Along with cats, reptiles, and fish, dogs are some of the most commonly encountered and beloved pets in the state of California. Over half of California residents own a pet, and over 40% of these pets are dogs. And while dogs are considered man’s best friend, this isn’t always the case. Being involved in a dog bite attack can be a traumatic experience that has a physical, emotional, and financial impact on a victim. Many of those bites cause injuries that require medical treatment, and in severe cases, can cause lifelong disability or severe disfigurement. If you find yourself in this situation, you may be entitled to compensation from the dog’s owner or another at-fault party to help you recover. Read on to learn more about California dog bite laws and how the experienced Santa Clarita dog bite lawyers at Weinberg Law can help.
Dog Bite Statistics
Every year, around 4.5 million people in the U.S. suffer a dog bite, with around one in five requiring medical treatment. And dog bites are increasing in frequency in the Golden State. According to the California Department of Public Health, the state has experienced a significant rise in dog bite incidents during the past two decades, leading to increased hospitalizations and emergency room visits. The most likely age groups that need medical attention after a dog bite include children and elderly persons, but anyone can suffer a dog bite at any age. And while larger breeds can cause more damage with their bites, any dog of any age or size can bite if not properly trained or socialized.
California Dog Bite Law
The law governing dog bite liability in the state is commonly known as the “dog bite statute.” This law establishes strict liability for dog owners, holding them responsible for injuries caused by their dogs biting someone in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the owner’s property. This means that a dog bite victim does not need to prove that an owner was negligent to be entitled to compensation. Under California’s strict liability rule, dog owners are held responsible for injuries caused by their dogs, regardless of the animal’s past behavior or the owner’s knowledge of its dangerous tendencies. This is a departure from the traditional “one-bite rule” in many states that requires a dog owner to be aware of their dog’s aggressive tendencies before being held liable. Other important things to note about California’s dog bite law include:
- Public versus private places. The law applies not only to public spaces but also to individuals who are lawfully present in private places, including the owner’s property. This means that guests, neighbors, or anyone with a legal right to be on the premises can hold the dog owner responsible for injuries.
- Bite severity. California dog bite law holds dog owners strictly liable for all dog bites, no matter how minor. The victim’s skin does not need to get punctured for the victim to bring a dog bite claim
- Other dog-related injuries. California’s law covers not only injuries caused by dog bites but also injuries resulting from other aggressive behavior. For example, if a dog knocks someone over, leading to injuries, the owner can be held liable under the statute.
- Negligence claims. While California’s strict liability dog bite statute is usually the easiest way to recover damages, it isn’t the only way. A plaintiff can still file a lawsuit under the legal theory of negligence.
Ultimately, California’s dog bite laws are designed to promote safety and responsibility among dog owners while providing compensation to those who are unfortunate victims of dog-related injuries.
Strict Liability Dog Bite Defenses in California
In California, strict liability for dog bites means that dog owners are generally held responsible for injuries caused by their dogs. However, there are certain defenses available to dog owners in specific situations. These include:
- Trespassing. If the injured person was trespassing on private property at the time of the dog bite, the dog owner may have a defense against liability. The strict liability rule only applies when individuals are lawfully present in public places or on private property.
- Provocation. If the injured person provoked the dog, the dog owner may use this as a defense. However, it’s important to note that the provocation must be significant, and simple teasing or playful behavior may not be sufficient to absolve the owner of liability.
- Assumption of risk. If the injured person knew of the dog’s dangerous propensities and voluntarily assumed the risk of being bitten, the dog owner might have a defense. This defense is more challenging to establish, as it requires proving that the injured person was aware of the specific risk posed by the dog. Kennel and veterinary care workers also assume risk through the nature of their jobs.
- Working dogs. In certain situations, if the dog was performing duties for law enforcement or the military at the time of the incident, the dog owner may be exempt from liability.
These defenses may not completely absolve the dog owner of liability, and their applicability depends on the specific circumstances of each case. Talk to a dog bite attorney if you have any questions.
Compensation for Dog Bites in California
A California dog bite victim may be eligible for various types of compensation for injuries and damages resulting from a dog bite incident. The specific compensation will depend on the circumstances of the case and the extent of the injuries. Typically, a victim can recover:
- Medical expenses, including costs associated with emergency medical treatment, hospitalization expenses, surgical procedures and other medical procedures, and medications and rehabilitation;
- Future medical care costs;
- Lost wages, including lost earning capacity if the injuries result in a long-term impact on the victim’s ability to work;
- Compensation for physical pain, emotional distress, and mental anguish resulting from the dog bite;
- Property damage, including clothing and other personal property; and
- Scarring and disfigurement resulting from serious attacks.
This list is not exhaustive, and the amount of compensation can vary based on the severity of the injuries, the impact on the victim’s life, and other factors specific to each case.
How Long Does a Dog Bite Victim Have to File a Claim?
In California, the statute of limitations for filing a dog bite claim is two years from the date of the injury. This means that individuals who suffer injuries from a dog bite must initiate legal action within these two years to seek compensation. Failing to file a lawsuit within the specified timeframe may result in the loss of the right to pursue a claim. Victims must act promptly, gather necessary documentation, and consult with a personal injury attorney to ensure compliance with the statute of limitations and protect their legal rights.
Trust the Santa Clarita Dog Bite Lawyers at Weinberg Law
If you’re bitten by a dog, make sure to get the owner’s name, address, and phone number before leaving the scene. Take pictures and videos of the owner and the dog, seek medical treatment, and keep any paperwork you receive from medical providers. Then call the experienced personal injury team at Weinberg Law to discuss your case and rights. With years of experience fighting for injury victims throughout California, we give every case the personal attention it deserves, no matter how big or small. Call us to set up a free consultation or fill out our online contact form to get started.