Here in Nebraska, dogs are considered personal property and the law is very strict about who’s responsible if your dog injures a person or another animal.
“Many dog owners simply aren’t aware that they are strictly liable and therefore responsible for damages if their dog kills, wounds, worries or chases a person or another pet, causing harm,” said Omaha accident attorney, Richard Rensch. An owner’s strict liability is based on Nebraska Revised Statutes § 54-601, according to Rensch.
Rensch and his partner and son, Sean Rensch, have successfully fought for the rights of dog bite victims for more than 40 years in their Omaha and Columbus, Nebraska law practice, Rensch and Rensch Law.
“We recently successfully argued a case in Omaha where a woman was walking Pablo, her pet Chihuahua mix, on a leash, when a Pit bull dashed out of a yard and proceeded to attack the little dog, causing massive internal injuries. Pablo’s owner also injured her hand trying to break up the attack,” said Rensch.
The owners of the Pit bull had homeowner’s insurance, which covered the woman’s injuries. But the insurance company initially refused to pay the emergency veterinary expenses to save Pablo’s life, and his subsequent veterinary care – all totaling more than $8,000. In addition, Pablo’s owner had to take time off of work to nurse her beloved dog of 7 years back to health, adding $2,300 to the owner’s damages.
“In fact, the homeowner’s insurance company asked the judge to dismiss the case, saying that Pablo’s life had little to no value because he was a 9 year old mixed breed mutt that was obtained from the shelter,” said Sean Rensch, a passionate dog owner. The carrier argued the Pit bull owner was not required to pay such damages for treatment of a dog with no market value.
The insurance company compared Pablo’s life to that of a damaged aging auto. In Nebraska, a negligent driver is protected from paying anything in excess of the fair market value of a damaged car. If cost of repair exceeds fair market value – the auto is totaled and fair market value is all that is owed.
The cost to treat Pablo far exceeded his fair market value. Once Rensch and Rensch Law got involved and filed suit, the insurance company backed down and paid all damages. The senior Rensch speculated that someday the Nebraska appellate courts will be forced to decide the issue. “Pablo’s owner amusingly now refers to the firm as, “Rensch and Rensch Law – Omaha’s Dog Bite Attorneys,” said Rensch.
There are some exceptions to the dog owner’s strict liability rule. Strict liability does not apply to injuries that are suffered due to playful acts of a dog or for injuries that result from a dog being intentionally provoked.
According to the National Canine Research Council, there were more than 31 incidents of dog bite related fatalities in 2012 across the U.S. While there’s no way of knowing how many dog bites there are each year, the Nebraska Humane Society takes reports of more than 200 bites each year.
In 2012, Labrador retrievers were responsible for 92 bites in Omaha. German shepherds were involved in 46 bites of humans, boxers, 41, and Chihuahuas, 32. Each year, children are among the highest number of victims, often suffering painful wounds to their faces.