While usually touted as “man’s best friend,” some dogs can be your worst enemy. Dog bites can cause serious, even life-threatening, injuries. Though pit bulls are often heralded as a “dangerous breed” that causes the most injuries, all breeds and mixes have the capacity to cause injury with their bite.
California dog bite laws generally hold dog owners to a “strict liability” standard, meaning that the dog owner will be help liable for injuries caused by a dog bite “regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.” Strict liability standards differ from the simple negligence standard of many other states, which will take into consideration past behavior of the dog and the pet owners knowledge of that behavior.
Various circumstances may give rise to a dog bite claim. Examples include:
- A child is walking down the sidewalk when a leashed dog suddenly bites her.
- A family is playing in the yard when a dog wanders into the yard and attacks the children.
- An adult is pulling a dog off a child and is also attacked.
- A mail carrier brings mail to a homeowner’s porch and an unchained dog attacks him.
- A guest is invited over to reveal her new baby and the new baby is bitten by the house pet.
In each case, the injured person was lawfully on public or private land and were attacked viciously. Under each circumstance, the pet owner had the capacity to prevent the attack, but did not. Although some dog bites cause minimal damage, often times dog bites result in significant contusions, bruising, fractured bones, torn ligaments, and emotional trauma. Treatment may include stitches, surgeries, and physical and emotional therapy. In certain significant situations a dog bite may result in death. Dog bite claims are intended to compensate those injured for the medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
To prevail on a dog bite claim, you must establish four basic elements:
- That the other party owned the dog;
- That the dog bit you while you were in a public place or were on private property lawfully;
- That you were harmed; and
- That the other party’s dog was a substantial factor in causing your harm.
Though these elements seem straightforward, there are many issues that may arise out of each element. The pet owner may allege that the injured did not have a right to be on the property at the time of the alleged attack or question your credibility regarding where you were attacked (i.e., you state that you were attacked in your yard, but the pet owner states you were unlawfully in their yard). If the injured was not lawfully there, then the pet owner may be shielded from liability. Additionally, the other party (or their insurance company) may argue that he did not own or was not in control of the dog and that the dog belonged to another family member or someone else. The other party may also contend that it was a different dog that injured you or that you were not bit at all. They may try to disprove your claim by stating you have a false memory of the events in question or that you are willfully lying to obtain a windfall settlement.
Because any one of these issues may prevent you from receiving fair compensation for injuries sustained because of another's negligence, you should consult with an experienced personal injury attorney to assist with your claim. If you or someone you love was injured by a dog bite and you need help, please contact us for a free consultation.