A recent article in the esteemed Madison-St. Clair Record describes a lawsuit where Ms. Betty Bishop filed a claim against property owners Jim and Berniece Hayes because one of the bison on their J-H Bison Ranch “attacked” Ms. Bishop and fractured her tibia and fibula, among other injuries. It’s not clear what if anything Ms. Bishop did to provoke the attack, but the suit did not settle out of court and it looks like it could be heading to an Illinois jury for consideration. I can’t imagine the opening statements in that trial and, frankly, the suit initially sounded absurd on its face. But then I thought about it. The woman did break her leg in two places. That’s a very serious injury not to mention the emotional trauma of an attack like that.
So, apart from staying away from hyper-territorial bison, there is a lesson to be learned here, especially for dog owners: Know your animal and know what his or her triggers are. Is your dog afraid of public places? Does your dog have food insecurity issues? Is your dog good around children? Is your dog good around other dogs?
Dog attacks are extremely scary and can be very physically traumatizing. According to DogsBite.org, 38 people died from dog attacks in 2012. (The website even cites to a series of macabre news articles outlining the details of each person’s death.)
According to Colorado dog bite law, “a person . . . who suffers serious bodily injury or death from being bitten by a dog while lawfully on public or private property shall be entitled to bring a civil action to recover economic damages against the dog owner regardless of the viciousness or dangerous propensities of the dog or the dog owner’s knowledge or lack of knowledge of the dog’s viciousness or dangerous propensities.”
This means that even if the owner didn’t know that the dog was capable of attacking he could still be sued if the injured party suffered “serious bodily injury.” What’s especially interesting about Colorado dog bite law is that it actually cites to the Colorado criminal code for its definition of “serious bodily injury.”
Under Colorado dog bite law, “serious bodily injury” means bodily injury which, either at the time of the actual injury or at a later time, involves a substantial risk of death, a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement, a substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, or breaks, fractures, or burns of the second or third degree.
Note that there need only be a risk of serious permanent disfigurement at the time of the injury, not actual serious permanent disfigurement.
The moral of the story is this: know your dog and be careful when you’re introducing your dog to new people or social situations. Otherwise, you might find yourself on the wrong side of a lawsuit.