Dog Bites

Dog attacks represent some of the most gruesome personal injuries that are suffered, particularly where a child is involved (as is often the case). In its most recent study, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that at least 27 people died as the result of dog bite attacks (18 people in 1997 and 9 in 1998; See Dog Bite Data). Of 27 human dog bite related fatalities (DBRF), 19 (70%) were children (1 was 30 days old, 3 were between 7 and 11 months old, 9 were between 1 and 4 years old, and 6 were between 5 and 11 years old), and 8 were adults (ages 17, 44, 64, 70, 73, 75, 75, and 87). It is important to teach children to be safe around dogs to prevent these catastrophic events from occurring.

Oklahoma has a strict liability dog bite statute that states that the owner of a dog is liable for damages inflicted by his/her dog if it bites a person who is either in a public place or lawfully on the dog owner's property (invitee or guest). 4 Okl. St. § 42.1. The dog owner is liable regardless of whether the dog had ever been vicious before and regardless of whether the owner had reason to believe it would behave in a vicious manner. The dog does not get "one free bite". The only defenses to the strict liability statute arise where the injured party provoked the dog 4 Okl. St. § 42.1. In essence, the dog’s owner is an insurer of the dog.

If a stray bites you, you have little legal recourse because you must file your claim against a dog's owner or keeper. Your municipality is not responsible for the dog, even if you have called the animal warden several times to pick up the stray.

Preventing Dog Bites

An estimated 4.5 million persons in the United States are bitten by dogs each year. Of these, roughly 800,000 persons sought medical care for the bite. Almost half of those seeking medical care were children under the age of 12. Children are often bitten on the face, and any bite can cause severe injury or infection. Children's small size may cause a dog to act in a dominant way toward a child. Many children's lack of judgment and ignorance about how to behave around a dog and their inability to fend off an attack can add to the risk. It is very important that parents closely supervise children when around dogs. You can reduce the chances of children in your care being bitten or injured by a dog if you teach them some basic safety tips: 

  • Never approach an unfamiliar dog.
  • Never run from a dog and scream.
  • Stay still when an unfamiliar dog comes up to you ("be still like a tree").
  • If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and lie still ("be like a log").
  • Do not look a dog in the eye.
  • Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
  • Do not pet a dog without letting it see and sniff you first.
  • Never play with a dog unless supervised by an adult.
  • Never leave an infant or child alone with any dog.
  • Teach your dog submissive behaviors, like rolling over to show its stomach.
  • Do not play aggressive games with your dog, such as wrestling.
  • Seek medical care for any serious dog bite and report all dog attacks.
  • Support animal-control programs in your community and the enforcement of local laws regulating dangerous or vicious dogs.
  • Support dog bite prevention educational programs in schools.
  • Get the advice of a veterinarian about the right breed of dog if you are thinking about getting a family dog.
  • Spay or neuter your dog, this often reduces its aggressive tendencies.
  • Be sure all pets are properly immunized.
  • Seek a veterinarian's advice quickly if your dog becomes aggressive.