Every day approximately 1,000 people in the United States require emergency care for serious dog bite injuries, with California leading the nation with the highest number of lethal dog attacks. Increasingly, dog bites are subject to personal injury lawsuits because bite wounds can result in serious infections and other complications that can require long-term hospitalization and continuing treatment. California permits dog bite injury victims to pursue compensation for their injuries and damages. However, successfully recovering damages requires a comprehensive understanding of complex state and local laws. Contact an attorney with the Weinberg Law Offices, P.C., to discuss your rights to dog bite compensation.
What to Do If a Dog Bites You
Victims of a dog bite should take certain steps to treat their injuries, prevent additional harm, and preserve their right to dog bite compensation.
Identify the Dog and Owner
The first step is to identify the dog and the person in control of the dog at the time of the attack. The owner can provide the victim with information regarding the animal’s vaccination status and whether they have any serious diseases or infections that can be transmitted to humans. However, if the dog is loose or its owner is not present, it is important that victims do not approach the animal.
Get Medical Treatment
Depending on the severity of the injury, victims should contact 911 for immediate medical care or have someone drive them to the emergency room. Seeking medical care is crucial because, without evaluation and treatment, dog bites can become infected and cause severe and long-term medical issues.
File a Police Report
Victims of a dog bite should file a police report, even if the bite or injuries were minor. Not only does the information help protect future victims, but it also puts the owner and law enforcement on notice of the dog’s propensities.
Information regarding the dog’s licensing, medical history, and attack history is important to substantiate claims for injuries and damages.
Dog bite victims should take photographs of the incident scene, if possible, and any pictures that can help a judge or jury accurately envision the events surrounding the attack. In addition, photographs of the injury as it heals or worsens can help establish damages.
Contact A Dog Bite Injury Lawyer
Individuals who have been bitten by a dog should contact an experienced California dog bite attorney. California has various procedural, statutory, county-specific, and breed-specific laws that govern these cases. An attorney can help victims understand their rights and legal remedies.
Level of Dog Bites
Medical providers and dog behavior specialists typically use a scale when assessing and treating dog bites. While various rating tools exist, clinicians and trainers most frequently use Dunbar’s Dog Bite Scale.
- Level 1: No teeth-to-skin contact, but the dog might exhibit obnoxious behavior or aggression.
- Level 2: Skin contact but no puncture; the victim may experience nicks and slight bleeding.
- Level 3: One to four punctures from a single bite with no puncture deeper than half the length of the dog’s canine teeth. Lacerations may occur from the victim pulling their limb away or the owner pulling their dog away.
- Level 4: One to four deep punctures from one bite, lacerations, or bruising from the dog holding on or shaking.
- Level 5: Multiple-bite attack with at least two Level 4 bites or multiple-attack incidents with at least one Level 4 bite.
- Level 6: Victim dies from the dog bite.
Most dog bites involve Level 1 and 2 events and injuries.
California is a “strict liability” state regarding dog bite claims. Under this framework, a dog bite victim does not need to prove that the dog’s owner acted negligently to recover compensation. As such, California dog owners cannot avoid responsibility by claiming that they didn’t know their dog had any dangerous propensities or that their dog has never bitten anyone before. However, California’s strict liability laws have certain limitations. Dog owners are only strictly liable in California if the following is true:
- The injured person was bitten, and
- The incident occurred in a public place or when the victim was “lawfully in a private place,” including the dog owner’s property.
A skillful and experienced attorney can help dog bite victims establish these crucial elements.
Establishing a Dog Bite Claim
In some cases, owners try to avoid liability by claiming that their dog did not actually bite the victim. However, under California case law, an owner might still be responsible if their dog grabs someone with its teeth, even if the victim’s skin does not break. For instance, in McMahon vs. Craig (linked above), the court held that a dog’s owner was liable for injuries when their dog grabbed a worker’s pants, causing the worker to fall off their ladder and sustain injuries.
But generally speaking, victims should hire an attorney to help establish the critical elements of a dog-bite lawsuit.
Dog Bite Negligence Claims
California’s strict liability laws only apply to dog bites. For example, strict liability does not apply in cases where a dog chases a victim on a bike and the victim crashes into a tree trying to escape. However, in such a scenario, the victim can pursue a claim based on negligence against the owner. Unlike strict liability, a negligence claim requires the plaintiff to prove the elements of negligence to win compensation.
Dog Bite Lawsuit Defenses
A skillful and experienced attorney can refute a dog owner’s defenses to liability. A common defense to a California dog bite lawsuit involves arguing that the victim was a trespasser because dog bite laws do not protect trespassers. For example, under the statute, any individual carrying out a legal duty, like checking meters or delivering mail, is lawfully on private property. A dog bite lawyer can also help refute comparative negligence and risk of injury defenses.
Have You Recently Been Attacked by a Dog in California?
If you were recently attacked by a dog, the dedicated California dog bite lawyers at the Weinberg Law Offices are here to help. For the past four decades, we have stood beside dog bite victims and their families, aggressively advocating on their behalf in pursuit of fair settlements and damages awards. We understand that your life is busy, so we strive to make the recovery process as straightforward as possible. To schedule a free consultation today, call 877-943-6274. You can also connect with us through our online contact form.