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California Dog Bite Injury Attorney Firm

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States, and at least half of those are children. Many people think of breeds such as Pit Bull Terriers, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, and Chow Chows when they hear about dog bites, but any dog has the potential to bite and cause serious injury, even small dogs. If you have been bitten by a dog, you may have a claim for damages against the dog’s owner and others.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States, and at least half of those are children. Many people think of breeds such as Pit Bull Terriers, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, and Chow Chows when they hear about dog bites, but any dog has the potential to bite and cause serious injury, even small dogs. If you have been bitten by a dog, you may have a claim for damages against the dog’s owner and others.

Strict Liability for Dog Owners

California does not follow the so-called “one bite rule” but instead imposes strict liability on dog owners should their dogs bite someone and cause injury. The “one bite rule” holds a dog’s owner responsible only if there is proof that the owner knew about the dog’s propensity to be dangerous. This type of proof is not required under California law.

Section 3342(a) of the California Civil Code states the following:

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.

The law imposes this duty of care on all dog owners to prevent their dogs from biting another person, and the law’s intent is to prevent dogs from becoming a hazard to the community.[1] Section 3342(a) allows you to recover damages caused by a dog bite without having to show fault of the dog’s owner. If you are bitten by a dog and have been injured, the dog’s owner may therefore be responsible for your damages even if the dog has never bitten someone before or the owner had no prior reason to believe that the dog might bite someone.

As the injured party, you will be required to prove who owned the dog that bit you. While this may sound very straightforward, it can often be difficult to prove who is, in fact, the owner of a dog. In Los Angeles County, all dogs four (4) months of age or older must be licensed through the County’s Department of Animal Care and Control.[2]

However, many dog owners do not follow this rule, and other counties may not have this rule. So, if someone denies ownership of a dog that bit you, you will need to conduct a thorough investigation to obtain evidence to prove the person is indeed the dog’s owner. This may include statements from neighbors or friends and obtaining the dog’s veterinary records.

To recover under strict liability for a dog bite that occurred on the owner’s property, you are also required to establish that you were on the property with the permission of the owner. The relevant inquiry is the owner’s knowledge with respect to your presence on the property.[3]

For example, if a child is bit by a dog and you can establish the owner knew the child frequently played on the property, then you may be able to prevail in a case against the property owner. But, if the owner did not know the child was on the property or had expressly told the child or the child’s parent to stay off the property, then your case will be more difficult to prove.

While California law does hold a dog’s owner strictly liable when a dog bites you, you still have to establish the identity of the dog’s owner and that you were lawfully on the owner’s property at the time of the bite.

Landlords Can Be Responsible for a Tenant’s Dog

If the dog’s owner was living in a rental unit, the landlord may be responsible for your damages from a dog bite. Unlike the dog’s owner, however, strict liability does not apply to a landlord. Instead, liability will be imposed only when you can establish that the landlord had actual knowledge of the vicious propensities of the tenant’s dog but failed to take reasonable measures to protect persons against the risks posed by the animal, such as by exercising the landlord’s right to have the animal removed from the property.[4]

A landlord is not under a duty to inspect the premises to attempt to discover the existence of a dangerous dog. If a dog is kept inside and the landlord rarely visits the property, then it may be difficult to prove that a landlord had actual knowledge that the dog might bite someone. But you do not have to produce direct evidence to prove that a landlord had actual knowledge of a dog’s vicious propensities but instead this can be established by circumstantial evidence and inferred from the circumstances. For example, if there is evidence that the dog that bit you would frequently run loose and lunge at people or exert threatening behavior such as showing its teeth or growling, and the landlord regularly visited the property, then it could be inferred that the landlord had knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensity and that it might bite someone.[5]

On the other hand, it may not be enough merely to show that a dog would regularly bark and jump at the door or against the fence, as this may be considered ordinary behavior expected from dogs.[6]

In addition, this type of liability may extend beyond the landlord-tenant relationship when a dog is on someone’s property with the owner’s permission. If this occurs and the dog bites you, then the property owner may be responsible for your damages if the owner had actual knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensity. For example, if the property owner hires a landscaper and allows the landscaper to bring a guard dog on the property when working, then the property owner may be liable should that dog bite you.[7]

These types of cases can be very difficult to establish, so it is essential that you begin an investigation as soon as possible after a dog bite occurs.

Military or Police Dogs

In 1988 the California Legislature amended section 3342 to immunize government agencies that use dogs for military or police work. Section 3342(b) of the California Civil Code states:

Nothing in this section shall authorize the bringing of an action … against any governmental agency using a dog in military or police work 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:

(1)      In the apprehension or holding of a suspect where the employee has a reasonable suspicion of the suspect’s involvement in criminal activity.

(2)      In the investigation of a crime or possible crime.

(3)      In the execution of a warrant.

(4)      In the defense of a peace officer or another person.

This section does not apply in any case where the victim of the dog bite was not a suspect or a party to the act that prompted the use of the dog. In addition, this section applies only where a governmental agency using a dog in military or police work has adopted a written policy on the necessary and appropriate use of a dog for the police or military work.

If you were bitten by a dog being used in police work, you therefore may be able to recover against the department or agency that owned the dog if you were not a suspect or a participant in the acts that prompted the police to use the dog.

Even if you were a suspect or a participant in the act that prompted the use of the dog, you may still be able to recover for your damages if you can establish that the use of a dog  constituted an excessive use of force. This is a civil rights claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of your Constitutional rights.

Damages

If you have been injured due to a dog bite, you are entitled to recover your economic and non-economic damages that were caused by the dog bite. Economic damages include your past medical bills and your future medical needs. In many dog bite cases, the person injured will need plastic surgery to repair the disfigurement caused by the dog. You will be able to recover the costs of anticipated future surgery, even if you have not yet had it. In addition, your economic damages include past and future lost wages, so if your injuries have caused you to miss work or rendered you unable to work, you should be able to recover the amount of compensation you will lose.

Non-economic damages include items such as your emotional distress, mental pain and suffering, physical pain and suffering, disfigurement, and humiliation. A dog bite can be a very traumatic experience, and the law therefore permits you to recover for more than just your medical bills and lost wages.

In some situations, an attack from a dog can result in death. In such a case, the deceased’s family members, or wrongful death beneficiaries, may be entitled to recover the medical bills as well as the funeral and burial costs. The deceased’s loved ones can also recover for their own damages due to the loss of love and society of the deceased person.

One often overlooked type of case is referred to as bystander liability. This can apply if you witness someone in your immediate family being attacked by a dog and you have suffered emotional distress because of it. For example, if you have a child and had to watch as a dog attacked and bit your child, you may be able to recover damages for your emotional distress.

In the most egregious cases, you may also be able to recover what are called punitive damages. These are damages that are awarded to you to punish the defendant for willful or malicious conduct.

Steps to Take If a Dog Bites You

If you are bit by a dog, medical experts recommend that you immediately wash the area of the bite thoroughly with soap and water. You should also stop the bleeding and wrap the wound in a sterile bandage. You should then seek medical treatment as soon as possible so that a doctor can determine if you need a rabies shot and/or a tetanus shot. Even if you do not think your bite is very serious, you should be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.  Once clinical signs of rabies develop in humans, rabies is almost always fatal, so it is essential to confirm whether the dog that bit you had rabies. If you are in Los Angeles County, you are required to report the bite to the Los Angeles County Veterinary Public Health and Rabies Control Department so that they can investigate.  

Time Limits

In most cases, you have two (2) years from the date of a dog bite to file a lawsuit in California. There are situations, however, where your time could be limited to as little as six (6) months, such as when the claim is against a governmental entity, including the police or sheriff’s department. If you have been bitten by a dog and want to investigate a claim for your damages, you should contact an experienced attorney immediately. This will ensure that you do not miss any applicable deadlines, or statutes of limitations. In addition, it is always beneficial to begin an investigation of your claim as soon as possible after a dog bite occurs.

If you or someone you know has been bitten by a dog and would like to discuss a potential case, contact our office for a free consultation.

[1] Davis v. Gaschler (1992) 11 Cal. App. 4th 1392, 1399.

[2] Los Angeles Country Animal Care & Control Reg. 10.20.190

[3] Fullerton v. Conan (1948) 87 Cal. App. 2d 354, 358.

[4] Yuzon v. Collins (2004) 116 Cal. App. 4th 149, 163.

[5] Donchin v. Guerrero (1995) 34 Cal. App. 4th 1832.

[6] Nava v. McMillan (1981) 123 Cal. App. 3d 262, 265.

[7] Salinas v. Martin (2008) 166 Cal. App. 4th 404,

Strict Liability for Dog Owners

California does not follow the so-called “one bite rule” but instead imposes strict liability on dog owners should their dogs bite someone and cause injury. The “one bite rule” holds a dog’s owner responsible only if there is proof that the owner knew about the dog’s propensity to be dangerous. This type of proof is not required under California law.

Section 3342(a) of the California Civil Code states the following:

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.

The law imposes this duty of care on all dog owners to prevent their dogs from biting another person, and the law’s intent is to prevent dogs from becoming a hazard to the community.[1]

Section 3342(a) allows you to recover damages caused by a dog bite without having to show fault of the dog’s owner. If you are bitten by a dog and have been injured, the dog’s owner may therefore be responsible for your damages even if the dog has never bitten someone before or the owner had no prior reason to believe that the dog might bite someone.

As the injured party, you will be required to prove who owned the dog that bit you. While this may sound very straightforward, it can often be difficult to prove who is, in fact, the owner of a dog. In Los Angeles County, all dogs four (4) months of age or older must be licensed through the County’s Department of Animal Care and Control.[2]

However, many dog owners do not follow this rule, and other counties may not have this rule. So, if someone denies ownership of a dog that bit you, you will need to conduct a thorough investigation to obtain evidence to prove the person is indeed the dog’s owner. This may include statements from neighbors or friends and obtaining the dog’s veterinary records.

To recover under strict liability for a dog bite that occurred on the owner’s property, you are also required to establish that you were on the property with the permission of the owner. The relevant inquiry is the owner’s knowledge with respect to your presence on the property.[3]

For example, if a child is bit by a dog and you can establish the owner knew the child frequently played on the property, then you may be able to prevail in a case against the property owner. But, if the owner did not know the child was on the property or had expressly told the child or the child’s parent to stay off the property, then your case will be more difficult to prove.

While California law does hold a dog’s owner strictly liable when a dog bites you, you still have to establish the identity of the dog’s owner and that you were lawfully on the owner’s property at the time of the bite.

Landlords Can Be Responsible for a Tenant’s Dog

If the dog’s owner was living in a rental unit, the landlord may be responsible for your damages from a dog bite. Unlike the dog’s owner, however, strict liability does not apply to a landlord. Instead, liability will be imposed only when you can establish that the landlord had actual knowledge of the vicious propensities of the tenant’s dog but failed to take reasonable measures to protect persons against the risks posed by the animal, such as by exercising the landlord’s right to have the animal removed from the property.[4]

A landlord is not under a duty to inspect the premises to attempt to discover the existence of a dangerous dog. If a dog is kept inside and the landlord rarely visits the property, then it may be difficult to prove that a landlord had actual knowledge that the dog might bite someone. But you do not have to produce direct evidence to prove that a landlord had actual knowledge of a dog’s vicious propensities but instead this can be established by circumstantial evidence and inferred from the circumstances. For example, if there is evidence that the dog that bit you would frequently run loose and lunge at people or exert threatening behavior such as showing its teeth or growling, and the landlord regularly visited the property, then it could be inferred that the landlord had knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensity and that it might bite someone.[5]

On the other hand, it may not be enough merely to show that a dog would regularly bark and jump at the door or against the fence, as this may be considered ordinary behavior expected from dogs.[6]

In addition, this type of liability may extend beyond the landlord-tenant relationship when a dog is on someone’s property with the owner’s permission. If this occurs and the dog bites you, then the property owner may be responsible for your damages if the owner had actual knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensity. For example, if the property owner hires a landscaper and allows the landscaper to bring a guard dog on the property when working, then the property owner may be liable should that dog bite you.[7]

These types of cases can be very difficult to establish, so it is essential that you begin an investigation as soon as possible after a dog bite occurs.

Military or Police Dogs

In 1988 the California Legislature amended section 3342 to immunize government agencies that use dogs for military or police work. Section 3342(b) of the California Civil Code states:

Nothing in this section shall authorize the bringing of an action … against any governmental agency using a dog in military or police work 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:

(1)      In the apprehension or holding of a suspect where the employee has a reasonable suspicion of the suspect’s involvement in criminal activity.

           (2)      In the investigation of a crime or possible crime.

           (3)      In the execution of a warrant.

           (4)      In the defense of a peace officer or another person.

This section does not apply in any case where the victim of the dog bite was not a suspect or a party to the act that prompted the use of the dog. In addition, this section applies only where a governmental agency using a dog in military or police work has adopted a written policy on the necessary and appropriate use of a dog for the police or military work.

If you were bitten by a dog being used in police work, you therefore may be able to recover against the department or agency that owned the dog if you were not a suspect or a participant in the acts that prompted the police to use the dog.

Even if you were a suspect or a participant in the act that prompted the use of the dog, you may still be able to recover for your damages if you can establish that the use of a dog  constituted an excessive use of force. This is a civil rights claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of your Constitutional rights. 

Damages

If you have been injured due to a dog bite, you are entitled to recover your economic and non-economic damages that were caused by the dog bite. Economic damages include your past medical bills and your future medical needs. In many dog bite cases, the person injured will need plastic surgery to repair the disfigurement caused by the dog. You will be able to recover the costs of anticipated future surgery, even if you have not yet had it. In addition, your economic damages include past and future lost wages, so if your injuries have caused you to miss work or rendered you unable to work, you should be able to recover the amount of compensation you will lose.

Non-economic damages include items such as your emotional distress, mental pain and suffering, physical pain and suffering, disfigurement, and humiliation. A dog bite can be a very traumatic experience, and the law therefore permits you to recover for more than just your medical bills and lost wages.

In some situations, an attack from a dog can result in death. In such a case, the deceased’s family members, or wrongful death beneficiaries, may be entitled to recover the medical bills as well as the funeral and burial costs. The deceased’s loved ones can also recover for their own damages due to the loss of love and society of the deceased person.

One often overlooked type of case is referred to as bystander liability. This can apply if you witness someone in your immediate family being attacked by a dog and you have suffered emotional distress because of it. For example, if you have a child and had to watch as a dog attacked and bit your child, you may be able to recover damages for your emotional distress.

In the most egregious cases, you may also be able to recover what are called punitive damages. These are damages that are awarded to you to punish the defendant for willful or malicious conduct.

Steps to Take If a Dog Bites You

If you are bit by a dog, medical experts recommend that you immediately wash the area of the bite thoroughly with soap and water. You should also stop the bleeding and wrap the wound in a sterile bandage. You should then seek medical treatment as soon as possible so that a doctor can determine if you need a rabies shot and/or a tetanus shot. Even if you do not think your bite is very serious, you should be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.  Once clinical signs of rabies develop in humans, rabies is almost always fatal, so it is essential to confirm whether the dog that bit you had rabies. If you are in Los Angeles County, you are required to report the bite to the Los Angeles County Veterinary Public Health and Rabies Control Department so that they can investigate.  

Time Limits

In most cases, you have two (2) years from the date of a dog bite to file a lawsuit in California. There are situations, however, where your time could be limited to as little as six (6) months, such as when the claim is against a governmental entity, including the police or sheriff’s department. If you have been bitten by a dog and want to investigate a claim for your damages, you should contact an experienced attorney immediately. This will ensure that you do not miss any applicable deadlines, or statutes of limitations. In addition, it is always beneficial to begin an investigation of your claim as soon as possible after a dog bite occurs.

If you or someone you know has been bitten by a dog and would like to discuss a potential case, contact our office for a free consultation.

[1] Davis v. Gaschler (1992) 11 Cal. App. 4th 1392, 1399.

[2] Los Angeles Country Animal Care & Control Reg. 10.20.190

[3] Fullerton v. Conan (1948) 87 Cal. App. 2d 354, 358.

[4] Yuzon v. Collins (2004) 116 Cal. App. 4th 149, 163.

[5] Donchin v. Guerrero (1995) 34 Cal. App. 4th 1832.

[6] Nava v. McMillan (1981) 123 Cal. App. 3d 262, 265.

[7] Salinas v. Martin (2008) 166 Cal. App. 4th 404,

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Esta herramienta permite una comunicación fluida con nuestros clientes para asegurar la óptima eficiencia y progreso en tu caso.