What is a Dog Bite Personal Injury Claim?

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Can I File a Dog Bite Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Can I File a Dog Bite Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Feb 12, 2022

With roughly 69 million U.S. households owning dogs, the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that nearly 4.5 million people suffer dog bite injuries every year. Of those more than 4 million annual dog bites, the majority of victims are children.

Let’s take a look at what a California dog bite injury claim entails. We’ll also review what you should do after a dog bite injury, discuss when homeowner’s and renters’ insurance policies cover dog bites, and look at whether or not hiring a dog bite lawyer can help you recover maximum financial compensation.

Does California Follow the “One-Bite” Rule for Dog Bites?

While many states do follow what’s known as the one-bite rule (which imposes liability on animal owners only when previously on notice that a pet has bitten a human or acted dangerously in another manner), California does not. Rather, California imposes what’s known as strict liability for dog bites and attacks.

Under California’s strict liability law, an injured victim (known as the plaintiff in a civil claim) does not have to prove that a dog had a previous history of bites or attacks.

California Civil Code 3342(a) states:

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.

In other words, a dog bite injury victim does not have to prove that a dog has a history of dangerous behavior in order to recover financial compensation in a civil lawsuit. Dog owners in California can be held liable whenever their pets bite humans.

Moreover, if a dog bites another dog, a property damage claim may be filed against the owner of the aggressive animal. While California Civil Code 3342(a) only applies to dog bites that affect humans, a property damage lawsuit can still be filed when a dog attacks another dog. Common damages that may be recovered through such claims include reduction in market value of the attacked pet (considered property under the law) and the costs involved in repairing or treating the animal.

What Should I Do After a Dog Bite?

What Should I Do After a Dog Bite?
Dog bites can cause serious injuries that require medical attention. If you’ve suffered a dog bite injury, Dordulian Law Group (DLG) suggests taking the following steps to ensure your claim has the best chance of reaching a successful conclusion:

  • Seek medical attention immediately (this will create documentation which can help to substantiate the severity of your injury)
  • Gather the contact information of the animal owner (name, phone, address, any details about the animal, etc.)
  • Take pictures and/or videos of the injury immediately afterward
  • Record or write down any pertinent details about the incident that may help substantiate your claim

The Dunbar Bite Scale offers the following six grades of dog bites:

  • Level 1: Obnoxious or aggressive behavior but no skin-contact by teeth.
  • Level 2: Skin-contact by teeth but no skin-puncture. However, may be skin nicks (less than one tenth of an inch deep) and slight bleeding caused by forward or lateral movement of teeth against skin, but no vertical punctures.
  • Level 3: One to four punctures from a single bite with no puncture deeper than half the length of the dog’s canine teeth. Maybe lacerations in a single direction, caused by victim pulling hand away, owner pulling dog away, or gravity (little dog jumps, bites and drops to floor).
  • Level 4: One to four punctures from a single bite with at least one puncture deeper than half the length of the dog’s canine teeth. May also have deep bruising around the wound (dog held on for N seconds and bore down) or lacerations in both directions (dog held on and shook its head from side to side).
  • Level 5: Multiple-bite incident with at least two Level 4 bites or multiple-attack incident with at least one Level 4 bite in each.
  • Level 6: Victim dead.

Can I Sue for a California Dog Bite?

If you’ve been injured in a dog bite incident, California law may entitle you to a financial damages award. A civil claim is often filed against the owner of the dog (or against that person’s insurance company).

Various circumstances can impact how much a dog bite injury claim is worth. For example, the degree of negligence and severity of an injury can impact a claim’s overall value. When you file a dog bite injury lawsuit, a number of compensatory damages are often pursued.

Some common compensatory damages that may be recoverable in a dog bite injury lawsuit include:

  • Medical care costs
  • Hospital expenses
  • Physical therapy or rehabilitation costs
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional trauma
  • Loss of a limb
  • Scarring or disfigurement

Dog bite injury victims are strongly encouraged to review their claims with an experienced and proven lawyer who has a history of successfully handling such cases.

Do I Need to File a Police Report After a California Dog Bite Injury?

While filing a police report after a California dog bite injury is not required, victims are encouraged to do so in most cases. Filing a police report after a dog bite injury can help strengthen a civil claim against the dangerous animal’s owner. As a result, the potential for recovering damages for various losses can be increased if a police report is filed.

Moreover, filing a police report can help protect others from sustaining a dog bite injury in the future. A police report often puts the owner of a dangerous dog on notice, and that individual may take additional steps to help protect other humans from similar incidents.

Though filing a police report after a dog bite is not required in California, injured victims as well as animal owners are required to report incidents to their local health officer. Furthermore, doctors in California must report a dog bite when an injured victim requires medical treatment.

Reporting a dog bite to your local health officer does not mean that the animal will automatically be euthanized. In actuality, most dogs that bite humans are not put down. Rather, dangerous animals may need to be screened for rabies or other infectious diseases that can be transmitted to humans.

Does California Homeowner’s Insurance Cover Dog Bite Injuries?

The vast majority of either homeowner’s or renters’ insurance policies include personal injury claim coverage for dog bites. A typical policy will include coverage ranging from anywhere between $100,000 and $300,000. If your dog bite injury was severe and the overall damages exceed $300,000, the at-fault animal owner may have to pay additional costs out-of-pocket.

The Insurance Information Institute (III) confirms that dog bites are actually the most common liability claim on homeowner’s and renters’ insurance policies. Additionally, the average payout for a dog bite injury claim is approximately $40,000.

While homeowner’s and renters’ insurance policies cover most dog bites, some breeds may be excluded (depending on your specific policy). Common breeds excluded from homeowner’s or renters’ insurance policies include:

  • Pit bulls
  • Dobermans
  • Rottweilers
  • Wolf hybrids
  • German shepherds
  • Akitas

Do I Need a Lawyer for My California Dog Bite Injury Claim?

Filing a dog bite claim does not technically require representation from a personal injury lawyer. However, hiring a skilled and proven dog bite attorney can help ensure that you recover a maximum financial damages award for your claim.

The Insurance Research Council (IRC) recently conducted a study which confirmed the following:

  • Settlements for injured claimants were 40% higher when they had secured private legal representation.
  • The average insurance payout was 3.5 times higher for injured victims who hired private attorneys (when compared to those representing themselves).
  • 85% of all money paid by insurance companies for bodily injuries is received by victims who have secured representation from a private personal injury attorney.

Additionally, consultations with DLG dog bite lawyers are always free, confidential, and without any obligation. When you sit down with one of our dog bite lawyers, we’ll review the facts of your case, provide an overview of your legal options, and offer an estimate for how much your claim may be worth.

Some questions that you may wish to ask when considering whether or not to hire a particular dog bite injury lawyer include:

  • How often do you represent dog bite injury victims?
  • Can you provide an estimate for a settlement given the facts of my case?
  • What is your fee structure?
  • Do you negotiate with hospitals and insurance companies to reduce expenses?
  • Do you have experience representing clients with my type of dog bite injury (or injuries)?
  • Will you handle my case directly?
  • Will I be responsible for any out-of-pocket expenses?

How Much Time Do I Have to File a California Dog Bite Injury Claim?

Dog bite injury victims have a limited window of time to file claims and recover financial compensation. In most cases, the deadline to file a claim is two years from the date of the incident. However, if a public or government entity owned the dog that attacked you (police dogs, etc.), you may only have six months to file a claim.

Accordingly, DLG strongly encourages all dog bite victims to contact an experienced attorney immediately after an incident – regardless of the severity of the injury. In many cases, even minor dog bites can entitle victims to some form of financial compensation.

To speak with a California dog bite lawyer, contact DLG today at 818-322-4056. We have over 25 years of personal injury experience and are led by Sam Dordulian, a former Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County.

DLG’s dog bite and personal injury lawyers have helped victims recover more than $100 million in settlements and verdicts over the years. We’ll fight aggressively to recover a maximum financial damages award for your dog bite injury.

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