How to Take Legal Action for Dog Bite Victims
Dogs may be considered cute, friendly and harmless — but are equally unpredictable and aggressive. Dog bites are a common and painful occurrence all across the country. The United States sees an average of 4.5 million dog bite victims per year.
If you have been the victim of a dog bite, you can hold the owner liable for damages. In states like California, the laws allow dog bite victims to hold the liable party (the dog owner) strictly responsible for the incident. The strict liability rule states that the owner is responsible as long as:
1. The victim was bit in a public place or when lawfully present on a private property
2. The victim was actually bitten by the dog
You recover damages for their injuries and expenses after fulfilling these conditions. The only exceptions to this law include:
1. If the victim was trespassing when they were bit
2. If the dog was a military or police dog acting in accordance with the agency’s responsibilities or in defense of an official or innocent person.
Types of Damages for Dog Bites
You can be compensated for your economic losses (like medical bills, loss of wages etc.) and non-economic losses (like pain, suffering, emotional damage etc.). The person can receive compensation for the following reasons:
- Medical bills
- Humiliation from permanent scarring
- Physical therapy
- Lost wages
- Counseling sessions
- Loss of future opportunities/earning capacity
If the owner has exhibited negligence or malice, the person bit can also sue for punitive damages (damages intended to penalize the owner). For this, dog bite victims must provide clear and convincing evidence of the defendant’s malicious behavior.
Any willful disregard of safety is considered particularly bad behavior and can be penalized by the court to serve as a lesson to the negligent dog owner.
Who Is Liable?
In California, the dog’s owner is strictly liable in most cases. Whether the owner acted negligently or not, the owner is liable for damage.
In some cases, however, the dog “handler” can also be considered liable. Some jurisdictions have their own rules regarding this. A dog handler (like a dog walker or dog sitter) can be considered liable if they are proven to have prior knowledge regarding the dog’s aggressive behavior. You can also hold multiple parties liable depending on your circumstance.
A landlord (or property owner) can be held liable if dangerous or vicious dogs are allowed to roam the premises. Owners of commercial or residential properties must ensure their spaces are free from the threat of dangerous attacks.
If the owner was aware of the dog’s presence on their property (and it is proven that the dog is prone to dangerous behaviors), the owner can be held liable for their negligence.
Steps to Take After a Dog Bite
- Rush to the nearest hospital or doctor. Medical attention is extremely important at this moment. Any delays (no matter how minor the injury) may result in irreparable damage.
- Take down the name and address of the dog owner, witnesses and any other party who has custody of the dog at that moment.
- Ask the dog owner for information regarding their insurance and copies of the dog’s rabies vaccination. If they refuse, you can ask an attorney to demand these from the owner.
- Take photographs of the injuries, the dog, site of the incident, etc.
- Report the incident to your area’s animal control. This agency can further investigate the viciousness of the dog. This can help prevent further incidents of dog bites. Although this does not give you compensation, this step is essential to keep the authorities informed (or aware) of dangerous dogs in the area. It can result in penalties imposed on the dog or the dog owner.
- Consult an attorney to file a civil claim against the dog owner. Since the owner can be held liable (under almost every circumstance), you can be compensated adequately for your losses.
Most cases are settled in settlements with the owner. Your attorney can usually reach a fair settlement amount with the owner’s insurance company. The insurance can cover as much as the policy limit.
If the settlement has not been reached, you can also consider filing a small claims court case. If the damages do not exceed $10,000, a small claims case will recover the amount of damages you seek. An insurance claim will also pressure the owner into giving up the dog to preserve their future insurance coverage.
Obstacles Seen By Dog Bite Victims
There may be a few obstacles to prepare for before filing a lawsuit:
- Although the strict liability law holds owners responsible, defenses of provocation or comparative negligence can be applied. Dog bite victims may be denied compensation if they cannot adequately prove that the owner was aware of the dog’s vicious behavior and did not take reasonable care to prevent the incident.
- If the owner does not have insurance, the liable party must bear the costs of the damages directly. This is considered to be more difficult as dog owners are less likely to cooperate. In such a case, it is advisable to hire an attorney and allow them to handle the case for you.
Seek Professional Help
For dog bite victims, it might be difficult to handle injuries and pain. In such a situation, consult the services of a dog bite lawyer so that your legal requirements are taken care of. An experienced attorney can help you receive the amount you deserve in damages.
Since every case is different and highly dependent on your situation, legal guidance will be able to suggest the right step for your case.
Our team of attorneys at Nehora Law are experienced in California’s complex dog bite laws. We have represented many victims of dog bites and strive to recover compensation due to negligent dog owners. Consult our services today, to negotiate the best settlement for your case.