How Compensation Works if You Were Bit by a Dog That Did Not Have Its Shots

Key Points: 

  • Georgia requires dog owners to vaccinate their dogs against Rabies 
  • Dog owners may be held liable for damages if their animal attacks and injures someone 
  • Additional liability may be ordered if the dog is not vaccinated causing the victim to undergo expensive and potentially painful treatment for possible rabies exposure 
  • Dog bite cases can be complicated and victims might benefit from consulting with an experienced attorney 

Dog bites can happen. Whether it’s a playful nip that goes wrong or an all-out attack by a stray, these incidents can be scary and pose serious health risks. While the potential for injury often comes to mind, a hidden danger lurks beneath the surface – the transmission of diseases like rabies and others. Understanding these risks and the importance of dog vaccination is crucial for both pet owners and other Georgians. 

Deadly Threats Associated with Unvaccinated Dogs 

Georgia law requires that dog owners vaccinate their animals against Rabies at a minimum. Dog owners who do not meet this responsibility are not fulfilling their obligation to others according to Georgia law and are negligently putting others at risk 

Rabies: At the top of the list is rabies, a viral infection of the central nervous system almost always fatal once symptoms appear. Transmitted through saliva, dog bites are the primary mode of human rabies transmission in many parts of the world. The journey of the virus from bite to brain is slow, offering a window for intervention with post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), a series of vaccinations and immune globulin injections. However, if left untreated, rabies progresses to excruciating neurological symptoms and ultimately death.  

Other Recommended Vaccinations 

Although rabies usually dominates the conversation, there are several other illnesses transmitted through dog bites. The following examples highlight the importance of responsible pet ownership and seeking medical attention after any dog bite, regardless of perceived severity. 

Pasteurella multocida, a common bacterium in dogs’ mouths, can cause anything from minor skin infections to life-threatening blood infections.  

Capnocytophaga canimorsus, another bacterial offender, can also lead to serious infections, especially in people with weakened immune systems.  

Tetanus although not exclusively transmitted through bites, tetanus spores present in a dog’s mouth can cause the potentially fatal muscle-locking disease.  

Dangerous Infections from Dog Bites are Preventable 

The good news is that these dangers are largely preventable. When dog owners fail to vaccinate their animal against rabies and other core diseases they fail to fulfill a vital responsibility to the community. Regular vaccinations significantly reduce the risk of transmission, offering peace of mind and safeguarding public health. Dog owners must be proactive by understanding the dangers of unvaccinated dogs. 

Vaccinations Required by Law 

In Georgia, the only vaccination required by law for domestic dogs is rabies. This requirement is outlined in the Rabies Control Law-O.C.G.A. -31- 19. 

In Georgia, pet owners must at minimum, vaccinate their cats and dogs against rabies by a licensed veterinarian. 

Booster shots such as rabies vaccinations must be renewed regularly. Just because a dog has a tag indicating that he has been vaccinated, for your own health and safety, you must assume that he may not be up-to-date on his booster shots. 

  • For adult dogs, the initial rabies vaccination is good for one year. Subsequent boosters follow the veterinarian’s recommendation and the national Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control. 
  • After the initial one-year shot, most adult dogs receive the rabies vaccination every three years. 

If dog owners fail to ensure their dogs are properly vaccinated, they fail the entire community. 

How to Be Sure of a Dog’s Vaccination Status 

Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof way for a dog bite victim to know immediately if the attacking animal has been properly vaccinated and is up-to-date on his booster shots. Several factors influence the situation, and it’s best to prioritize immediate actions after a bite regardless of the dog’s vaccination status. Here’s what you need to know: 

Seek medical attention immediately: Regardless of the dog’s vaccination status, dog bites can carry various bacteria and viruses that require medical attention. Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, and get it checked by a doctor or medical professional for proper cleaning, treatment, and possible stitches. 

Report the bite: Even if you consider the bite to be insignificant, immediately inform animal control or the appropriate authorities about the bite incident. They have the resources to help locate the dog and its owner, discover the animal’s vaccination status and initiate necessary measures based on local regulations. 

What’s Next? 

After you have taken steps to have the dog bite victim seen by a medical professional, the work of gathering important evidence to help in any legal action that might become necessary. 

  • If possible, gather information about the owner and the dog’s breed. This will help the authorities locate the animal and assess the situation. 
  • It might not be advisable to look for any identification tags on the agitated dog’s collar. However, if it’s possible, dog collars and tags might contain the owner’s contact information or a rabies vaccination tag. 
  • Inquire with neighbors or witnesses and ask them if they recognized the dog or its owner. 
  • If you can identify the owner, ask them for proof of the dog’s rabies vaccination. Reputable owners likely have documentation readily available. 
  • Animal control or public health officials can access information about the dog’s vaccination status if it’s registered and licensed. In some cases, they might quarantine the animal for observation to rule out rabies infection.  

Your lawyer will also help with gathering this documentation and evidence. 

young belgian shepherd

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Seeking Medical Attention: 

Mere contact with the saliva of an infected dog can lead to health issues and possible complications. Even if the dog appears healthy and vaccinated, seeking medical attention after a bite is crucial. While rabies is a significant concern, other infections transmitted through dog bites can also be serious. Prompt medical attention ensures proper wound care, reduces the risk of infection, and allows for appropriate rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) if necessary. 

Remember, your health must be your top priority. Don’t delay seeking medical attention even if you suspect the dog is vaccinated. The authorities can handle verifying the animal’s vaccination status while you ensure your well-being. 

If you are attacked and bitten by a dog do these things immediately 

  • Clean the wound thoroughly: Wash the bite wound with soap and water for at least 5 minutes. Apply gentle pressure to stop any bleeding
  • Seek immediate medical attention: Even if the bite seems minor, it’s crucial to see a doctor or go to the emergency room as soon as possible. 
  • Report the incident to animal control officials 

What to Expect From Dog Bite Treatment Protocols 

Wound evaluation and cleaning: The doctor will assess the severity of the bite and clean the wound further, potentially removing damaged tissue. 

Tetanus shot: If you haven’t had a recent tetanus shot, you will likely receive one. 

Antibiotics: To prevent infection, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics. 

Rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP): If the biting dog is unvaccinated or unknown, you will likely need PEP, which involves a series of rabies shots and rabies immune globulin injections. 

What is PEP? 

Rabies is virtually 100 percent FATAL once symptoms develop. It is essential that medical intervention is initiated as soon as possible. 

Rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a series of medical interventions aimed at preventing rabies infection after potential exposure to the rabies virus. While the type and severity of the wound can influence the specific PEP regimen, it doesn’t directly impact the overall cost in most cases. Here’s why: 

Standard PEP protocol: The initial doses and types of medications used in PEP, especially HRIG, primarily depend on the exposure category (bite, scratch, and lick) and not the wound severity. For example, Category III exposures (bites from high-risk animals) require a full dose of HRIG, regardless of the bite severity. 

Dosage variations: Minor adjustments in vaccine doses based on wound severity might occur. In rare cases, deeper bites leading to higher risk might require extra doses of rabies vaccine, but this wouldn’t significantly affect the overall cost compared to the HRIG and standard vaccine series. 

PEP Treatments  

Treatment protocols for rabies involve two main components: 

1. Human Rabies Immune Globulin (HRIG): 

  • This is a concentrated solution of antibodies specifically targeting the rabies virus. It is injected around the wound site (if a bite or scratch) or intravenously depending on the exposure type. 
  • HRIG neutralizes any rabies virus particles present at the exposure site, preventing them from reaching the nervous system and causing infection. 

2. Rabies Vaccine: 

  • This vaccine helps your body develop its own immunity against the rabies virus. 
  • It’s usually administered as a series of four injections in the arm muscle on days 0, 3, 7, and 14 after exposure. 
  • The vaccine triggers your immune system to produce antibodies that can recognize and eliminate the rabies virus if it enters your body in the future. 

Treatment Costs for PEP 

The costs of HRIG and rabies vaccine are largely determined by their fixed price per dose, not directly influenced by the bite severity. Hospital or clinic fees might vary depending on services rendered, but they’re not directly tied to wound severity either. 

Nevertheless, there are some indirect factors that could influence the cost depending on the wound severity: 

  • Additional treatment: If the bite requires extensive cleaning, stitching, or other medical interventions due to severity that could add to the overall cost. 
  • Hospitalization needs: In rare cases, severe bites requiring extended hospitalization or specialized care could elevate the total cost. 

Overall, while wound severity might lead to minor adjustments in the PEP regimen, it doesn’t generally have a significant direct impact on the overall cost of rabies PEP treatment. The primary cost drivers are the fixed prices of HRIG and rabies vaccine, alongside any additional medical interventions needed specifically for the wound itself. 

Here’s a general estimated range of what you might expect to pay for rabies PEP treatment in the United States. Naturally, costs can vary however a victim without insurance may expect to pay from $3,800 to $20,000. A person who has insurance coverage may expect to pay from $500 to $5,000 depending upon the details of their coverage. 

Can Dog Bite Attacks Result in an Insurance Claim Against the Dog’s Owner? 

In Georgia, dog bite victims can potentially obtain compensation from the dog owner. Here’s a breakdown of the relevant laws and considerations: 

Georgia Dog Bite Laws: 

Strict Liability: In the context of dog bites, strict liability means that a dog owner can be held legally responsible for their dog’s actions, even if the owner wasn’t negligent (careless). This is different from traditional negligence law, which requires proving the owner’s fault. 

Here’s how strict liability applies to dog bite cases in Georgia: 

Georgia follows a modified version of the “one-bite rule.” This means dog owners are strictly liable for injuries caused by their dog’s bite if they knew or should have known the dog was dangerous. 

To establish this, the victim will need to prove: 

  • The dog had a “vicious propensity”: This means the dog had shown aggressive behavior in the past, like biting or threatening to bite someone. 
  • The owner knew or should have known: This could be proven through past incidents, the dog’s breed (if relevant to local ordinances), or the owner’s actions (e.g., keeping a known aggressive dog off-leash). 

However, even without proving a “vicious propensity,” Georgia offers alternative ways to hold an owner liable: 

  • Violation of leash laws: If the dog wasn’t on a leash as required by local ordinances, the owner can be held strictly liable regardless of the dog’s history. 
  • Negligence: If the owner was careless in handling the dog (e.g., leaving it unattended in an unsecured area), they could be liable for negligence even if the dog didn’t have a known history of aggression. 
  • One-Bite Rule: The “one bite rule” says that an owner is only liable for their dog’s bite if the dog had bitten someone before. The “one-bite rule” does not apply in Georgia. This strengthens the victim’s case as they don’t need to prove prior aggressive behavior by the dog. Instead, Georgia has a modified one-bite rule, which means dog owners can be held liable for their dog’s bite under certain circumstances, even if the dog has never bitten anyone before. Here’s how it works: 
  • Dog owner knew the dog was vicious: If the owner knew or should have known that their dog was vicious, they can be held liable for any bite, regardless of previous incidents. 
  • Dog was unleashed or not properly restrained: If the dog was unleashed or not properly restrained (e.g., on a leash but not held by the owner) at the time of the bite, the owner can be held liable, even if the dog wasn’t previously considered vicious. 
  • Attack was unprovoked: The victim did not provoke the dog in any way. 

This means that even if a dog has never bitten anyone before, the owner could still be held liable if they violated leash laws or the dog bit someone unprovoked. 

Types of Compensation: 

The following costs and damages may be compensated in Georgia dog bite settlements

  • Medical expenses: Current and future medical costs related to the bite and its treatment 
  • Lost wages: Compensation for income lost due to the injury and recovery 
  • Pain and suffering: Compensation for physical and emotional pain caused by the bite and any complications that follow 
  • Other damages: This could include property damage, scarring, disfigurement, etc 

Factors Affecting Compensation: 

The amount of the compensation awarded will be dependent upon some factors including the ones below. 

  • Severity of injuries: More severe injuries resulting in long-term impacts generally lead to higher compensation. 
  • Dog’s history: Evidence of previous bites or aggressive behavior strengthens the case against the owner. 
  • Victim’s behavior: If the victim is seen to have provoked the dog, it could potentially reduce their compensation amount. 

Seeking Compensation 

Whether or not you think you might need to seek compensation following a dog-bite incident, it’s a good idea to plan for all contingencies. Infection and complications following a dog bite are common and can cause costs and damages to soar. To protect yourself, it’s advisable to do the following: 

  • Seek immediate medical attention: This is crucial for both health and documentation of injuries. 
  • Report the bite: Inform animal control for official records and potential quarantine of the dog. 
  • Gather evidence: Document the incident with photos, witness statements, and medical records. 
  • Consult an attorney: A lawyer specializing in personal injury can assess your case and guide you through the legal process. 

Justin was a complete pleasure, he answered all my questions without hesitation. He was very knowledgeable and helpful. I took time to write this review because his friendliness is unmatched and I truly appreciated him for taking the time out to assist me with my court proceedings. Thank you, Justin.

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At The Millar Law Firm we always urge clients to consult with an attorney following a dog bite incident. You should know what your options are, what information you’ll need to gather, and how an insurance claim might proceed. By being forearmed, you will be better prepared to protect yourself and your family from the consequences of dog bites. 

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