Typically, dogs are man's best friends since they provide the much-required companionship and love. Nevertheless, sometimes a dog's conduct can be dangerous and aggressive. When a pet attacks a person, the dog owner should take the matter seriously. Numerous mental and physical impacts can linger following a dog bite wound recovery.
So, can you take legal action after a dog attack/bite? What steps should you take? How severe does the bite injury require to be to bring a claim?
The article below explores these questions and guides you on how the California law protects your rights.
Does California Use the "One-Bite Rule?"
Texas, Nevada, and New Mexico use the "one-bite rule." Essentially the rule allows the canine a free pass after its first attack or bite. It does not necessarily apply to breeds known to be more likely to attack or be dangerous, but the jury can adjudicate the rule depending on the case circumstances.
States following the "one-bite rule" do not impose accountability for the bite unless the pet owner has been advised that the animal is dangerous. In layman's language, the owner is only responsible for injuries resulting from the attack, provided the plaintiff can establish that the owner knew or ought to have been aware of the pet's previous vicious or dangerous propensities.
However, California applies strict liability on dog owners. The pet owner is accountable for injuries irrespective of whether their pet has previously bitten a person or shown aggression signs. Whether you suffered a bite, knockdown, or a more severe attack, the animal owner is accountable, and you might have grounds to seek compensation.
Civil Code 3342 is the civil dog bite statute. The law makes pet owners responsible for any injuries to somebody else provided:
The victim did not provoke the dog, and
The victim was bitten while legally on private property or in public
That means you cannot recover compensation if any of the statement below is true:
You were trespassing a private property
You provoked the canine
The canine was guarding its owner or somebody else under self-defense laws
The canine belonged to the police or military and was used appropriately under the agency's policies.
Dog Bite Injuries
Injuries sustained in dog bite attacks can be devastating and sometimes permanent. Victims face an extended and challenging road to recovery. Below is an overview of the dog bite injuries:
Abrasions — These are superficial injuries like scrapes and grazes that do not go beyond the epidermis. Usually, there is little bleeding, but victims might experience scarring. While you can treat your injuries at home, you should seek medical attention to prevent complications and infections. Moreover, medical records play a significant role when filing a personal injury claim.
Lacerations — These are deep tears or cuts in your skin that go beyond your epidermis and into your blood vessels, nerves, bones, or muscles. Generally, lacerations are characterized by excessive bleeding and uneven zig-zag patterns.
Punctures — A puncture occurs when a dog's teeth puncture or pierce your skin. While the wounds are smaller than lacerations, they can be deep, increasing the risk of infections. Therefore, you should seek medical attention even when bleeding is not profuse.
Rabies — Rabies is a viral infection spread to people by the saliva of an infected animal when a bite occurs. Fortunately, thanks to widespread rabies vaccination in the United States, the disease is less prevalent in domestic animals. There is no effective treatment after an infection has been diagnosed. It can also infect the victim's central nervous system if they fail to seek proper medical attention immediately.
Tetanus — Tetanus is caused by bacteria found in manure, dust, or soil. The bacteria can enter your body through a skin break or puncture caused by a contaminated object like a dog bite. If you are worried about the risk, visit your medical practitioner for screening.
Bone fractures — They are severe, particularly when they happen on your hands, feet, or facial bones. The fractures can lead to an altered appearance or impaired functionality, resulting in surgical procedures to repair or replace the damaged areas.
Amputations — When necessary, a dog attack can lead to removing toes, arms, feet, legs, and fingers.
Nerve damage — When a victim's nerve networks or nerves are disrupted, they might experience permanent pain or loss of muscle function.
Avulsions — The injuries involve many tissues and skin layers being torn from your body. Avulsions are more severe than lacerations and have an increased risk of infections. They can leave scarring, permanent mobility challenges resulting from muscle function loss, and disfigurement.
Death — While rare, a severe dog attack can be fatal. Senior citizens and children are at an increased risk of succumbing to the injuries.
How Much is a Dog Bite Claim Payout Worth?
Please note that while there are six (6) grades of bites under the Dunbar Bite Scale, you might qualify for damages irrespective of your bite level.
Generally, the settlement amount for most dog bites claims is approximately $50,000. The amounts increase every year. For instance, the average dog bite claim award was $44,769 and $50,425 in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Every claim is unique, and the following factors determine the case worth:
The severity of the injuries sustained
The animal's bite history
The alleged victim's percentage of accountability for their attack
Pet owner's conduct
Characteristics of the alleged victim or the pet, such as the dog being a police animal or the alleged victim being a veterinarian.
There is no average canine bite payout. Thanks to the numerous factors affecting the final amount. Your lawyer can advocate for you aggressively to ensure you receive your deserved compensation.
If a dog bites you, you are entitled to compensation from the defendant. Common damages awarded include:
Past medical attention
Reasonably expected future medical bills such as physical therapy
Emergency room medical attention
Loss of earning capacity, if your injuries are too severe to affect your professional success
Your family's loss of companionship and consortium
Pain and suffering
You can also be awarded punitive damages. Nevertheless, it is rare for victims to recover these damages since they are awarded provided the defendant's behavior was:
A behavior is despicable if a reasonable person considers it base, shameful, or vile.
A defendant acts with malice when they:
Intend to cause your injuries, or
Acted despicably and with a knowing and willful disregard of your safety and rights
An individual behaves with a knowing disregard of another's safety when they know of the probable hazardous consequences of their action and intentionally refuses to avoid repercussions.
Dog bites victims should demonstrate that the owner acted with malice, fraud, or oppression, using clear and persuading evidence. The standard of proof is higher than in most civil lawsuits, making it challenging to receive these damages.
Punitive damages are tailored to punish the defendant and deter any future wrongful conduct by the pet owner.
There is no cap on the punitive damages award amount. It is within the jury's discretion to award the damages.
Multiple parties can cause an accident. Maybe you entered a friend's yard despite the "Beware of a dog" sign or put your hands via a fence to pet the animal.
In this case, you are also liable for your accident. California uses the pure comparative negligence rule. The percentage equivalent to your fault will reduce your compensation amount. It holds even when you are primarily to blame.
Suppose the jury determines that your total damages are $10,000, but you were 30% accountable for causing the occurrence that resulted in the injury. In this case, you will receive a compensation award of $7,000.
Do Insurance Providers Pay in Dog Bite Cases?
Homeowners' insurance and renter's insurance policies can pay dog attack damages. Nonetheless, not every dog owner carries insurance coverage. It increases the cost of insurance premiums, causing many pet owners to opt-out of insurance. On top of that, homeowners do not need to have coverage.
If the canine owner does not carry the coverage, you will hold them responsible. Since the verdict and settlement will be the owner's out-of-pocket, you are more likely to be under-compensated.
Statute of Limitations for a Dog Bite
The statute of limitations in San Diego is two (2) years. The clock starts ticking on the date your attack or bite occurred.
However, there are exceptions to the time frame. For instance, if the pet owner leaves California for a while after your injury, the statute of limitations might pause until the pet owner returns.
If you attempt filing your claim after the deadline has elapsed, expect the pet owner to request the court to dismiss your case. Unless there exists an exception, the court will grant their request. Should that occur, you are left without a legal remedy for the injuries and losses incurred.
If you are worried that the deadline is approaching or your settlement talks have stalled, consult with a skilled personal injury attorney to protect your legal rights.
Steps to Take Following a Dog Attack/Bite
Because a dog bite injury can have substantial legal, financial, and medical ramifications, it would help if you knew the steps to take following the attack or bite. Please read the section below to learn the essential steps to take.
Taking the right steps after the accident is imperative to your well-being, health, and the legal action you might want to take. The first crucial steps include the below:
Ensure you seek immediate medical attention, especially if you sustained severe injuries. Puncture wounds, for instance, increase the risk of infection while some pets are not vaccinated against rabies. Finally, remember to take photographs of the wounds before receiving treatment to document your harm accurately.
Like just any other accident, exchange details with the dog's caretaker or owner. It helps you reach them with ease, particularly when verifying the animal's vaccination history. Collect details like the owner's name, contact information, address, and dog's breed.
Collect the contact information of any person that witnessed your incident. An eyewitness account provides an accurate image of what took place. Ask them to discuss the animal's conduct, whether it was on a leash, and what the owner was doing during the attack. The account can also reduce the possibility of the defendant arguing that you were partially accountable for your injuries.
Finally, file a report with the local animal control agency. Investigating your matter can help your case and avoid future dog attacks or bites.
Complying with these steps can speed up reaching a fair and satisfactory compensation agreement.
Document Your Dog Bite
On top of taking the initial steps discussed above, documentation is a vital component of the must-do things after the attack. Document all injuries linked to the bite and the impact of the injuries like reduced mobility, incapacity to perform specific functions, and pain.
Your documentation can be in journal entries, written records, medical records, and photographs. Also, note down the case facts and events surrounding the incident. Ensure you do this when the memory is fresh.
Because you might deal with an insurer, ensure you document all your correspondence with the insurance firm, witnesses, and other parties. Also, keep records of all costs incurred due to the bite, like travel costs, lost income, and medical expenses.
The more documentation a plaintiff has, the simpler it is to assess their deserved compensation amount.
Seek Legal Representation
Since dog attacks and bites are prevalent, legal experts are experienced in handling canine bite claims, lawsuits, and settlements. Typically, the lawyers know who to arrive at an accurate compensation amount.
Also, they are skilled in assessing your possibility for a case success based on California dog bite law and the results of similar personal injury cases.
Your lawyer can also play a significant role in handling the defendant's insurance firm and negotiating your settlement. Insurance companies are used to plaintiffs accepting low offers. Seasoned lawyers know the tactics and tricks employed by insurance providers and the most compelling evidence and arguments to use to realize a fair settlement.
Avoid Providing the Insurance Company a Statement
An insurance adjuster is paid to save their insurance firm as much money as possible. They are also skilled at collecting information from claimants that they try to use against them.
They might tell you that they need a recorded statement only to use it against you or justify your compensation claim denial.
Commonly Asked Questions on Dog Bite Lawsuits
If a dog has bitten you, you might be coping with significant medical expenses, pain and suffering, and spending time away from work. You might be confused about what to do to protect your rights. Here are answers to frequently asked questions. Since every case is different, you can contact your lawyer to discuss your injuries and case circumstances.
Do You Require a Police Report to Take Legal Action?
It is not a must. However, it might be easier to recover punitive damages if your local animal control officer has investigated and concluded the pet is hazardous. It can also put the canine owner on notice to take necessary steps to ensure other persons' safety.
What Legal Defenses Can the Defendant Use to Avoid Liability?
Depending on the case circumstances, a dog owner or their insurance provider might fight your claim back by arguing that:
The at-fault person was not the dog handler or owner and cannot, therefore, be responsible
You did not sustain injuries
The dog did not cause your injuries
You provoked the pet
The pet owner exercised reasonable care by restraining their canine
You assumed the risk of a dog bite per assumption of risk law, maybe because you are the canine's veterinarian or groomer
Please note that the defendant cannot claim you are a strong adult as a valid defense. All persons qualify for canine bite compensation irrespective of their abilities, build, and age.
What Pieces of Evidence Can a Personal Injury Lawyer Use to Prove the Dog Bite?
To recover compensation after a dog bite, you must prove certain elements. Outlined below are different forms of proof your lawyer can use to demonstrate the attack:
Recordings and videos from surveillance cameras at the scene
The canine's veterinary records
The pet's adoption papers
Photos of all visible injuries
Find a Skilled Dog Bite Personal Injury Lawyer Near Me
If a dog has bitten you in San Diego, you should acknowledge that you have rights and should not pay for medical bills and other losses caused by another person's uncontrolled pet. California follows strict liability laws, and the dog owner can be held responsible. The legal team at San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm understands the emotional anguish and pain of an unexpected and vicious dog attack. We are dedicated to assisting you to recover the compensation you require to make you whole.
Contact us today at 619-478-4059 to schedule your confidential, free initial consultation. We can listen to the side of the story and advise on the available legal options.