October 16, 2017

Legal News You Can Use: Man’s Best Friend (?) and the Law

Dog with LeashThe state of Connecticut is very strict about the keeping of dogs.  In addition to requiring all dogs to be licensed and leashed, Connecticut has what is known as strict liability as to injury that may be caused by man’s best friend.  Section 22-357 of the Statutes provides:

“If any dog does any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper … shall be liable for such damage except when such damage has been occasioned to the body or property of a person … who was committing a trespass or other tort or when the person was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog.”

So, the law specifies that the dog has the right to defend its owner’s property against a trespasser and no one has the right to abuse a dog.  This is called Strict Liability, because if a dog causes harm, the victim does not have to prove that the dog was of “known vicious propensities” as is required in some states.  Or as it is known in those states, “the dog is entitled to its first bite.”

Connecticut’s Strict Liability law only applies to the owner or keeper of the dog.  However, victims of dog bites are not limited to the owner or keeper of the dog.  If the victim can show another person, e.g., a landlord, was aware of a known vicious dog kept by his tenant, the landlord could be held personally responsible, similar to the other states described above.  This is called the common law.

Insurance

Homeowner’s insurance has traditionally provided coverage for injuries caused by the owner’s dog.  However, with the growing popularity of special breed dogs, e.g., Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Akitas, etc. more insurance companies are excluding such breeds from coverage or excluding all dogs completely.

Apartment dwellers can also obtain tenant’s insurance with the possibility of exclusions as in homeowner’s insurance.  Of course, where these are such exclusions, special endorsements to include dogs can be obtained, for an extra premium, of course.

Damages

The usual cases we see arise from dog bites which can be quite serious.  Risk of infection, even rabies is always a possibility – therefore any dog bite should be reported to the dog warden/animal control officer/police so the dog can be quarantined for the proper length of time.  Medical attention should be sought immediately, especially if the skin is broken.

Next the identity of the dog and its owner should be obtained – from its license and/or the Town Clerk.

Any witnesses should be identified and contact information be obtained.

Next, any injury should be photographed.  Frequently, we employ a professional photographer because scarring and disfigurement are difficult to portray accurately and realistically.

Cosmetic surgery may be required or recommended.  This may be problematic for children as surgery may have to wait until their teens.  Meanwhile, children must live with scars and disfigurement, which can be psychologically traumatizing.

There will be medical bills, which, if paid for by health care insurance, may have to be reimbursed.  Future medical costs also may have to be considered.

So although a dog may be man’s best friend, it’s usually your own dog, not the other guy’s dog.

Editor’s Notes: i) Attorney Matthew Shafner is a Director at Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law in New London, and a nationally recognized lawyer in the fields of personal injury, asbestos injury, maritime injury and workers compensation law. Contact him at mshafner@sswbgg.com or (860) 442-4416.
ii) Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law is the largest law firm in eastern Connecticut, serving the community for over 75 years with a wide range of legal services.  For more information, visit suismanshapiro.com or call 860-460-0875.  Suisman Shapiro is located a 2 Union Plaza, P.O. Box 1591, New London, CT  06320.

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Legal News You Can Use: Choosing Quality Nursing Home Care

Choosing a nursing home for a loved one requires careful research.

Choosing a nursing home for a loved one requires careful research.

As our population ages so does the need for safe and healthy nursing home care.  Whether the purpose is to treat physical ailments, provide rehabilitation, or care for a patient dealing with dementia, nursing homes are here to stay – even with alternatives like assisted living and home care assistance.  So how do we choose the right nursing home for our loved ones?

Of course, the first consideration may be based on the availability of a bed or room.  Sometimes there is no vacancy.  That aside, what should we be looking at?  Forget the nice entry and lobby furnishings – these things tell us nothing about the quality of care.  We should be able to determine what the track record of care has been for the facility(s) we are considering.

The first step in a thorough investigation should start with the “Connecticut Department of Public Health’s Survey of Nursing Homes” which includes information on “official” staffing which has been reported to the state.  Note well any deficiencies. However, the latest report was published in 2011-2012, and staffing statistics often change over time.

A number of other online listings such as the Medicare.gov Nursing Home Compare site, show “deficiencies” for each facility reported by inspectors.  They also show ratings for health inspections, staffing and other quality measures that may be useful in assessing the level of care at each home.  Be especially aware of the same types of deficiencies that are found in subsequent years.  Some of the deficiencies we are particularly concerned with in a legal sense deal with medication errors, malnutrition, falls, abuse, and bed pressure sores (decubitus ulcers).  Tragically, in our law practice we have seen cases of bedsores down to the bone due to neglect.

Of course, it’s most important to visit prospective facilities in person. Multiple visits to a particular home of interest, at different times and shifts, may reveal what really takes place.  Do not rely on advertising and marketing materials!

When interviewing a prospective nursing home, ask for a copy of their Admissions Agreement to take home and review. Especially look out for a mandatory binding arbitration provision.  This provision usually prevents a lawsuit when the facility has injured a patient through its own negligence or neglect.  Arbitration clauses are usually heavily biased in favor of the facility and should be avoided if possible.

Once your loved one is settled in to a nursing home, one of the most important things a family can do is to visit frequently and regularly. If there is any suspicious activity going on, keep a journal or diary, and take pictures.  Photos of happy occasions (e.g. birthdays, anniversaries, holidays) whenever the family gets together, as well as photos of problems, may be important later on to illustrate that the patient was originally doing well, and that the family cares and is not just looking to capitalize on a law suit.

The age of a patient does not give any facility the right to cut a person’s life short through neglect or abuse, or to make their remaining years full of unnecessary pain and suffering.  The last years of life may be the most precious, and it is important for your loved one to retain their dignity and respect.

Editor’s Note: Attorney Matthew Shafner is a Director at Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law in New London, and a nationally recognized lawyer in the fields of personal injury, asbestos injury, maritime injury and workers compensation law. Please contact him via email at mshafner@sswbgg.com or via phone at (860) 442-4416 with questions about laws regarding nursing home negligence.

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