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Dog Bite-Related Fatalities: A 15-Year Review of Kentucky Medical Examiner Cases

Shields, Lisa B. E. MD*†; Bernstein, Mark L. DDS; Hunsaker, John C. III MD, JD§¶; Stewart, Donna M. MD*†

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: September 2009 - Volume 30 - Issue 3 - p 223-230
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e3181a5e558
Original Article

A human dog bite-related fatality generally refers to death proximately caused by trauma from a dog's teeth and jaws. According to The Humane Society of the United States, more than 300 individuals died of dog attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1996. Children <12 and elders >70 years represent the typical victims. Pit bull-type dogs, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds constitute the majority of canines implicated in these fatalities.

This is a 15-year (1991–2005) retrospective review of dog bite-related fatalities undergoing medicolegal investigation in Kentucky. Of the 11 deaths, 10 consisted of multiple bite marks and blunt force injuries of the head and neck, trunk, and extremities. In 1 case, an asplenic victim's immediate cause of death was bacterial sepsis secondary to a dog bite. Individuals ranged between 14 months and 87 years; 7 (63.6%) were ≤6 years; 10 (90.9%) individuals were white, and 8 (72.7%) were male. Forensic odontological examinations were performed on the dogs in 4 cases. The requisite multidisciplinary investigation includes a detailed assessment of the scene, the victim, and dog or dogs suspected in the attack.

From the *Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Louisville, Kentucky; †Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, Kentucky; ‡School of Dentistry, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky; §Office of the Associate Chief Medical Examiner, Frankfort, Kentucky; and ¶Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Lexington, Kentucky.

Manuscript received April 22, 2007; accepted May 13, 2007.

Presented (Oral) at the 40th Annual National Association of Medical Examiners Meeting; October 14–18, 2006; San Antonio, Texas.

Reprints: Donna M. Stewart, MD, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Urban Government Center, 810 Barret Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky 40204. E-mail:

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.