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Home  »  California LawPersonal Injury   »   Guide To California Dog Bite Injury Law

Guide To California Dog Bite Injury Law

Feb 24, 2020

A dog bite accident is typically not the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of personal injury law. Personal injury law covers multiple subsets such as medical malpractice, car accidents, and slip and fall injuries — all of which may seem more likely to impact you on any given day when compared with the potential threat of experiencing a dog bite injury (let alone one that requires attorney representation).

In actuality, the likelihood of experiencing any type of accident under the personal injury umbrella is (thankfully) quite low. That said, with over 1.1 million households estimated to own dogs in Los Angeles County, you probably unknowingly encounter opportunities for dog bite injuries every day — walking to/from your way to work, hiking in the park, strolling down the pier, etc. In the unlikely event that it should ever become required reading, this blog will provide you with essential information for what to do as the victim of a dog bite injury, as well as details regarding California dog bite law and how to go about filing a personal injury dog bite claim.

General statistics on dog bites

Dog bite injuries are actually more commonplace than most people realize, with an estimated 4.5 million instances occurring each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A recent federal study indicated that the average cost of a dog bite-related hospital stay was $18,200 (roughly 50% higher than the average injury-related hospital stay). That means that if you happen to be involved in a dog bite accident, the costs could be significant, which is one reason why someone might seek out the services of a dog bite injury lawyer.

Many people automatically assume they should rely on insurance companies to handle dog bite injury-related matters. Insurance almost always plays a role whenever a dog bite injury takes place, and claims are settled every day (in 2018 the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) reported that homeowners’ insurers paid $675 million in liability claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries).

But we’ll take a look at different scenarios and apply California dog bite law to each so you can make an informed decision concerning whether your case requires assistance from a dog bite personal injury lawyer. But first, let’s examine some steps to take before making that eventual decision.

Immediate medical steps to take if you’re the victim of a dog bite

Of the aforementioned 4.5 million annual dog bite incidents, approximately 1 in 5 of those become infected. Your health is the first priority, so before we delve into detail on what legal steps should be taken after a dog bite, please ensure you’ve completed the following health-related steps for treating a dog bite via the Cleveland Clinic:

  1. Wash the wound: Use mild soap, and run warm tap water over it for five to 10 minutes.
  2. Slow the bleeding with a clean cloth.
  3. Apply over-the counter antibiotic cream if you have it.
  4. Wrap the wound in a sterile bandage. Keep the wound bandaged and follow-up with your doctor.
  5. Change the bandage several times a day once your doctor has examined the wound.
  6. Watch for signs of infection including redness, swelling, increased pain, and fever.

Immediate legal steps to take if you’re the victim of a dog bite

After your health is addressed, the first thing to do as the victim of a dog bite is determine your rights under the law, keeping in mind that dog bite laws can vary by state. The matter of a dog owner’s liability generally separates states into one of two categories: 1) “strict liability” states or 2) “one free bite” states.

If your dog bite injury happened in a strict liability law state, it means you have the right to hold the dog owner liable for costs resulting from the injury (e.g. medical expenses, lost wages, pain & suffering).

If your dog bite injury happened in a one free bite law state, the law is much less clear. If the dog hadn’t previously displayed dangerous or violent tendencies in the past, you probably do not have the right to hold the owner liable for such costs (unless you can somehow prove the owner had prior knowledge that their dog was prone to attacking someone).

California is considered a strict liability state, but has one provision within the law, Section 3342 of the Civil Code. That provision essentially ensures that an unlawful victim on private property (e.g. a trespasser or thief) isn’t able to file a personal injury lawsuit in the event of a dog bite accident.

Determining your state’s strict liability law allows you to understand what options are available to you as the victim of a dog bite. Living in a strict liability state such as California means you have the option to seek legal recourse following a dog bite injury.

Proceeding with a legal complaint

Deciding whether or not to proceed with legal action over a dog bite is a personal decision that can often come down to the severity of the injury. But that shouldn’t necessarily be the deciding factor for dog bite victims, and certainly not without first considering additional information such as:

  • Less than 1% of dog bite victims receive compensation.
  • Most dog bite victims do not report being attacked.
  • Of the 4.5 million annual dog bites, insurance companies issue payments to less than 16,000 victims.
  • Home and renter’s insurance policies normally cover dog bite lawsuit liability, with anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 worth of coverage.

That last statistic is important to consider in context. Let’s first assume that, as the victim of a dog bite, you will report your injury. From there, once you’ve made that determination, you essentially have one of two choices, but both are in effect doing the same thing — reporting the injury.

Whether it’s through 1) an insurance claim on your own, or 2) a personal injury lawsuit with a dog bite lawyer representing you, the end result is that the injury is reported (seemingly for the sake of recovering costs incurred due to the injury).

In both scenarios, the dog’s owner (as you can’t hold the dog liable) will almost always rely on his or her insurance policy to address the claim and pay out any damages. The key difference is whether you’re dealing with their insurance company on your own, or with a representative on your behalf. And the only way to do the latter is by hiring a personal injury lawyer who specializes in dog bites.

Insurance companies are in business to make money. Regardless of the unique circumstances related to your case (including the severity of the dog bite injury and the number of medical bills you may be facing), the insurance company will always try to settle any claim you make on your own for the smallest possible amount. It’s no secret that insurance adjusters will typically offer dog bite victims acting alone a fraction of what they offer dog bite victims represented by a personal injury attorney. A victim acting alone could easily be offered 10-20% of what a victim represented by a lawyer would be offered.

Ultimately, deciding whether or not to have a personal injury lawyer represent you could be viewed as equivalent to deciding where that additional 80-90% goes — does the insurance company keep it, or does it go to you (with a percentage going to your lawyer)? 

When should you consult with a dog bite law lawyer?

Dog bite lawyers typically work on a contingency basis (meaning no up front cost to the client, and instead a fee equaling a percentage of an eventual settlement), which means you really have nothing to lose by hiring one to represent you — regardless of whether that representation entails negotiations with the insurance company, a full on civil trial, or anything in between. You want to be sure to provide all relevant and accurate information available regarding your case to your lawyer as soon as possible. This allows him or her to have a clear understanding of what potential exists in terms of a dog bite injury settlement, as well as any compensation you may be entitled to, before dealing with the insurance company.

Dog bite injury compensation can vary on a case-by-case basis. Hiring a qualified and competent Los Angeles dog bite attorney as soon as possible following your attack is the best way to help ensure you receive the largest possible settlement for your particular type of case. While waiting isn’t typically something that is found following a dog bite injury, it should be noted that the standard two-year statute of limitations on personal injury cases applies to dog bites, and once that statute elapses it essentially forecloses any options for legal recourse.

When searching for the best Los Angeles-area dog bite lawyer to handle your case, the most important criteria for you to consider include experience in handling this specific subset of personal injury law, as well as results obtained on behalf of former dog bite injury clients. Before you hire a personal injury attorney for your dog bite claim, be sure to inquire about the number of similar cases the attorney has handled, and what the results have been (i.e. cases taken to trial versus settled out of court, average settlement amount for an injury similar to yours, etc.).

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