The American Veterinarian Medical Association (AVMA) states that dog ownership is rising. In 2016, dog populations topped out near 77 million; in 2020, that number increased to 83.7 million.
This dramatic increase in dog ownership means more dog encounters. Unfortunately, many owners are inexperienced or don't take the time to train their dogs correctly. As a result, the AVMA notes that 4.5 million people are victims of dog bites each year, and 20% of those individuals require medical treatment for the bite.
A dog attack often causes painful injuries requiring expensive medical care and leaves you permanently scarred or disfigured. Further, you might also suffer psychological trauma from the attack and a fear of dogs.
At Injury Justice Law Firm, our Los Angeles dog bite lawyers are committed to helping injured victims seek justice and financial compensation from pet owners and other responsible parties.
The dog bite injury claims process can become complex, and you will need an experienced injury lawyer to help you, especially if you suffered serious injuries.
An insurance company might intentionally mishandle your claim to minimize your payout. Our lawyers can help you in many ways during a dog bite injury claim, such as the following:
- Answer all your questions;
- Investigate the dog bite incident;
- Identify the at-fault parties;
- Legally prove liability;
- File an insurance claim;
- Negotiate a settlement.
If necessary, we can take your case to trial. Further, we can ensure that you have everything you will need everything you need throughout the claims process, such as medical care.
Suppose you or someone you love is bitten or attacked by a dog in California. In that case, you may be able to pursue legal action through the homeowner's insurance policy, which often covers dog bites, giving victims an essential financial and emotional recovery pathway.
The California Dog Bite Statute
California Civil Code Section 3342 sets forth the following conditions: a dog owner may be liable for a dog bite.
Civil Code 3342 says, “(a) The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness. A person is lawfully upon the private property of such owner within the meaning of this section when he is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when he is on the such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner.”
Whether or not you can hold a pet owner legally and financially responsible for your dog bite injuries will depend on the circumstances of your case. California uses a strict liability dog bite statute, where a pet owner can be liable even without proof of negligence.
In other words, dog owners in California are strictly liable for injuries caused by their dogs. This means dog owners can be held accountable for whether or not they know their dog might bite or attack someone.
If a dog bite caused your injuries and you were lawfully on the property where the attack occurred, the owner or controller of the dog can be held liable for your injuries.
What Are the Common Causes of Dog Bites?
Dogs might bite someone for many reasons, even when they never show signs of aggression. For example, they often bite when feeling threatened or scared or to protect the owner or territory.
Under California law, pet owners are responsible for preventing foreseeable dog attacks by maintaining adequate control of the pet at all times. Some of the common reasons for dog attacks in Los Angeles include the following:
- Owner fails to control the dog;
- Dog was not on a leash or running at large;
- The dog was provoked;
- Somebody unfamiliar was petting them;
- Somebody disturbed the dog while eating;
- Somebody was trespassing on private property.
What Are the Types of Dog Bit Injuries?
Some dog attacks can be catastrophic that cause life-long injuries. Often, when dogs attack, they will not let go, and their teeth cause significant injuries, such as the following:
- Cuts and deep lacerations;
- Puncture wounds;
- Facial injuries;
- Eye injuries;
- Nerve damage;
- Broken bones;
- Permanent scarring and disfigurement;
- Wrongful death.
Who Is Liable for Dog Bites?
The dog's owner is typically liable for injuries, deaths, or property damage caused by the dog. However, suppose someone else was controlling or keeping the dog, such as a dog walker or friend. In that case, they could be held liable.
The definition of a dog owner in California says that it is somebody who keeps an animal. So, simply put, if another person exercised control or custody of the dog when the attack occurred, they might be liable for the injuries.
Suppose the injury case involves a dog owned by a minor under 18. In that case, their parents could be held vicariously liable. In other words, the parents will pay the victim's expenses.
Suppose a landlord in California knew their tenant was keeping a dangerous dog but failed to take any action to prevent predictable attacks. In that case, the landlord might be held liable for the injuries.
If you have any questions about liability, consult with our Los Angeles dog bite lawyers to review the details to help you determine liability.
Homeowner's Insurance May Cover Dog Bites in California
Homeowner's insurance covers more than property damage. It also includes liability coverage for injuries sustained on the property and sometimes off the property.
Some homeowner's insurance policies cover dog bites, although the policyholder must opt into dog bite coverage. This coverage will be found within the personal liability section of a policy or might be a special rider attached to the policy.
Each policy will be different, and they frequently contain breed restrictions. Dog breeds often barred from coverage under homeowner's insurance include:
- German Shepherds;
- Pit Bulls;
Depending on the homeowner's policy and the type of dog that caused the injury, dog bite victims in California may be able to pursue compensation through the homeowner's insurance provider. Generally, the insurance policy will cover up to $100,000, but again, policies differ.
However, if the pet owner has no insurance, they are individually liable. For example, suppose a dog bite injury occurs while the pet is sitting inside a vehicle. The owner's car insurance company will usually cover the claim.
A pet owner might be able to argue against a dog bite injury claim, such as claiming the victim was trespassing at the time of the attack.
Trespassing on private property could prevent a dog bite victim from financial recovery in California. For example, suppose the victim provoked the dog. In that case, the owner could allege that the victim was partially responsible, which can reduce the victim's financial recovery by an equivalent amount.
If you or someone you love is injured by a dog on someone's rental property, you may still have an insurance claim against them. Renter's insurance functions similarly to homeowner's insurance, although coverage may be more limited.
What Can You Sue for After a Dog Bite?
If a dog attacks you in California, you might be entitled to the following compensation against the dog owner or their insurance provider:
- Medical expenses;
- Lost wages;
- Pain and suffering;
- Wrongful death;
- Emotional distress;
- Loss of enjoyment of life;
- Loss of consortium.
For those injured by a friend or family member's dog, it's essential to understand that the dog won't be put down in most cases. Euthanasia is a last resort reserved for extraordinarily violent or recurring dog behavior.
Bringing a suit after a dog bite shouldn't be considered a personal attack against someone you know. Instead, it should be seen as a way to receive the financial compensation you deserve after costly medical expenses and other losses.
Dog Bites that Happen off the Property
Homeowner's insurance sometimes covers incidents that occur off the property. For example, this may be the case when the policyholder's negligence caused the dog bite injury. While this coverage seems counterintuitive, the underlying rationale is that homeowner's insurance protects a home from lawsuits that would otherwise go after the home's equity as compensation.
What if Insurance Doesn't Cover the Dog Bite?
In instances where the homeowner's insurance doesn't cover dog bites or doesn't cover all of your financial needs resulting from the dog bite, you can still seek compensation from the dog owner personally.
Dog Owner Defenses
In California, there are certain defenses the insurance company can assert to absolve themselves and the dog owner from liability. Under the dog bite statute, those bitten or attacked by a dog while trespassing may not be entitled to economic recovery.
A second defense commonly asserted by homeowner's insurance is that the victim provoked the attack somehow. These arguments can be nuanced and difficult to prove, and it's best to work with an experienced California dog bite attorney when preparing your complaint against a dog owner.
Dog attacks can be a physically and emotionally scarring event. At Injury Justice Law Firm, we can help you pursue fair financial compensation from the pet owner or another party after a dog bite injury. Contact us for a free case evaluation.