Dog bites are a common occurrence in California owing to the growing number of dogs adopted and cared for in homes. Bites from dogs could injure and expose you to infections and diseases like rabies. California is one of the various states with strict liability dog-bite laws. Thanks to these laws, you can sue a dog owner for compensation for the damages a dog bite resulted in. This article addresses the various legal issues you should be aware of to secure compensation for the bite.

California Law Against Dog Bites

California has adopted a strict liability rule concerning dog bites instead of the one-bite rule. Under the one-bite law, dog owners can be held liable for injuries inflicted by their pets if they should have reasonably known or known their dog(s) posed dangerous tendencies.

Knowledge of the dangerous tendencies is established within the rule. If the dog bit another in the past, the owner is put on notice for the dangerous behavior. Subsequent bites from the same dog will result in liability. Since the owner received a notice for the dog’s dangerous tendencies, he/she should have reasonably foreseen a recurrence of the behavior and taken steps to avoid the same. 

Strict-liability laws are different. The law provides that a dog owner is responsible for any damages or injuries their dog causes. Whether the dog owner knew of his/her dog’s dangerous tendencies is immaterial under strict liability. Consequently, the dog owner cannot argue he/she was unaware of the dog’s behavior as a defense.   

Under Civil Code 3342, a dog owner is liable for the injuries the canine inflicts as long as you did not provoke the dog and were on your property or a public place when the incident occurred. 

Note, Civil Code 3342 protects dog owners against liability resulting from trespass.  If another was bitten while trespassing on the canine owner’s property, the owner would not be held liable unless if it is established he/she was negligent. Therefore, in most cases, trespassers cannot use Civil Code 3342 to seek compensation for the injuries a dog inflicts.

Therefore, other than trespassers, the following individuals are ineligible to sue under Civil Code 3342. They include:

  • Persons who provoked the canine
  • A police or military animal being used following the agency’s written policy
  • An animal protecting his/her owner or another — The self-defense or in defense of others’ rule applies. It was evident that the owner or another was in reasonable and imminent danger of physical harm, and the dog acted to avert the danger. However, the force, in this case, the dog’s actions should be appropriate in the circumstances. Murder, assault, or domestic battery incidences are the typical circumstances taken into account.

What To Do After a Dog Bite

Steps taken following a canine bite incident are pivotal in your recovery and in successfully seeking compensation.  Here is a look at what you should do.

Seek Medical Attention

Dog bites can be both minor and severe resulting in fatalities. Any bite exposes you to infections and diseases like rabies. You cannot immediately establish the severity of a bite, so it is in your best interest to seek medical attention. Additionally, take account and maintain the receipts of all procedures and medication issued for your treatment.

Take Record of Your Injuries

Photographs and videos come in handy in dog bite situations. They both are compelling evidence in a dog bite lawsuit. It is best to take photos and videos of your injuries at the incident scene.

Additionally, take the witnesses’ names, addresses, and phone numbers. Their account of the events leading up to the incident is equally important. Also, record the dog handler or owner’s information.

It is also in your best interest to recount the incident as it happened and record it as soon as possible. It is easy to forget, especially in traumatic situations. 

Contact the Local Animal Control

Animal control is the ideal emergency responder in a bite situation. Give them a call immediately with the dog’s description and your location. One of the witnesses or your loved one who was with you at the time can engage the officers as you seek treatment.

Engage a Personal Injury Attorney

You need an attorney with experience in handling dog-bite-related suits. The attorney will investigate the matter and identify the owner or the responsible party. He/she later issues a demand for compensation after the investigations are concluded, and it is his/her determination there is cause. 

A dog owner can honor the demand by filing a claim with his/her insurance provider. Most property owners’ and renters’ insurance coverage covers claims for dog bite injuries. The coverage ranges from $40,000 to $300,000. Some insurance companies exclude certain dog breeds from the policy. Meaning, if you are bitten by dogs excluded from that policy, the dog owner cannot make a claim. Some breeds excluded in the policy include Pit bulls, Dobermans, Chows, Akitas, German shepherds, Rottweilers, Alaskan malamutes, Wolf hybrids, and Siberian huskies.

Should the responsible party fail to honor the demand, your attorney will file a lawsuit against the owner on your behalf. 

Filing a Lawsuit for Dog-Bite-Related Injuries

Pursuant to the Statute of Limitations, you have two years to bring action against the responsible party for dog-bite-related injuries. The clock starts running after the incident occurs. Therefore, damages are unrecoverable should you file the suit after two years. This rule applies even if you only identified the dog owner past the two-year mark.

In this lawsuit, you bear the burden of proof. You must demonstrate to the court through evidence that your injuries resulted from the dog attack whose owner is the defendant in the case. Your medical records, report from the animal control officer at the scene, ey-witness accounts, photographic and video evidence will help make your case. 

If successful in proving your case, you are entitled to compensatory damages paid for by the wrongdoer’s insurance provider. You can recover economic and non-economic damages. Additionally, you can recover punitive damages.

Economic Damages

For losses incurred to which a dollar value can be easily attached, the losses are said to be economic. Therefore, the damages paid out will cater to the financial loss the injuries caused. They include:

  • Cost of treatment inclusive of the initial cost of medical care, rehabilitation expenses, and cosmetic surgery if the jury determines it warranted
  • Physical therapy, necessary for restoring function in your limbs or any other section of your body that suffered injuries
  • Psychological therapy, required to treat emotional distress, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, emotional trauma, and cynophobia, which is the fear of dogs. All these psychological ailments are consequences of a dog attack.
  • Lost income during your recovery period
  • Lost earning capacity, which is prevalent in cases where you lost functionality of your limbs

Non-economic Damages

Non-economic damages compensate plaintiffs for losses suffered to which a dollar value is not immediately quantifiable. These compensation sums cater for the following:

  • Pain and suffering resulting from your injuries
  • Loss of limbs, paid out to compensate the plaintiff for fractures, broken bones, and amputations
  • Scarring and disfigurement, consequences of contusions and puncture wounds

Surviving family members can institute a wrongful death suit against the dog’s owner for canine bites that lead to fatal injuries.

Punitive Damages

Damages aimed at punishing the defendant and serving as an example for others from the recklessness or negligence exhibited by the defendant are referred to as punitive damages. You can recover punitive damages in a dog bite case.

Since punitive damages aim to punish the defendant, you have to prove that his/he actions were malicious, fraudulent, or meant to oppress you. If so proven, the jury will award the damages, which in most cases are higher than the compensatory damages.

Wrongful Death Suits

Wrongful death suits aim at recovering damages for negligent acts by a plaintiff that resulted in the victim suffering fatal injuries. Your family members can recover compensatory damages, both economic and non-economic damages.  

Economic damages recovered by surviving members of a family pay for, but are not limited to:

  • The financial costs incurred in seeking treatment after the injury
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • The financial contribution the deceased would have made to the family in their lifetime.
  • The reasonable value of the services a deceased would have provided to the family in their lifetime
  • The loss of the benefits the heirs would have enjoyed had it not been for the death of their loved one.

Non-economic damages recoverable in the suit include:

  • Loss of companionship and moral support
  • Loss of consortium and companionship
  • Pain and suffering the demise caused

Instances Where Another Dog Bites Your Dog

Do I have grounds to sue another dog owner for injuries inflicted on my dog by his/her dog?

Yes, however, not under Civil Code 3342. This statute does not extend to dog bites on other dogs. It is restricted to dog bites on people. Under California law, dogs are personal property. Therefore, in suing another for the injuries caused to your dog, you will be seeking compensation for damaged property.

The damages recoverable in this case will be the lesser of the decrease in the property value or the expenses incurred in repairing the property. However, the repairs should not exceed the market value of the property.

Your attorney will present the costs you incurred in treating your dog’s injuries in your suit. These expenses are equivalent to the “repairs” of the property. Since the costs incurred are subjective, juries consider what amounts to a reasonable expense.

Restitution is limited to treatment or “repair” costs in dog-on-dog injuries. Therefore, non-economic damages are not receivable.

Punitive damages, although in rare cases, can be awarded. You will have to prove the defendant acted with malice to recover the damages, for example, ordering the dog to attack.

Situations Where You Were Attacked By a Dog But Not Bitten

You could sustain an injury other than a bite from a dog attack. If so, you will have to prove that the owner was negligent. It is best to engage your attorney to evaluate if there is grounds for an action against the owner.   

Criminal Liability In Dog Bite Incidents

Prosecutors decide whether to proceed with criminal charges when a dog bites a person or another dog. They will evaluate the case and determine what charges to introduce against the dog owner. Some of the charges include

Creating a Public Nuisance, a PC 372 Violation

Creating or failing to remove a public nuisance where a duty of care exists is criminal under PC 372. This law criminalizes two actions:

  • Initiating, maintaining, or effectuating a public nuisance, and
  • Deliberately failing to remove a public nuisance, an exercise created by law where a legal duty of care exists.

Public nuisance, as described in PC 372, is any action injurious, offensive, and one that prevents another from enjoying the use of the property or any action that compromises the public’s enjoyment of property, life, or community amenities.  

Roaming or vicious dogs fit the definition of a public nuisance, especially if they harm a person, another dog, or pet or hinder the community from enjoying their private or community facilities. If so proven, the dog owner is criminally liable.

Failure to Control a Dangerous Animal, a PC 399 Violation

Strict liability establishes responsibility on the dog owner for the canines. Therefore, a failure to control a dangerous dog makes them criminally liable for the injuries their dogs inflict.

PC 399 establishes a dangerous animal to include a wild animal or a domesticated animal that is vicious and prone to hurt people deliberately. 

Animal Cruelty, a PC 597 Violation

PC 597 seeks to punish animal cruelty perpetrators. It is an offense to harm, torture, or maim a living animal maliciously. Additionally, viciously killing an animal is a crime under PC 597.

Acts that cause physical injury, suffering, or pain to a dog are considered torturous. These acts are inflicted on a dog following a biting incident as punishment in most cases. In other instances, this cruelty is inflicted on the dogs, thus making the canine more aggressive and likely to attack.

Dogfighting, a PC 597.5 Violation

In California, it is illegal to possess, own, keep, or train a canine to engage in dog-fighting. Dog fights increase the dog’s propensity towards violence. Anyone found to engage in the following behavior violates PC 597.5.

  • Owning, keeping, possession, and training canines to participate in dogfighting events.
  • Causing a canine to fight with another or injure each other as entertainment
  • Allowing for the above two activities to continue in a property under your control
  • Knowingly and deliberately being present in a dogfighting event or in an environment where canines are trained in readiness for the event.

Leaving an Animal Unattended in a Vehicle, a PC 597.7 Violation

It is a violation of PC 597.7 for anyone to leave an animal unattended in a vehicle in conditions likely to compromise the animal’s health. Situations likely to compromise a pet’s health include extreme cold and heat, lack of food or water, lack of adequate ventilation, or other circumstances likely to cause the animal suffering, disability, or death. 

While the above conditions affect an animal’s health, it could also result in the animal being aggressive, anxious, or vicious, all elements that could cause injury. However, of interest to the local district attorneys is the actions of the animal owner or handler to leave the animal unattended in the vehicle.

Unlawful Tethering, a Health and Safety Code 122335 Violation

Tethering a dog to a stationary object is a crime under HS 122335. That means chaining, restraining, or tying a canine to a fence, tree, doghouse, or fixed object could result in criminal prosecution. However, there are a few exceptions under this law. The allows for:

  • The canine to be tethered per the guidance offered in a recreation center or camping environment
  • Tying the dog for a reasonable time to allow for the handler or owner to complete a temporary task
  • Tying a dog to a pulley system, trolley, or a running line for as long as the canine is not wearing a pinch collar or choke
  • Tethering the canine to allow the handler or owner to cultivate the land or herd livestock

It is expected that following a dog attack, you could report the incident and file a complaint with your local police officers. However, the decision of whether to press charges and seek criminal liability rests with your local district attorneys.  Since the criminal justice process is independent of the civil liability process, you do not have to wait for criminal prosecution to sue for compensation following a dog attack. It is thus in your best interest to immediately engage a personal injury attorney.

Contact an Experienced Los Angeles Injury Attorney Near Me

Seeking compensation for your injuries following a dog attack is challenging. You will require an attorney’s expertise in evaluating the merits of the case and the value of compensation. Work with our team at Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney if you need assistance in seeking compensation. Contact our team for a free consultation at 424-231-2013.