A Washington State man’s family has filed a wrongful death suit following a fatal dog bite. Kenneth Bock was bitten on the hand by a dog and suffered what seemed to be a minor bite. The following day Mr. Bock developed leg pain and went to the hospital where he was diagnosed with Capnocytophaga canimorsus sepsis. Capnocytophaga canimorus is a gram negative bacterium commonly found in the mouths of dogs and sepsis is a condition where infection overwhelms the blood stream and attacks the entire body. Within ten days of his bite Mr. Bock died.
Most States have a variation of the “first bite” rule for dealing with an owner’s responsibility of animal attacks. Under the traditional “first bite” rule, a dog owner gets a free pass the first time his dog bites someone. However, when the dog bites again the owner will be held responsible. The concept is, once your dog bites someone you gain knowledge of it’s “dangerous propensity.” Where I practice, Georgia, you can be held responsible in one of two ways 1) when you have knowledge of your dog’s “dangerous propensity” or 2) when you are in violation of a leash law. In the Bock case, the family’s lawsuit alleges the dog’s veterinary records show the dog had bitten before and that the dog was unleashed when he bit the victim.
According to the Seattle Times, the insurance company refused to pay the full limits of the homeowner’s policy so the family filed suit. This is not uncommon. Even with wrongful death claims, insurance companies usually offer very little to settle these cases prior to suit being filed. Most insurance companies want to wait and see if the victim’s family has a wrongful death attorney that is prepared to take the case to a jury trial before they will begin to offer a reasonable settlement value. From my experience, most of these cases settle once the evidence is developed proving liability, the cause of death, and the economic and non-economic value of the victim’s life.