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Advocates push for expansion of dog bite liability for owners

Dog owners have a responsibility to train their pets and keep them under control. It doesn't matter if they are in a public space, on their own property or on someone else's property -- if a dog is threatening and out of control, they can inflict serious injuries to unsuspecting victims.

Some Maryland residents have had to deal with neighbors who fail to take the necessary precautions with their dogs, presenting a risk for the whole neighborhood. What if a small child walked by that neighbor -- with a toy ball in hand, blissfully playing and unaware of the dog -- and was brutally attacked by the animal?

According to some states, if it is only the first time the dog attacked, the owner may not be liable (unless negligence was involved or the owner knew of the potential dangers posed by his or her pet). But some advocates are pushing for an expansion of owner liability in dog bite incidents or pet attacks.

One family in New York is at the center of this movement, after their then 5-year-old son was mauled by someone's dog. The attack happened when the boy tried to play fetch with the dog -- suddenly, the dog attacked and bit him all over his face and scalp. Three years after the incident, the now 8-year-old is still having surgeries to correct the facial deformities he suffered in the unfortunate incident.

Should their efforts prove successful, advocates of dog owners holding more liability in dog bite incidents could influence new laws across the country. At the very least, owners who have "dangerous dogs" or are proven to have negligently trained or handled their pet should be liable for a bite victim's medical expenses. No laws need to change for this to happen -- a personal injury suit can hold an owner accountable for their negligence.

Source: WNYT, "Young dogbite victim lobbies for tougher liability at NYS Capitol," June 14, 2012

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