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Dog Bite Laws and Liability
Man’s best friend…most of the time.
Dogs are the glue that holds us together. They cheer us up when we’re down, and they play with us when we have a sudden burst of energy. Man’s best friend they are, except those infrequent moments when a dog bares its teeth before plunging an incisor into someone else’s skin. As the famous line in Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” goes, a dog’s sharp teeth typically lead to one thing. “Draw blood.”
Many dog biting lawsuits do not even involve a malicious canine, yet it doesn’t matter if a dog has a motive or not. A dog that bit someone isn’t going on trial, nor will the dog have to pay a plaintiff five bags of treats as the award handed down in a civil lawsuit.
No, the dog isn’t going on trial, but the owner of a dog that bit someone might have to pay a price, maybe a steep price. Whether you own a dog or suffered a dog bite injury from another person’s dog, California dog bite laws should interest you.
Laws About Dog Bites
Section 3342 of the California Code states a dog owner is legally liable for the damages caused by a dog bite. A dog bite incident can occur in a public or a private setting that includes the dog owner’s property. It does not matter if a dog never displayed aggression before; California places the legal responsibility for most types of dog bites on the shoulders of the dog owner.
We mention “most types” of dog bites because government agencies such as a police department that use canines for law enforcement work are not legally liable if a working dog was assisting an employee and simply doing what it was commanded to do. Another exception to the strict liability rule is when a dog bites someone because the dog was defending itself from harassment or provocation.
California also has a law on the books that places an additional legal burden on a dog owner because the owner’s dog previously bit or attacked another person. After a dog has bitten someone on two different occasions, the district attorney should analyze both cases to determine whether the dog owner took reasonable steps to keep the dog away from other people.
Although California’s strict liability law applies to virtually every type of dog bite despite a canine’s history, another state law places the responsibility of dog owners for taking “reasonable steps” to prevent additional attacks if a dog has a history of biting people. California statutes allow plaintiffs to file lawsuits against owners of a dog that has bitten a person twice. State law also makes it illegal for a dog owner to train an attack dog that seriously hurt someone with just one bite.
A judge overseeing a dog bite lawsuit might issue a ruling that forces the owner of an attack dog to prevent additional attacks, which can include putting the dog down or relocating the dog out of the area. Civil cases cannot involve a dog that bit a trespasser, as well as working police or military dog. California has in place a separate legal hearing to determine how to deal with a dangerous dog. A representative from animal control or law enforcement must file a petition for a hearing if they suspect a dog to be a serious threat to the community.
A canine can be labeled dangerous if has done one or more of the following things:
- Force someone to defend against an unprovoked attack at least two times during the three previous years
- Bit a person without provocation that resulted in an injury
- Killed or maimed a domestic animal without provocation at least twice over the prior three years
A statute of limitations sets the deadline for a plaintiff to file a lawsuit in the California civil court system. Filing a lawsuit for a dog bite injury falls under the statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits. California Code of Civil Procedure Section 340 places a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. The clock starts ticking on a dog bite injury claim on the day a dog allegedly bit a plaintiff. If you file a dog bite lawsuit after the personal injury statute of limitations expires, you can expect the court clerk to dismiss your lawsuit.
Working with a dog bite lawyer who specializes in dog bite lawsuits and liabilities can help you meet the deadline for filing a civil lawsuit.
Understanding what you need to do after a dog bite is not only important for your health, but it is also crucial for building a strong enough for a dog bite lawyer to file a civil lawsuit.
- Seek Medical Care
- Exchange information with the dog owner
- Write down witness information
- Contact animal control
Evidence You Need to Collect
If you are a victim of a dog bite, medical documentation is essential for you to win a civil lawsuit. Ask your healthcare provider for every medical record that includes diagnostic tests and treatment plans. The impact of a dog bite can include severe pain, inhibited mobility, and the inability to complete standard tasks. If the dog bite has negatively affected your performance at work, you should ask your employer to provide a written statement that describes how the injury has diminished your work performance.Top of Form
Reasons Why Dogs Bite
Dogs evolved over the centuries to be about as domesticated as humans. They eat at our dinner table, watch television with us, and go for long rides in the country. However, dogs have retained some of the primal instincts developed by their ancestors centuries ago, including using their sharp teeth for several possible reasons.
Most dogs love to play, and when playtime gets a little rambunctious, a dog can accidentally bite someone. Let’s say you meet someone you know at the local park and your dog immediately begins to play with the other person. Your dog can accidentally break the skin with its teeth.
When feeling cornered, a dog can strike back with a ferociousness that can include multiple bites. Some dogs had tough upbringings and certain events can trigger acute fear, which prompts a dog to lash out and bite someone. This reason for a dog bite is common for lawsuits when a dog encounters a stranger that reminds the dog about a fearful event in the past.
Dogs are territorial, which can lead a dog down the wrong path because it needs to protect its territory. This can mean a dog bites someone who violated the dog’s space, but instead of showing displeasure as we do, the dog uses its teeth to make a point. Mother dogs also defend their puppies by using their teeth.
When a dog feels vulnerable because of an illness or injury, the dog might not want anyone but its owner to approach it at any time. This reason for a dog bite rarely comes up in civil lawsuits that involve a plaintiff seeking monetary damages for suffering from a dog bite.
Possible Defenses for a Dog Bite Lawsuit
Dog owners have several defenses to use when confronted with the liability of a dog bite lawsuit.
A judge or a jury overseeing a dog bite lawsuit wants to see conclusive evidence that a dog bit another person. Evidence must come in the form of medical records that confirm the plaintiff received one or more dog bites. Witness accounts can help a defendant fight back against dog bite charges.
Just because a dog is on someone’s property does not mean a dog on the property belongs to the owner. Stray dogs roam onto people’s properties and bite anyone that approaches the dogs. Animal control and veterinarian records can verify whether a defendant in a dog bite case is the dog’s owner.
A victim who is illegally on another person’s private property has no legal right to file a claim alleging a dog bit the victim. If a dog bit you while you were taking a shortcut across someone else’s property, then you cannot sue the dog owner.
Any type of provocation, from verbal taunts to physical abuse, nullifies the strict liability statute. If a victim was bit after annoying or hitting a dog, the victim has no legal right to file a dog bite lawsuit against the dog owner.
Even the best dog bite lawyers can't guarantee compensation. Some dog bite claims get tossed out of civil court because the plaintiff cannot prove the dog in question bit the victim. A dog bite does not have to puncture the skin for it to be considered a dog bite, Nonetheless, a dog that jumps on someone, tripped over someone, or scratched someone cannot become part of a civil lawsuit alleging a dog bite.
Professionals that work with dogs, such as veterinarians, dog trainers, and dog groomers usually cannot receive compensation for any injuries caused by a dog bite. California law states the risk of a dog bite for a professional canine handler is considered part of their job. However, four conditions might allow a victim to receive compensation for a dog bite.
- The victim worked for the dog owner
- The owner knew the dog bit someone before
- Dog owner signed a contract of liability for any injuries caused by a dog
- The victim received a bite before or after working with the dog
FAQs About Dog Bites
As with other areas of law, California is considered the model for enacting dog bite laws and liability. Most residents of California and certainly visitors from all over the world are not familiar with California dog bite laws.
With that in mind, let’s answer five of the most frequently asked questions that concern California dog bite laws.
California is a strict liability state for dog bite cases. Strict liability for dog bite cases in California means a dog owner is legally liable for a dog bite incident even if the dog owner had no idea the dog would attack. In California, dog owners are responsible for damages that result from a dog bite incident, including if a dog has never bitten anyone before.
California requires dog owners to report dog bite incidents, even if a wound appears superficial. The reason for the mandatory dog bite report is to initiate the quarantine process. Local health agencies in California make animal control their contact point for all dog bite incidents.
Although it’s possible a dog can be put down after biting another person, the vast majority of cases do not involve euthanizing the dog in question. A dog might be euthanized if it has a history of committing aggressive acts that include biting another person.
Before California enacted the strict liability law for dog bites, the one-bite rule held dog owners responsible for a dog bite incident if they knew or should have known that their dog’s dangerous behavior would lead to a dog bite incident. Strict liability eliminated the need to enforce the one-bite rule, which means it’s no longer legally relevant.
In cases where there is overwhelming evidence of malice and/or negligence, a down owner might have to pay punitive damages in a dog bite case.
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Contact a Dog Bite Lawyer
The most important step to take after receiving a dog bite injury is to contact a California Dog Bite lawyer who specializes personal injury. Your lawyer can act as the intermediary between you and your insurance company, as well as between you and the lawyer representing the dogs owner. Since dog bite lawsuits are common in the California court system, you should be able to find a lawyer who has extensive experience successfully litigating dog bite cases.
Your lawyer can help you determine an accurate amount of monetary damages, as well as argue that you deserve punitive damages for pain and suffering. Going it alone in a dog bite case can leave you with considerable regret when the other side wins the case. Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, which means they take no upfront money and wait until their clients collect damages to receive compensation in a dog bite lawsuit.
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