Dog bites happen to about 4.7 million people every year. 800,000 of those people seek medical attention, with 386,000 requiring treatment in an emergency room (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC). Very few dog bites are fatal. 31 people died as the result of dog bites in 2011 (American Veterinary Medical Association, AVMA). Dog bite lawyers can help you obtain the medical treatment you need and the monetary compensation and justice you deserve with such devastating cases. Negligence by dogowners can be found if a specific dog breed is known to pose a great risk of harm or has the propensity to attack and the dogowner for example allows the animal or pet to walk without a leash. The most common dog bite attack incidents have been found to occur with these specific breeds: pitbulls, German Shepherds, Labrador retrievers, Rottweilers, and Chows. Of course, other breeds may also have a great propensity to attack or bite as well. In 2012, California's postal service workers were bitten in record-breaking numbers and had the largest number of dog-bite related claims for at least one major insurance company in 2011. 527 dog bite claims were filed with that company, and victims received $20.3 million in settlements. That represented an increase of 31% since 2010.
Dog bite injuries and attacks accounted for nearly $479 million in insurance claims in 2011. This amounted to about one-third of all homeowners’ liability insurance claims that year.
Many of the victims bitten by dogs are children. The ASPCA predicts half of all children in the United States will be bitten by a dog before age 12. The majority of bites will be from the family dog or the dog of a neighbor or friend.
Many factors contribute to a dog's tendency to bite: heredity, training, socialization, health, and the behavior of humans around it can all cause a dog to bite. Frequently, when children are bitten, it is because the child provoked the dog, got between the dog and its food or otherwise behaved in a way that threatened the dog.
California’s Strict Liability Law for Dog Owners
California law section 3342 applies a rule of strict liability for pet owners for the acts and injuries caused by their animals. The law requires the injured person to prove ownership of the animal and that the victim was lawfully present when attacked. It does not matter what breed the dog is or how it has behaved in the past. The law also requires the injured victim to not be in violation of the law when the injury occurred i.e. as a trespasser or burglar. The victmi must have been in a public place or legally on private property.
California law does not cover other injuries that a dog might cause, like knocking someone down, scratching them or jumping. Those types of injuries can be the basis for personal injury lawsuits based on negligence or other aspects of the common law.
The law protects working dogs that serve governmental agencies, the police and the military. A person who is injured while one of these dogs is performing its trained duties cannot pursue a personal injury claim. However, if a bystander or someone not directly involved in the police or military action receives an injury, that person can file a personal injury lawsuit.
- Generally, California follows the strict liability application under Section 3342. An even greater application is applied if a dog has bitten before, under section 3342.5. Some states have “one bite exception” laws. In some states, dog bite laws cover bites only when a person is on the owner’s property legally: performing normal duties like delivering mail and reading meters or with the owner's permission. In those states, trespassers are not protected by dog bite laws. California does protect trespassers with its dog bite law but the burden of proof is higher for the injured trespassing victim. These laws assume that any dog might bite someone once. With these laws, the owner’s legal liability only kicks in when a dog bites a second time. The law assumes that–if the dog bites someone a second time–it is a dangerous dog. California law does not follow the "one bite exception" and instead poses liability any time a dog bites someone.
- If a dog or other pet attacks you or a loved one, then you should contact us right away for a consultation. We have experienced attorneys standing by to advise you on the law as it applies to your situation and your claim against the dog owner and landlord where the injury occurred. If the bite causes any significant physical injury, medical expenses, and any type of short or long-term injury, you should consider pursuing your claim against the lawful owner of the dangerous animal.
- You may be able to recover damages for your physical injuries, medical costs, and pain and suffering. You may also make a claim for future medical costs if warranted. If you lose time from work or business, you can claim for your economic losses including any reduction in your long-term ability to work and earn.
- Because the dog bite can involve deliberate or malicious misconduct, California law provides for punitive damages that can add to your recovery for pain and economic losses. The law seeks to punish the dog owner for his or her conduct associated with the attack such as when someone "sicks" a dog to attack. Also, where the owner of the dog knows of the dangerous propensity of its pet and lets the dog wander without a leash, punitive damages can be sought.As soon as possible, contact a personal injury lawyer, like those affiliated with Jacoby & Meyers who specialize in dog bites. A lawyer will know how the law applies in your specific situation and will have the knowledge and resources to investigate and document your case.
What to Do After a Dog Bite
If you get bitten by a dog or other pet, you should immediately collect information to prepare your claim.
- Assure that the dog is restrained and is no longer a danger to anyone.
- Note the time, date, location and circumstances that led to the dog bite.
- Identify the owner of the dog and the owner’s contact information.
- Get the name(s) of any witnesses, with contact information.
- Take pictures. Be sure to get pictures of the actual injury.
- Seek medical attention.
- Report the incident to animal control or the police.
- Contact a personal injury lawyer who specializes in dog bite cases.
- Begin to keep a record of events and activities related to the dog bite.
You may not be able to do any of these things right away since you are injured, but you can ask others for help. If possible, you should get the names of any witnesses to the attack. You should ask for the cell phone numbers of anyone that might have taken video of any part of the event. You should also get the personal information of the owner of the pet and the landlord upon which the incident/injury took place.
Damages and Compensation in Dog Bite Cases in California
As with other types of personal injury cases, a person who has received a dog bite is entitled to special damages, which pay for medical bills, rehabilitation, lost wages and other specific costs of the injury. Most homeowner and renters insurance policies include coverage for dog bites, even if the dog bites someone away from the owner’s property.
If the injury is severe or causes serious physical, mental or emotional damage, a person may also be entitled to general damages. These cover less measurable costs like pain and suffering and long-term costs if the person will never recover fully from the accident. Payment of long-term costs can include lost wages, retraining, assistance in the home and other costs associated with changes in the person’s professional, personal and social life.
The average payment for a dog bite claim in 2011 was $29,396.
Others are sometimes held responsible in dog bite cases. In addition to dog owners, property owners and landlords may be liable for dog bite injuries if they have not taken appropriate action to ensure that dogs are handled safely on their property.
Select a Reputable California Dog Bite Attorney
Knowledge of personal injury law generally and of laws related to dog bites specifically are critical factors in selecting a personal injury lawyer to represent you in your dog bite lawsuit. Beyond that, the law firm you choose should have a track record of winning settlements for its clients and the resources to pursue a claim no matter how long it takes, with special knowledge and expertise for dog bite attacks with dogs of different breeds and various levels of dangerous propensity.
Look for lawyers who have trained investigators and experts in various fields. The investigators will assure that your accident is thoroughly investigated and documented. Experts either know about the technical aspects of your accident, the medical effects of your injury or the potential economic costs of the accident.
In our 40 years of practice, Jacoby & Meyers has pursued and handled more than 100,000 cases. We also have an established record in winning personal injury cases, including dog bite cases.
Every case is unique and past results do not guarantee future results. References to Jacoby & Meyers includes the firm and our affiliate attorneys and co-counsel attorneys.