Overview

"Bite reports" include a variety of documents which set forth information about a bite incident. These documents can provide critically important details relevant to the prosecution as well as the defense of a dog bite case.

Why bite reports are important

If you are the victim, you should report the bite to get the official records about the dog's history of viciousness, to establish who the official owner of the dog is, to learn what other people are saying about who caused the accident, to alert the authorities that there is a dangerous dog, to have the dog confined or maintained differently so it can't hurt other people, to have the dog quarantined so the victim will know whether rabies treatment is necessary, to determine whether the dog had its rabies vaccination, to confirm that the dog has not been mistreated, and to have the dog owner penalized with a fine or other consequences.

Bite reports help to keep your community safe. The Animal Control Department, Humane Society, Society for the Protection of Animals, Dog Warden, or the police are responsible for protecting the community from dangerous and vicious dogs. They do not, however, patrol the streets looking for them. The authorities rely on residents to report incidents where animals endanger people or vice versa. You do your part by making the report. Whether your report gets filed away as possible evidence in the future, or is acted upon immediately, it assists the authorities in keeping the streets safe. The child or senior citizen you save will make it worth it.

The report normally summarizes what the dog owner and witnesses have said about the incident. You have to know whether they are professing to have knowledge about what happened, what their versions of the incident are, and whether they are going to be helpful or harmful to your cause. Often they will not speak to you; they have little choice other than to respond to proper inquiries by the authorities.

You will be reqarded by learning the biting history of the dog. The bite report might state that the dog previously bit other people or acted like it wanted to. This information is important in every state; in a statutory liability state, it makes the case stronger and helps to overcome defenses if the dog was a known biter, and in a one bite state you are required to prove that the dog was known to bite, to have a vicious temperament toward people, or to have been trained to bite people. Even if the bite report does not mention prior bites, the fact that you made the report will entitle you to request copies of all other reports pertaining to the same dog and the same location, and those bite reports will help your case.

Why you need to report it yourself

You need to make the report yourself at the offices of the agency that does animal control where the incident happened. By doing it in person, your views about the incident will be recorded in the report. There are many instances where the victims are not interviewed but the dog owner is, leading to an incomplete or sometimes totally wrong report as to who was responsible and how serious the injuries were.

Do not rely on the report that the hospital personnel may or may not have made. Their reports usually are for medical purposes not pertaining to civil or criminal liability. In other words, their reports are used for the purpose of counting the number of dog bites, keeping track of possible outbreaks of diseases like rabies, etc. That is not the kind of report that will take a dangerous dog off the streets or will help your case.

How to obtain a copy of a bite report

To gather the bite reports, one should first find out which agency handles animal control in the legal jurisdiction where the incident happened. There are several possibilities, as indicated in the first paragraph of this section. You must do this for each involved jurisdiction. These include the place where the incident happened, the place where the dog resides (if different from where the incident happened), and the place where the victim resides (if different). Because animal control is a police function, it is unusual to find important information at the Health Department of the county or city, but obtain copies of their reports if informed that such exist. Similarly, it is unusual for Child Protective Services (also called Department of Social Services) to become involved in a bite incident, but obtain copies of their reports if told that such exist.

The best method to get bite reports is for the victim or his family to request them. The request usually is informal. If that does not produce satisfactory results, however, one can make a request for the same under the state's freedom of information act, or public records act. The problem with formal requests, however, is that they take time to fulfill. The worst case scenario is when the agency refuses to produce complete, unaltered records even when responding to a lawful demand under the freedom of information laws of the state. In such event, the victim must retain a lawyer and file a lawsuit so as to issue a subpoena to the agency.

The information in the reports must be separated into that which provides admissible evidence, and that which does not. An official report generally is admissible but the contents of the report usually contain a mixture of hearsay, unfounded and inadmissible opinion, and admissible material. Anything that is not admissible is nevertheless important because it can lead to admissible evidence. Additionally, insurance companies and others can reasonably and rationally base a variety of decisions upon the information given in official reports, as long as it is reliable. For example, a summary of the interview of a witness is inadmissible but might be reliable.

During a lawsuit, the parties are entitled to subpoena official records from the agencies that create them. Additionally, parties can demand copies of records that are in the custody of other parties to the lawsuit. These requests for production of evidence, along with checklists of the important evidence required in such cases, are found in Dog Bite Litigation Forms for Plaintiffs' Attorneys. The strategies for obtaining these items and carrying out an effective discovery plan are set forth in Anatomy of a Dog Bite Case