Nicholas-Adkins - MSM&C

Attorney at Mueller, Schmidt, Mulholland & Cooling

Practice Areas: Social Security Disability, Workers’ Compensation, Personal Injury

Recent vicious dog attacks in Iowa have highlighted concerning trends, as the state grapples with liability laws, bans on pit bulls, and preventing further brutality from man’s best friend turned worst enemy.

Comparing Key Points

Dog bite statistics Liability laws Breed-specific laws Other key points
National – 4.5 million dog bites per year
— Over 800,000 require medical care
– Pit bulls responsible for 67% of dog bite fatalities
– Strict liability laws for dog owners, with some exceptions like rabies – Over 40 states have breed-specific laws 

– 97% target pit bull breeds

The statute of limitations is 2 years to file a lawsuit after a bite
Iowa – Over 1/3 of households have dogs – Strict liability for owners if a dog bites or attacks
— Exceptions for unlawful acts by victim
– Negligence standard if the dog has rabies
– Ottumwa has a pit bull ban
– Ottumwa recently tightened the definition of “pit bull”
– Fines and penalties revised in Ottumwa ordinance

What are the penalties if your dog bites someone in Iowa?

Section 351.28 of the Iowa Code states owners face liability for all damages if their dog bites, attacks, worries, maims, or kills someone. Exceptions include the victim committing an unlawful act or the owner properly controlling a rabid dog.

Case 1

Last August in Des Moines, a couple strolled down the street, surrounded by throngs of people, heading to the Iowa State Fair. When they reached East 27th Street and Grand Avenue, a pair of pit bulls launched from a yard and attacked the woman. 

The two dogs growled and tore into her face, her torso, her thighs. Her boyfriend and a passerby tried to get the dogs off of her, finally needing to leap on the dogs and put them in headlocks to make them stop. 

Des Moines police came after the dogs, bringing a search warrant to retrieve them, but the owner of the dogs, Terrin Hicks, had already hidden them at another house on the 1800 block of High Street. 

Hicks was charged with interfering with official acts. Eventually, the dogs were collected by animal control, where a veterinarian conducted genetic tests to determine their breeds and check for rabies.

The woman who was attacked was left recovering at a Des Moines hospital.

Case 2

In March, a large pack of feral, vicious dogs attacked a woman on Springs Road outside the Meskwaki Settlement in Tama County. She was mauled and died from her injuries. 

The settlement has its share of pet dogs, but there are also plenty of free-roaming dogs. The Meskwaki Tribe are known to have cultural connections with dogs, but the roving packs of dogs have drawn complaints in the past.

All of the dogs involved in the attack were caught and destroyed.

Case 3

One night last February in Cedar Rapids, a dog went berserk on the 800 block of 22nd Ave SW. The dog had gotten out of its yard and attacked a group of people, biting three of them.

An officer arrived on the scene and tried to quell the attack. He tasered the dog multiple times, but it only seemed to anger the dog more as he aggressively lunged at the officer once the taser stopped working.

The officer was forced to fire four shots at the dog, hitting it once and injuring it. The attacked victims were treated at the hospital, and the dog went to a local veterinarian, where it was euthanized.

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The City of Banned Dogs

In March, Ottumwa residents Casey and Yadira Kelderman owned a dog named Ody, a pointer mix. The dog escaped the Kelderman’s yard and attacked the girl that lived next door. She would need nine stitches. 

Ottumwa police cited the Keldermans, and after an investigation to determine Ody’s temperament and decide whether the dog could stay with its family, the city council deemed the dog vicious and voted against it remaining at the Kelderman’s household. The Keldermans and the family of the victim were both in attendance as the city council voted.

This is just one of the 16 violations Ottumwa’s community officer has issued in the first six months of 2022. In June, the city revised the animal ordinance but resolved to keep its nearly 20-year-old Pit Bull Ban in place. 

In spite of the ban, households inside the city limits still have pit bull terriers as pets, but the city council did not want to open the gate and welcome in more of the controversial dog breed. 

City staff and council members reviewed and revised the ordinance, making changes to the fines for violations. They also tightened the ordinance’s definition of pit bulls, clarifying the umbrella term to include:

  • American Pit Bull Terrier
  • American Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • Any dog displaying the physical traits of one or more of the bull-terrier breeds
  • Any dog matching the pit bull standards set by the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club

More than 40 counties and more than 1,000 cities have installed breed-specific ordinances. Among all of these statutes prohibiting the ownership of dangerous dog breeds within city limits or county lines, 97% of them are banning pit bulls.

Howling Statistics

According to the most recent reports from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a third of all U.S. households own a dog. A pet dog can be an endless source of comfort and companionship, but there are risks. 

  • The United States sees approximately 4.5 million dog bites each year.
  • That is about one out of every 75 people.
  • About 20%, more than 800,000, of these bites require medical care.
  • Often, bite injuries are complicated by bacteria infections or viruses like rabies. 

In a 15-year analysis of dog bite fatalities, from 2005 to 2020, dogs killed 568 Americans. The analysis revealed pit bull breeds accounted for more than 67% of these deaths. Rottweilers were a distant second with more than 10% of fatal dog attacks.

Of the recorded deaths, two dog breeds were responsible for more than 77% of them.

In a related 2018 study, an examination of bite severity found that bites from pit bull breeds cause the most damage to their victims. The negative results for pit bulls do not seem to be slowing down or reversing because the combined pit breeds culminated in 72% of all fatal dog attacks in 2020.

Dog Bite Laws Bare Teeth

The legislators of Iowa have designed specific laws to address dog bites. Section 351.28 of the Iowa Code states dog owners are liable for all damages if: 

There are a couple of exceptions to this strict liability law.

For instance, the dog owner is not liable if a dog attacks a person while they are committing an unlawful act that directly contributes to their injury. 

Another example is if a dog has rabies and bites someone, a negligence standard is applied instead of a strict liability standard. This standard of negligence judges whether reasonable care was exercised in a given situation.

If a rabid dog bites someone, the owner would have to know the dog had rabies and did not use reasonable care to prevent the dog from biting someone. As long as reasonable care is taken, the dog owner should not be held liable for what is outside of their control.

In the context of liability, it’s crucial to understand the nuances that differentiate between various types of harm and the corresponding legal standards. For instance, the principles that govern product liability laws in Iowa focus on holding manufacturers accountable for harm caused by defective products, which is a form of strict liability.

On the other hand, situations like work accident reporting demand a clear understanding of negligence and the duty of care owed by employers to their employees. Similarly, when it comes to incidents such as a child’s injury on a playground, the standard of care expected from those in charge of maintaining safe play environments can significantly impact the outcome of any legal proceedings.

Moreover, the process of an appeal for a denied claim often hinges on the intricacies of negligence and liability. Understanding these differences is essential, especially when considering the potential types of injury damages that a victim can claim, which may vary greatly depending on whether the case involves negligence or strict liability.

It should also be noted that there is a two-year statute of limitations from the date of the dog attack to the filing of a personal injury lawsuit.

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