Woman bitten by dog is stuck with medical bills

Woman bitten by dog is stuck with medical bills »Play Video


COOS BAY, Ore. - A woman who was attacked and disfigured by a dog, and who found herself stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills, is fighting to get the law changed in Oregon so that dog owners will be responsible for paying when their pet bites someone.

Sara Weidenhaft's story began nearly two years ago outside the Coos Bay tire store where she works.  Her entire life changed when a friend's dog jumped from a Ford truck and attacked her in the face.

"I didn't realize that virtually the entire lip was gone," she said, recalling what happened.

Weidenhaft had startled her friend, who was sitting in the truck, and when she went to give the woman a hug to apologize she did not see the Great Dane in the back seat.

"And I put my arms out and she opened her arms to respond to my hug, so then I leaned into the rig and the dog came over her shoulder and removed my lip.  Just like that," said Weidenhaft.

Over the coming months doctors would perform surgery after surgery, removing scar tissue, inserting Gortex to form an artificial lip line and fixing a graft that failed.

Weidenhaft's medical bills have reached $80,000 and continue to grow.

In the middle of it all, Weidenhaft ran into an old friend from high school who called her a hairlip. You can imagine her frustration looking into the mirror.

"It's kind of a wasted emotion," she said. "I never would have called myself beautiful, but I'm certainly not there now."

Weidenhaft's situation is up for debate in Salem because Oregon is a so-called "one free bite" state. The first time a dog bites someone, the dog owner and homeowner's insurance company are not liable.

In Weidenhaft's case, she was told the insurance company would pay out only $5,000, and if she didn't like it, she could hire an attorney and sue.

Instead of doing that, she decided to try to change the rules.

She convinced her lawmaker, Rep. Wayne Krieger, a Gold Beach Republican, that dog owners and their insurance companies should be liable, even for the first attack.

But there are concerns that insurance rates could go up.

"There may be consequences down the road that may call for other legislation if we find that insurance is less available for dog owners," Rep. Greg MacPherson, a Lake Oswego Democrat, said during a recent hearing on the matter.

Just days before the hearing, Weidenhaft had her latest operation.  Part of her lower lip was removed and inserted in her upper lip.  She still faces the struggle of another two years of surgeries and she is not done fighting her political battles.

"I'm not sure I'm going to stop with the state of Oregon," she said.  "It's wrong.  The law is wrong."

According to http://dogbitelaw.com/, there are 18 states, including Oregon, that use the one-bite rule to determine legal liability. It was not clear when that list was last updated. Washington state is not one of those on the list and holds owners responsible unless their pet is provoked.

In Oregon, a bill on the issue has already succeeded in the House and is now in the hands of the Senate.