident. You may also wish to take pictures of your wounds and preserve any damaged clothing. Finally, it is generally recommended that you make a report to the St. Louis Animal Regulation Center and the St. Louis Police Department.

Bringing Legal Action

In many situations dog bite cases are resolved informally through insurance claims (e.g. homeowner's or automobile) to all parties' satisfaction. However, you may wish to at least consult with a personal injury lawyer to ensure that you are receiving all of the compensation that is due.

If you decide to pursue legal action, bear in mind that there are time limitations ("statutes of limitations") within which you must file your claim or be forever barred from doing so. For personal injury claims in Missouri, you generally have 5 years. You will likely file your claim in the St. Louis County Circuit Court, and, if your damages are $5000 or less, in its small claims division.

The Dog Owner's Liability

In some states, a dog owner can only be held liable (legally responsible) for injuries his dog inflicts when the owner is aware of the dog's dangerous propensities. Other states impose "strict liability" on dog owners.

Missouri is a strict liability state. According to Missouri law, the owner or possessor of a dog that, without provocation, bites someone on public property or lawfully on private property is strictly liable for the damages "regardless of the former viciousness of the dog" or the "knowledge of such viciousness."

This means essentially that whether or not the dog was previously vicious or whether or not the dog owner knew of such propensity is irrelevant to the issue of liability. If you can establish simply that the dog bit you without provocation while you were on public property or lawfully on private premises, the dog owner must pay your damages (economic compensation for your injuries).

Note, too, that if the dog has also bitten in the past, the owner can be criminally liable as well.

Your Liability

If you were partially at fault for the dog bite, your damages will be reduced in proportion to your fault. So, for example, if your damages were $10,000 and you were determined to be 30% at fault, you would be able to recover only $7,000 (or 70%).

In addition, under the plain language of the statute, strict liability will not apply if you provoked the dog and/or were unlawfully on private premises.

What Damages Are Available?

Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be entitled to medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and property damage.

What Happens To The Dog?

According to the St. Louis Revised Code, dog bites shall be reported to Animal Control who will supervise the isolation and observation of the animal for 10 days for signs of rabies. If there are no such signs, the owner must pay a release fee and the dog may be released after being spayed/neutered and micro-chipped for identification.

Under Missouri law, if the dog bite causes serious injury or death, or if this the second time the dog has bitten, the dog "shall be seized immediately" by Animal Control or the county sheriff and impounded. Thereafter, 10 days after the dog owner is given written notification, the dog will be destroyed.

The owner does have the opportunity within those 10 days to file a written appeal to the circuit court to contest the impoundment and destruction of the dog and a hearing will be set within 30 days on the issue.

Dog Bites While Working

If you were working at the time you were bitten by a dog, you may have both a workers' compensation claim against your employer as well as a personal injury action against the dog's owner. For the workers' compensation claim, be sure to report your injury immediately to your employer. You may refer to the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations website for more information about your Missouri workers' compensation claim.

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