California Dog Bite Lawyers
A dog bite attack can be a traumatic experience that may cause severe and long-lasting injuries. If you or a loved one is the victim of a dog bite you should seek immediate medical assistance and contact an experienced California dog bite lawyer without delay.
What Should You Do After A Dog Bite Attack?
- Seek Medical Treatment as Soon as Possible. Dog bites pose a serious risk for infection and a physician should be contacted immediately for treatment. If the bite is serious and you or a loved one are in immediate medical distress, call an ambulance or go to an emergency room or urgent care facility as quickly as possible.
- Identify the Dog That Bit You. You or someone helping you should try to identify the dog that attacked you and determine how the dog’s owner can be located. The owner’s identity is necessary because the owner is the responsible party, and the owner’s home insurance company is usually the entity that pays for injuries.
- Report the Attack. Report the dog bite to the local county animal control agency or the sheriff’s department. Provide information about the dog, including the owner’s name and address. If the dog was a stray, describe the animal’s appearance and the location of the incident.
- Have Photos Taken of the Injuries. As soon as it is practical after the attack, take photographs of all visible injuries, including wounds and lacerations. Also, take photos of any torn or bloody clothing. If possible make sure pictures are taken of the dog itself and of the site of the attack.
- Contact a Reputable Firm with Experienced California Dog Bite Lawyers. After a dog attack you may be facing significant pain, treatments, medical bills, and perhaps pressure from an insurance company to give statements or settle cheaply. Time is of the essence. Your chances of success increase dramatically through effective investigation and representation by a skilled attorney. Prompt action by a lawyer with knowledge of California dog bite law is necessary to preserve evidence, locate witnesses, and identify defendants. Hiring effective legal representation should therefore not be delayed.
- Do Not Give an Insurance Company Information About Your Dog Bite Incident or Injuries, or Sign any Document without Discussing it with Your Attorney. The insurance companies’ first interest is protecting themselves from claims. The information you give them can and will be used against you to defeat or minimize your claim. Also, do not attempt to settle the case yourself. You may have a right to certain types of compensation for damages you may not know exist, or not know how to assert. The value of your case, for example, increases as you receive treatments and incur expenses. Dog bites in particular often result in scars requiring surgical procedures. Those treatments can be alleged as damages to increase the value of your claim. It is important to contact an experienced lawyer as soon as possible after the dog attack. In California, effective dog bite lawyers can seek full compensation for all of the damages you are entitled to recover.
Defenses under California Dog Bite Law
Although a dog owner in California is strictly liable for the injuries caused in a dog attack, the owner, the landlord and others can defend themselves and avoid liability under certain circumstances. When these circumstances arise it is essential to be represented by a competent attorney to ensure that the defenses raised do not derail your case. The following are several defenses that can be raised by a defendant to avoid liability:
- Trespassing As a Defense in Dog Bite Attacks. California’s strict liability law only applies if the victim is in a public place or lawfully in a private place at the time of the attack. A common defense is to claim that the victim was trespassing on the dog owner’s private property, which if true negates liability under the strict liability law.
A person who is deemed a trespasser would have to sue under other legal theories, such as common law or negligence (discussed below). A person is legally on private property if their presence is allowed by law, such as a mail carrier or emergency service personnel, or if there was an invitation from the property owner. Normally a social guest is legally on someone’s property while the guest is trying to find out if the owner is at home (for example, while ringing the door bell or walking up a driveway to see if the owner’s car is in the garage).
A guest, however, cannot ignore the customary formalities. Entering through a gate or door without permission becomes a trespass. For example, in one case a child was properly on the dog owner’s property but was told to stay out of the backyard. The child opened a gate and was bitten by a dog after entering the backyard. Despite her age, the court held the child was a trespasser and the property owner was not liable.
- Where the Injury Is Not a Bite. Under California dog bite law, a dog owner is liable for an attack only when the injury is the result of an actual bite. Although the injury must be caused by the action of a dog bite, the skin does not have to be broken. For example, if the victim is bruised or suffered nerve damage without the presence of actual puncture wounds, the dog owner would still be liable. There are cases where non-bite injuries have occurred after a dog jumped on or knocked over a victim. In such cases the dog owner is not responsible under California’s strict liability law, but may be liable under other theories of recovery, such as negligence (discussed below).
- Assumption of the Risk as a Defense. The actions of the victim prior to the attack are also important in determining whether a dog owner will be held liable. Even if the victim is lawfully on private property, the dog owner is not liable if the victim kicked, teased, or otherwise provoked the animal. In such instances a dog owner may raise the defense that the victim invited the injury by her conduct and therefore assumed the risk of the attack. The key factors are the victim’s knowledge and appreciation of the danger and a voluntary acceptance of the risk of being bitten.
The defense of assumption of the risk also applies when someone assumes control or possession of the dog. For example, veterinarians and their assistants have assumed the risk of being bitten while treating a dog in their possession and control, as do others such as trainers, groomers, house sitters, kennel staff, and handlers.
- Children Below the Age of Five. There are special rules for some children in personal injury cases. As a matter of law, children under the age of five are considered incapable of negligent acts, such as provoking a dog. The courts reason that children of that age are not legally capable of acting with reasonable care towards an animal.
Minor’s Settlements in Dog Bite Cases
Minors’ settlements must be approved by the court or jurisdiction in the case, under California law. If the dog bite victim is a child, the financial recovery in the case is often placed in a protective account until the child has reached the age of 18. The account must be federally-insured and interest-bearing. A diligent attorney will ensure that compensation is properly structured to provide periodic payments to the minor after reaching eighteen years in a way that benefits the child over a long period of time.
What Exactly is Personal Injury?
Dog Bites Statistics
According to a recent survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention there are more than 74.8 million dogs in the United States. This survey also shows that dogs bite more than 4.7 million people every year – nearly 2% of the population. Children are particularly vulnerable. They comprise more that 70% of dog bite victims, and often are the victims of the more serious injuries from dog bite attacks.
Who is Liable in an Attack?
The dog bite laws vary from state to state, but all states generally hold dog owners liable for a dog attack if they knowingly kept a dog that had previously bitten someone, or that had shown a dangerous tendency to bite someone. This has come to be known as the “one-free bite” rule because dog owners are shielded from liability if the dog had never bitten anyone or shown any tendency to do so. Almost all states place liability on someone who orders or makes a dog attack another person. In that case the person could also be charged criminally with a battery.
Strict Liability and California Dog Bite Law
Many states, including California, have enacted statutes (laws that are passed by the legislature), which hold a dog owner liable for a dog bite attack even if the dog has never bitten anyone. This is called strict liability. These types of statutes effectively eliminate the “one-free bite” rule because liability is based upon ownership. It is irrelevant whether the dog bit someone previously or whether the owner knew the animal could be vicious. Under this California law the victim of an attack only needs to show that:
- The dog was owned by the defendant
- The attack occurred on public property or while the victim was lawfully on private property
- The victim was injured by an actual bite during the dog attack
- The dog caused the injury
Other Responsible Parties in Dog Bite Attacks
- Dog Keeper or Caretaker. California dog bite laws make the “owner of any dog” liable, but what happens when the dog is under the control of someone else at the time of the attack? In this situation the keeper or caretaker of the animal can also be liable, but not under strict liability. In contrast to an owner, a keeper must have prior knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensities before the keeper can be held liable. If the keeper knows that the dog has previously been involved in an attack this would qualify as “prior knowledge.” Having that knowledge makes him liable.
Liability in the above situation is based on a “common law” theory (discussed below), similar to the “one-free bite” rule. A keeper might also be liable for a dog bite if the keeper was negligent in handling or controlling the dog.
- Landlords Landlords can be held liable for a victim’s injuries in a dog attack in some circumstances. Although sometimes it can be difficult to prove, a landlord must 1) have knowledge of the dangerous propensities of a tenant’s dog, and 2) have the right to remove the animal from the premises.
- Residential Property Owners If the property in question is residential, the landlord does not have a duty to inspect for the existence of a dangerous dog. The landlord must have actual knowledge of the presence of a vicious dog. If a dangerous animal escapes from the landlord’s property due to defects (such as a hole in a fence), then the landlord could also be liable for off-site injuries caused in an attack.
- Commercial Property Owners In the case of commercial properties, the landlord has a stringent duty to inspect the premises in order to discover any dangerous conditions, including a vicious pet. For example, if a commercial tenant is running a business on the property and the tenant’s dog bites a customer, the landlord may be liable. The landlord cannot avoid liability by claiming that he or she had no knowledge of the dog, because the landlord has a duty to inspect his commercial properties.
Depending upon the particular facts of the case, there may be other potential defendants in a dog attack case, such as day care centers and home owner associations. Identifying all responsible parties is critical to a successful lawsuit, especially if the pet owner is unable to fully compensate the victim. A competent California dog bite lawyer will be able to investigate the facts surrounding the attack and determine the appropriate parties who may be responsible for the victim’s injuries. The diligence of the lawyer will help increase the chances that the injured victim will be compensated from all available sources.
Other Theories of Liability
As discussed above, there are various situations in which the victim of an attack may not be able to recover under California dog bite law. In such cases there are other legal theories that a competent lawyer might use to hold a dog owner liable for a victim’s injuries. The aid of experienced California dog bite lawyers is essential in presenting the proper legal claims because they are based on the unique facts of each individual attack. Several of those theories are briefly discussed below:
- Common Law Liability. Common law liability is based on the dog owner’s knowledge of the animal’s dangerousness. This is essentially the same as the one free-bite rule. To establish this type of liability it must be shown that the dog had vicious tendencies, such as a prior bite or other vicious behavior, and that the dog owner knew it. California’s law has essentially replaced this common law action as applied to dog owners. However, common law is very useful in establishing liability against a keeper who is in control of the dog at the time of the attack, and had knowledge of its viciousness.
- Negligence in Attacks. A dog owner or keeper can also be held liable by a victim’s dog bite injuries if the owner or keeper is negligent in the handling of the animal at the time of the attack. All that the victim needs to show is that the owner or handler was not reasonably careful in handling or controlling the dog, and that the victim’s injuries were a direct result of the owner or keeper’s lack of proper care. Under this cause of action, it is not necessary to show that the dog had vicious tendencies. The important factor is the owner or keeper’s ineffective control of the animal.
Even dogs that are usually gentle can be dangerous under certain circumstances. For example, if an owner is not keeping a tight leash on his or her pet in a public place and the dog jumps and injures someone, the owner would be negligent.
- Negligence Per Se. Another negligence theory is called “negligence per se.” This means that an owner or keeper is automatically presumed to be responsible for a victim’s injuries if a local law, such as a leash law or other animal control law, is violated and the violation is the cause of the bite injuries. If the dog owner or keeper has no justification for the violation, then culpability is fixed and there is no need to prove that the owner or keeper failed to exercise due care in their control of the dog.
Right to Compensation
A competent attorney will diligently pursue all types of compensation available to the dog bite victim. The types of compensation that California dog bit lawyers can seek on behalf of the victim include:
- Medical bills (both past and future)
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of wages
- Reduced earning capacity
- Punitive damages
- Medical monitoring
- Lifestyle changes
- Lifetime care and medical costs (for severe cases such as brain injuries)
An experienced attorney will also be able to help identify damages from future complications of the injuries sustained in an attack. Many breeds of dogs can exert enormous amounts of pressure with their jaws. Even where it does not appear initially that the victim sustained serious injuries, a dog bite victim can sustain significant nerve damage without having the skin broken. This type of injury has the potential to develop into a serious injury and could require prolonged medical treatment. Retaining an experienced lawyer is an essential step in assuring that any possible future damages will be asserted in behalf of the victim.
Choosing the Right Dog Bite Attorney
A dog attack can be a terrifying experience and may result in not only serious physical injuries, but traumatic and emotional wounds as well, especially in children. Handling a dog bite case can be a complex process and it is essential to seek representation from a skilled and experienced lawyer without delay. Because time is of the essence in dog bite cases, the following should be done without delay:
- Secure evidence
- Track down witnesses
- Establish the animal’s ownership
- Identify other responsible parties
- Report the incident to animal control authorities
- Obtain an incident report
- Obtain relevant medical records
- Contact insurance companies and establish a claim
The Reeves Law Group has handled thousands of personal injury cases successfully, including numerous dog bite cases and achieved exceptional results for its clients. The Reeves Law Group has both substantial experience and the skill to ensure that our clients will obtain optimum representation. If you desire a free consultation in a dog bite matter, please call us at (800) 644-8000 or e-mail us.
For more information, visit our Dog Bites Info Center.