DOG ATTACK CLAIMS
DOG ATTACK CLAIMS
Note: This article is intended to be for general interest purposes only, and is not a substitute for a prompt and in-depth consultation with a personal injury attorney if you have any concerns about your rights after being attacked by a dog.
Being bitten or attacked by a dog is something that you never forget. Harkening back to primeval times when our prehistoric ancestors had to worry about being eaten by any number of predatory fauna, being bitten by a dog remains an unpleasant possibility through modern times.
Bodily injury claims based on a dog bite incident are somewhat unique in personal injury law, as the law imposes absolute (“strict liability”) against dog owners if their animal bites somebody. See Civil Code section 3342.
It is no defense that the dog was normally placid and gentle, and/or that it had never bitten anyone before.Again, the dog bite statute imposes strict liability against the dog owner, but not the landlord of the dog owner. The only way to hold the landlord legally responsible would be on a showing of negligence, which would require the bite victim to prove that the landlord knew or should have known that their renter had a dog with dangerous propensities on the premises, and that they failed to do something reasonable about it.
However, this does not mean that the bite victim is entitled to a blank check from the dog owner or their insurance company.
Common defenses in dog bite cases include the owner denying that they owned the dog; the claim that the bite victim knew the dog was potentially dangerous and that they knowingly encountered it or provoked it; and/or that the bite victim assumed the risk of being bitten (by ignoring a warning sign on a gate and entering onto the dog owner’s premises, or perhaps when the bite victim is trying to break-up a fight between the dog and their own animal).
To the extent the bite victim contributed to their own injury, they cannot recover that percentage of their damages.
In addition, the dog owner can dispute the nature and extent of the injury being claimed.
One recurring problem in dog bite cases is the availability of insurance on the part of the dog owner to cover the claim. If the dog owner owns their residence, then while they probably have homeowner’s insurance that would cover most injury claims, many homeowner’s insurance policies have specific exclusions as to dog bite claims when the dog in question belongs to a potentially dangerous breed (this might include pitbulls, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and others).
Anecdotally in this attorney’s experience, 75% or greater of the dog bite cases that he has handled have involved pitbulls.
Another insurance issue arises when the dog owner is a renter and not a homeowner. In this practitioner’s experience, most renters don’t carry renter’s insurance, and if they had assets of a sufficient nature then they would be a homeowner and not a renter in the first place.
Dog inflicted injuries are not restricted to bite incidents, as dog injuries can often be caused when a dog is running loose off a leash and then startles or jumps up on a person, causing them injury.
If that is how the injury occurs, then strict liability under the dog bite statute does not apply. However, most municipalities have “leash law” ordinances that require dogs to be on a leash when they are out in public.
If a dog owner negligently or intentionally violates the leash law and the dog injures somebody as a consequence of being loose, then the doctrine of negligence per se would apply, and which creates a rebuttable presumption of negligence because the party causing the injury violated a law that was intended to prevent the type of injury that occurred. This is a burden of proof shifting mechanism that thereby forces the dog owner to prove that notwithstanding the application of the doctrine, that they were still not negligent.
For example, a dog owner whose dog gets out of the yard may claim that some third party allowed the dog to get loose, and that they are not responsible for the acts of the third party.
The most common injury from a dog bite is a bite wound and resultant scarring, and it is incumbent on the bite victim to thoroughly document the wound and any resulting scar with high-quality photographs. Going to a professional photographer to document same is often preferable to a cell phone “selfie”.
Scarring from dog bite wounds tend to carry more weight in a legal claim if they are on the face or visible extremities of the injury victim, especially if they are a child or a woman.
Another source of evidence to support a dog attack injury would be records from the local Animal Control Center. If the offending dog has a history of biting or being loose, then the records of the Animal Control Center may confirm this and will greatly assist in establishing liability against the dog owner.
CONCLUSION: The outcome of a dog attack injury claim of any consequence is going to be greatly enhanced by the victim retaining a capable attorney who knows how to best circumnavigate the liability, insurance, and damage issues.