Rabies is a disease so mythologized in popular culture, yet so rare in contemporary society that it can be easy to forget that it exists. However, rabies remains one of the most fatal diseases in the world, and transmission via animal bites is often the most common cause of an individual contracting the disease. Although suffering personal injury from a non-rabid dog is often reason enough to pursue litigation to recover compensation for damages incurred, the consequences of contracting rabies are catastrophic. Being bit by a rabid dog presents unique challenges and a more pressing need to employ the services of an experienced personal injury attorney. Read on for what Illinois residents should know about dog bites and rabies.
What is rabies?
Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). Mammals such as dogs and humans are the only species that can contract rabies. Cases of rabies in contemporary society are rare. According to the CDC, rabies cases have been on a steady decline for decades and only 1 to 3 cases are reported every year now, thanks to improved animal control. However, although it is extremely rare, the risk of rabies is extremely high. This disease has the highest mortality rate on earth, with 99.9 percent of cases proving fatal.
How is rabies spread?
Rabies spreads through saliva, which means that most often the virus is contracted from a bite wound suffered from an infected animal. When a bite penetrates the skin, the rabies virus can enter the bloodstream. Someone with an open wound can also contract the rabies virus if an infected animal licks the wound, spreading their saliva onto the injured person.
Who spreads rabies?
Rabies is more commonly found in wild animals such as skunks, bats, raccoons, and foxes. Domestic animals such as dogs and cats are often required to have a rabies vaccination, which makes the animal immune to the rabies virus. Pets or stray dogs who have not had an immunization are at risk for contracting the virus if they come into contact with an infected animal, and therefore a public health risk. These vaccinations are the best rabies prevention strategy out there.
How do I tell if a dog has rabies?
When a dog is bit by another animal, it is important to pay close attention to their behavior. Signs of potential rabies infection include a quick behavior change towards restlessness, irritability, and aggression. One uncommonly cited symptom is an uncharacteristic level of affection shown by the animal. Domestic dogs that are normally excited and personable may very quickly begin to appear relaxed and uninterested.
Physical signs of rabies in dogs that accompany a sudden behavior change include fever, difficulty swallowing, constant drooling, staggering/loss of balance, seizures, and even paralysis of the legs and neck. As the virus progresses it can cause sensory overstimulation, meaning the dog is likely to seek out dark and quiet places.
What should I do if I was bitten by a dog who might have rabies?
Rabies symptoms are not immediately apparent in animals after a bite incident. Most cases of rabies in dogs have a 21-80 day incubation period after initial exposure. Rabies cannot be treated once symptoms appear, so it is important to contact your doctor immediately after suffering a bite from a rabid animal. If your dog was bitten by an animal who may have rabies, contact a veterinarian immediately.
Do dog bites cause rabies?
To answer the question presented in the title of this article, dog bites in and of themselves do not cause rabies. However, when a person is bitten by a dog that already has rabies or the virus otherwise comes into contact with a healthy person’s bloodstream, it is possible to contract the deadly disease. Therefore, is it important for dog bite victims to seek medical care as soon as possible following a possible rabies transmission.
Treating Rabies in Humans
When an individual is bitten by a rabid dog, it is critical that they seek medical attention immediately. Treatment begins by inspecting and cleaning the bite wound. The physician will then likely begin a procedure known as postexposure prophylaxis (PEP). This procedure consists of administering a dose of human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) and a rabies vaccine given on the day of exposure, followed by a dose of vaccine given on days 3, 7, and 14. If people were previously vaccinated against rabies, they will receive only the vaccine.
Physicians will also tend to any other injuries suffered due to the dog bite, such as nerve or tendon lacerations or other infections. A tetanus shot may also be given to bite victims if they have not had one in over 10 years. Antibiotics and other treatments may be recommended by the doctor as well.
Depending on the dog bite victim’s level and access to health insurance coverage, the intervention and treatment involved in addressing rabies mitigation may or may not be covered. When it is not, a dog bite victim may be facing a significant financial burden that further necessitates the importance of discussing litigation with an experienced local personal injury attorney.
Understanding Dog Bite Laws in Illinois
When it comes to personal injury cases involving dog bites, Illinois state law abides by a doctrine of liability determination commonly referred to as “strict liability.” Under these statutes, the owner of the dog is often deemed liable for all damages incurred by the bite victim, provided that the victim was peacefully conducting himself or herself in a place where they were legally allowed to be and they were not attempting to provoke or attack the dog or owner in any way.
The nature of the state’s dog bite liability laws means that dog owners are typically liable for any injuries their dog causes to another person, even if the owner took all reasonable precautions in the moments leading up to the bite. As long as the dog bite victim was not trespassing or antagonizing the dog, they are likely to be eligible to receive financial compensation for expenses and damages incurred as a result if they elect to pursue civil litigation against the dog owner.
Damages Available to Dog Bite Victims
After suffering personal injury from a dog bite, victims are likely going to want to know their options for recovering compensation for damages incurred. Personal injury courts award two different types of damages in dog bite cases: compensatory damages and punitive damages.
Compensatory damages are the kind of financial compensation that dog bite victims commonly imagine when they discuss the litigation process with their personal injury attorney. This type of court-appointed award is meant to “compensate” the dog bite victim for any expenses they have realized as a result of the dog bite. This often includes the costs of medical care, lost wages from time taken off work including potential future losses of income, “pain and suffering,” and quality of life changes that may inhibit the individual from returning to the same level of functioning that they knew before the incident.
Punitive damages are the other common type of compensation awarded by civil personal injury courts. Punitive damages are meant to “punish” the dog owner in cases where their negligence is clearly reckless and dangerous. Punitive damages are not awarded in every personal injury case, but reserved only for those cases where gross levels of negligence are apparent.
In cases where a dog owner knew their dog had rabies but failed to take the proper steps to mitigate the situation, this level of negligence is likely to warrant courts to award punitive damages as well as compensatory damages. Due to the high mortality rate of rabies and the need for immediate intervention, a dog owner failing to properly handle the situation could easily be construed as grossly negligent in the eyes of a personal injury court.
Statute of Limitations for Dog Bite Cases in Illinois
When someone is bit by a dog that has rabies, the initial trauma of the experience combined with the need for extensive medical treatment can take priority over navigating the legal processes involved in pursuing litigation against the dog owner. Dog bite victims in Illinois should nevertheless be aware of the statute of limitations for filing a case with the state’s civil courts.
In Illinois, the statute of limitations for dog bite cases is generally two years from the date of the bite or other injury. A minor will have until her 20th birthday. As always, consultation with an experienced local personal injury attorney is the best course of action to review how prospective plaintiffs should proceed.
Getting Professional Legal Counsel
Suffering personal injury from a rabid dog bite presents unique challenges for both the plaintiff and their legal team. For years, the attorneys at Palermo Law Group have been helping dog bite victims in Oak Brook and throughout Chicagoland as they navigate the process of pursuing litigation to recover monetary compensation for their injuries. Contact Palermo Law Group today to discuss your case and receive expert consultation on how to proceed.