The CDC says that over 4.5 million people are bitten each year in the United States. And nearly a million of them required medical attention. Often, people are hesitant to pursue legal action – especially when it’s a known person who was liable. Dog bites are no exception. As a Los Angeles dog bite lawyer (which falls under personal injury), let me help you understand everything you need to know regarding dog bite claims.
The question we are most asked concerning dog bites is, “Can I sue if I am bitten by a dog?” The short answer is yes but it depends on a few factors. Take for example, this case we won for our client where we managed to get her about half a million in compensation.
A dog bite personal injury claim is going to rely primarily on:
1) Who owns the dog?
2) Where did the attack take place?
3) What type of injuries were suffered?
Any Los Angeles dog bite attorney is going to ask for information regarding these 3 points. So, before you call us we recommend you have as much information as possible so that you are ready to answer them. Before we get into all that, however, let’s talk about what constitutes a dog bite.
A Dog Bite as Defined by California Law and Precedence
A dog bite is a dog bite (a dog closes its mouth in a biting motion on a person or persons) but some people sometimes have doubts in terms of whether a bite that doesn’t break skin can be defined as a ‘dog bite’. Precedence established by a previous case determines that a dog bite doesn’t have to break flesh in order for a personal injury claim to be made. You can read more about that case, dog bites and strict liability HERE.
In summary, a worker was pulled down from his ladder when a dog bit his pants and tugged. The resulting injury resulted in a claim that the plaintiff won (Johnson v. McMahan, 1998). So a dog bite technically doesn’t need to break flesh to cause injury.
But keep in mind that any injury claim made by you has to be founded on some type of damage. You can sue if your jeans were damaged but, in that case, the best place for your claim will likely be in a small claims court as opposed to working with a personal injury attorney. That being said, let’s move on to who is liable when a dog bites anyone.
Owners of Dogs are Responsible for their Animal’s Actions in California
California has a “strict liability” approach to dog bites. Essentially, this means that the owner of a dog is responsible for any damages that it causes. Even if it’s the cutest, most docile creature ever – the owner cannot escape from any liability concerning man’s best friend.
The civil code says:
ARTICLE 2. Damages for Wrongs [3333 – 3343.7] ( Article 2 enacted 1872. )
(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 such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner.
(b) Nothing in this section shall authorize the bringing of an action pursuant to subdivision (a) against any governmental agency using a dog in military or police work…
The code specifies very clearly that:
- The owner is strictly liable
- The bite can happen on the owner’s property or in a public place
- If on the owner’s property, it is assumed they are there legally
- Even if the victim accepted an invitation by the owner, the owner is still liable
- Generally, you cannot bring action against any governmental agency if a police dog, for example, bit you in the line of duty
Questions regarding liability:
What if an owner invites me to his property and I accept?
Are they still liable if their dog bites me? Yes. Whether you are on private property with permission or in a public place, you can hold the owner liable. Accepting an invite does not waive any liability while on their premises.
What if the owner’s dog escaped and bit me on the street?
Public place or private, dog owners are strictly liable for dog bites or damages caused by their pets. In fact, a dog owner is generally held more liable with their pets than they would if it were their own kids! Think about that!
Where did the dog bite take place?
In California, as we said, the owner of a dog is strictly liable for any injuries caused by their dog. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule including:
- If you were trespassing on the property of the dog owner at the time of the attack, you will likely not be able to sue the owner. This is because California law protects landowners from liability in these situations.
- If you were bitten by a police dog or other service animal, the owner may not be held liable. This is because these animals are often exempt from strict liability laws.
As attorneys with dog bite cases under our belts, the second most common thing we say (the first being always consult with an attorney) is that every case is different. The more we know, the better we can help with your dog bite claim. And location matters. A lot. That being said, talk to an attorney if in doubt. Read below for more clarification regarding questions dog bite lawyers are often asked regarding these points.
Questions regarding where and by who you are bitten:
What if I was trespassing and a dog bit me?
The law states that permission to be on someone’s property is assumed when presenting an injury claim for a dog bite to a court. However, we always recommend contacting an attorney to be sure if you have a case or not.
What if I was bitten by a K-9 dog while being arrested? Can I sue?
Our advice is always to speak to an attorney. But, generally, you cannot hold a K-9’s owner liable as that owner is a governmental agency. The code goes on to clarify that:
“the person cannot hold the dog owner liable (in this case the LAPD or whatever governmental agency) if the bite or bites occurred while the dog was defending itself from an annoying, harassing, or provoking act, or assisting an employee of the agency in any of the following:
- In the apprehension or holding of a suspect where the employee has a reasonable suspicion of the suspect’s involvement in criminal activity.
- In the investigation of a crime or possible crime.
- In the execution of a warrant.
- In the defense of a peace officer or another person.
However, consult an attorney. There are other factors at play even when it’s a police dog just like there are factors to consider when a law enforcement agent injures a person.
Injuries Matter When it Comes to Dog Bite Claims
Every personal injury case relies heavily on damage. And we’re not just talking about property damage. In order for a personal injury attorney to even consider taking your case, you must have some sort of physical injury. This is true for dog bites, car accidents, and slip and fall cases.
Every personal injury claim relies on things like:
- The severity of the injury
- The cost of medical bills
- The amount of pain and suffering endured
- The loss of wages due to being unable to work
And those are just a few examples. Something often overlooked, either due to negligence or due to the complexity behind proving it, is psychological damage. A dog bite doesn’t have to have lasting physical consequences to validate a claim.
What if you are a mailman and were bitten by a dog and, now, are afraid to deliver mail along your route?
What if your morning jogs become too stressful because you fear a dog will jump at you at every corner?
Damages don’t just apply to property (your dog scratched my car) or to physical injury (scarring, infection, etc.) – but it can also apply to anything that significantly alters your ‘normal life’. Any decent dog bite lawyer will help you navigate the process behind understanding damages related to your claim as thoroughly as possible.
Questions regarding dog bite injuries and financial burden:
What if I know the dog owners personally? Will I cause them financial burden?
When it comes to a family member or friend’s pet, for example, people are hesitant to push for action due to fear of causing economic burdens on a known person. Keep in mind that, in some cases, when the dog owner is properly insured they may have liability coverage that would cover the cost of your physical, mental and emotional damage caused by the incident. Even if they are not covered, your health matters. Talk to an attorney to see what options are available for you.
How bad do I have to be injured to take legal action after a dog bite?
The first thing you need to do after a dog bite is to seek medical attention. Even if it seems light, bacteria, rabies and other things can impact your health severely. The second thing you need to do is contact an attorney. A great dog bite lawyer will help answer both the questions you have and the questions you didn’t even think of.
Why Should You Contact a Los Angeles Dog Bite Lawyer?
Whether you slipped and fell on someone else’s property, were in a car accident or were bitten by a dog – talk to an attorney! Especially one that has practiced law related to personal injury claims. The homeowner, their insurance, your insurance, your neighbor who watches Law and Order (basically anyone who isn’t a lawyer) are not an adequate source of information when it comes to assessing your case from a legal perspective.
If your client is bitten by a tenant’s dog, investigate the landlord’s liability. Consider especially the landlord’s knowledge of the animal and ability to control the tenant’s possession of the animal. Given that a landlord can always evict a tenant for maintaining a nuisance, there is a decent chance that the landlord’s property insurance will have to pay compensation for your client’s injuries caused by the tenant’s dog
At Kirakosian Law, we’ve settled countless personal injury cases and various dog bite cases as well. When it comes to just compensation and your best interests following a dog bite, you’re in the best of hands with Kirakosian Law.