Dog Bite Injuries: Legal Rights and Recourse for Victims of Animal Attacks

May 28, 2024

This article outlines the legal rights and recourse for victims of dog bite injuries in California. It covers the strict liability statute, owner responsibilities for dangerous dogs, and the legal steps victims can take to seek compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. It also emphasizes the importance of seeking immediate medical attention, documenting the incident, and consulting with a personal injury attorney.‍

Dog bite injuries are a significant public health concern, with millions of Americans experiencing bites annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In California, the number of reported dog bite incidents ranks among the highest in the nation, reflecting the widespread impact of these incidents on individuals and communities.

Victims of dog bite injuries may suffer from a range of injuries, including puncture wounds, lacerations, fractures, and infections. In severe cases, dog bites can result in permanent disfigurement, nerve damage, and psychological trauma, necessitating extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation.

Dog Bite Laws in California

California's Strict Liability Statute (Civil Code § 3342)

California's strict liability statute, Civil Code § 3342, establishes the legal principle of strict liability for dog bite injuries. Under this statute, dog owners are held strictly liable for any injuries caused by their dogs biting another person, regardless of the dog's past behavior or the owner's knowledge of the dog's aggressive tendencies.

Unlike in some other states where dog owners may be entitled to one "free bite" before liability attaches, California follows a strict liability standard, meaning that the owner is responsible for damages resulting from a dog bite regardless of any prior knowledge or warnings.

This strict liability applies regardless of where the dog bite occurs, whether it's on public property, private property, or even the dog owner's property. However, there are exceptions to this rule, such as instances where the victim was trespassing or provoking the dog at the time of the attack.

Definition of a "Dangerous Dog" and Owner Liability

In addition to the strict liability statute for dog bites, California law defines certain criteria for designating a dog as "dangerous" and imposes additional responsibilities and liabilities on the owner of such a dog.

Under California law, a dog may be deemed "dangerous" if it has:

- Seriously injured or killed a person without provocation

- Been previously designated as dangerous by animal control authorities due to aggressive behavior

Owners of dangerous dogs are subject to strict regulations, including requirements for secure containment, muzzling in public, and obtaining liability insurance coverage. Additionally, owners may be held criminally liable for injuries caused by their dangerous dogs, regardless of whether the dog has a history of aggression.

Statute of Limitations for Filing a Claim

It's important for victims of dog bite injuries to be aware of the statute of limitations for filing a claim in California. The statute of limitations sets a deadline for initiating legal action, beyond which the victim may lose the right to seek compensation for their injuries.

In California, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim, including claims for dog bite injuries, is generally two years from the date of the injury. However, there may be exceptions and variations depending on the specific circumstances of the case, so it's advisable for victims to consult with a personal injury attorney promptly to understand their rights and ensure timely filing of their claim.

Legal Rights for Victims of Dog Bite Injuries

Right to Pursue Compensation for Medical Expenses, Lost Wages, and Pain and Suffering

Victims of dog bite injuries in California have the right to pursue compensation for various damages incurred as a result of the attack. These damages may include:

Medical Expenses: Victims are entitled to compensation for medical expenses related to treating their injuries, including hospital bills, doctor's fees, medication costs, rehabilitation expenses, and any future medical treatment that may be necessary.

Lost Wages: If the victim is unable to work due to their injuries, they may be entitled to compensation for lost wages and income during their recovery period. This includes both past and future lost earnings resulting from the inability to work or perform job duties due to the injuries sustained in the dog attack.

Pain and Suffering: Victims may also seek compensation for the physical pain, emotional distress, and psychological trauma caused by the dog bite injuries. Pain and suffering damages aim to compensate victims for the non-economic losses they experience as a result of the attack, including fear, anxiety, and diminished quality of life.

Options for Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit or Insurance Claim

Victims of dog bite injuries in California have multiple options for seeking compensation, including:

Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit: Victims may file a personal injury lawsuit against the dog owner to recover damages for their injuries and losses. In California, dog owners are held strictly liable for injuries caused by their dogs biting another person, making it easier for victims to establish liability and recover compensation.

Filing an Insurance Claim: Victims may also file an insurance claim with the dog owner's homeowners' insurance or renters' insurance policy to seek compensation for their damages. Many homeowners' insurance policies provide coverage for dog bite injuries, up to the policy limits.

Importance of Gathering Evidence and Seeking Legal Counsel

In order to pursue a successful claim for dog bite injuries, it is essential for victims to gather evidence and seek legal counsel promptly. Important steps to take include:

Documenting the Incident: Victims should document the details of the dog bite incident, including the date, time, and location of the attack, as well as any witnesses present. Taking photographs of the injuries and the scene of the attack can also serve as valuable evidence.

Seeking Medical Attention: Victims should seek medical attention immediately following the dog bite incident, even if the injuries appear minor. Prompt medical treatment not only ensures proper care for the injuries but also creates a medical record documenting the extent of the injuries sustained.

Consulting with a Personal Injury Attorney: Victims should consult with a knowledgeable and experienced personal injury attorney who can evaluate their case, explain their legal rights and options, and guide them through the claims process. An attorney can help victims gather evidence, negotiate with insurance companies, and pursue maximum compensation for their injuries and losses.

Steps to Take After a Dog Bite Injury

Seeking Immediate Medical Attention

The first priority after a dog bite injury is to seek prompt medical attention, even if the injury appears minor. Dog bites can cause serious injuries, including puncture wounds, lacerations, infections, and nerve damage, which may not be immediately apparent. Seeking medical treatment ensures that your injuries are properly assessed, treated, and documented by healthcare professionals. Additionally, timely medical care can help prevent complications and infections associated with dog bite injuries.

Reporting the Incident to Animal Control and Law Enforcement

After receiving medical treatment, it's important to report the dog bite incident to local animal control authorities and law enforcement agencies. Reporting the incident helps document the attack, identify the dog and its owner, and initiate an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the attack. Animal control authorities may take action to quarantine the dog, assess its behavior and vaccination status, and ensure public safety. Law enforcement agencies may also conduct an investigation to determine if any criminal charges or citations are warranted against the dog owner.

Documenting Injuries and Gathering Evidence

Documenting your injuries and gathering evidence is essential for supporting your claim for compensation and establishing liability in a potential legal case. Be sure to:

- Take photographs of your injuries, including any bruises, lacerations, or swelling, as well as the location of the bite on your body.

- Obtain copies of medical records, treatment notes, and any prescriptions or recommendations provided by healthcare providers.

- Collect contact information from witnesses who may have observed the dog attack and can provide testimony about what happened.

- Keep records of any expenses incurred as a result of the dog bite injury, such as medical bills, prescription costs, and transportation expenses.

Consulting with a Personal Injury Attorney

Finally, it's highly advisable to consult with a qualified personal injury attorney who specializes in dog bite cases. An experienced attorney can assess the circumstances of your case, explain your legal rights and options, and guide you through the process of seeking compensation for your damages. Your attorney can help you navigate the complexities of California's dog bite laws, negotiate with insurance companies on your behalf, and advocate for your best interests in settlement negotiations or court proceedings.