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California is in the unenviable position of ranking at the top of a troubling list. The number of insurance claims for dog bites was higher in the state of California last year than anywhere else in the country. Most victims of these bites are young kids, elderly adults and postal workers carrying satchels of mail.

More than half of the victims of the estimated 4.7 million dog bites recorded each year are children. Kids ages 5 to 9 years old are most vulnerable; they are 900 times more likely than a letter carrier to get bitten. It is estimated that half of all kids will suffer a dog bite by age 12.

The next most likely to be attacked are the elderly. As for postal workers, around 5,600 individuals were bitten in the United States last year. Most of the attacks were in Los Angeles and San Diego, with 83 and 68 dog bite incidents, respectively. An average of 16 people die each year as the result of a dog attack. In March, a California letter carrier was among them.

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There's a fierce debate that continues nationwide over whether some dog breeds should be automatically labeled as "dangerous." Owners of these breeds, such as pit bulls and rottweilers, maintain that whether a dog is vicious depends solely on how it is raised and treated. Although there is some truth to this notion, some breeds -- indeed, some dogs in general -- may require more supervision than others to avoid dog bites, attacks and other harmful incidents. 

The issue is front and center in the case of a San Diego, California, woman who was viciously attacked by her next-door neighbor's two pit bulls in her back yard when she went to get the morning paper last June. Although the yard was surrounded by a fence that had been reinforced with a metal gate to cover a gap in the fence between the two yards, the two dogs made it through by ripping a hole near the gate. As a result of the attack the woman's arm had to be amputated below the elbow and her left leg was amputated below the knee. Her right leg was amputated later. She died of complications from the attack Christmas Eve.

The owners of the dogs, a 40-year-old woman and her 20-year-old daughter, were ordered this week to stand trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, owning a mischievous animal causing death and six misdemeanor code violations, which included failing to protect the public from a dangerous dog and owning a dangerous dog.

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Customers of retail and food service establishments expect to remain safe during their shopping and dining experiences. They presume that facility owners will take appropriate measures to prevent a slip-and-fall incident, object strikes and other injuries. This is not always the case, however, as demonstrated by a recent California ruling against merchandising giant Costco.

The 58-year-old woman was awarded more than $400,000 after a jury trial in California concluded early this month. She was injured while dining in the Costco snack bar. As she was walking through the area, she slipped on some soap and shattered her kneecap. The woman's attorneys say that multiple employees recognized the spill, but none of them followed procedure by stopping to clean it up. Costco representatives did not give a statement about the case.

The woman has undergone one surgery to reconstruct her kneecap, but she faces additional operations and physical therapy to fully repair the damage. She received nearly $90,000 to cover her current and future medical needs, along with $325,000 for pain and suffering. The jury's decision was unanimous.

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A man who was bitten by a Lodi, California, Police Department K-9 during a 2010 arrest reached a settlement agreement with the city last week. He's being paid $197,000 in addition to $25,000 in medical costs.

The 28-year-old man admits to being combative and under the influence of drugs when he was arrested. But he was already in handcuffs and subdued by police when Bronx the police dog attacked and bit him in the face. The dog was not ordered to attack or bite the man, who was under arrest and facedown when he was bitten. Although he could have behaved better, the man's attorney said, his client didn't deserve the disfiguring dog bite.

The man said after the incident that the bite resulted in numbness and tingling around his mouth, as well as a permanent scar from his nose to his neck. He also reports having constant anxiety any time he's around a police officer or large dog.

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An accident at a Southern California coffee shop four years ago continues to serve as a reminder that life can change dramatically in the time it takes a barista to whip up your morning latte. All it takes is a serious slip and fall.

That's what happened to a chiropractor who visited a Starbucks store in March 2008. He was picking up his order when he slipped on a floor that had just been mopped, according to his lawyer. Although the manager of the coffee shop testified she put out three cones warning customers that the floor was wet, witnesses claimed to have seen only one.

After the fall, the chiropractor said he suffered from persistent head pain, nausea and a concussion, among other symptoms. He was later diagnosed with mild brain trauma and told he would need a year of therapy for his brain injury. The man, who said he has been unable to return to work since the accident, sued Starbucks for loss of income, medical expenses and the loss of enjoyment of life.

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John J. Garvey, III
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