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Can you still collect compensation for a dog bite if you were trespassing?
California law specifically allows trespass as a defense against liability for a dog bite attack. This means you may not be able to collect compensation for your injuries if you were truly trespassing at the time the dog bit you. If you're found to be trespassing, your options for compensation for a dog bit is nearly non-existent.
Defining Trespassing in Dog Bite Cases
Trespassing is a legal term used to refer to entering private property without the express or implied permission of the owner or person who lives there. In regards to a dog bite attack, a victim is considered to be lawfully on a property if he has express or implied permission to be there. Merely entering the front yard to knock on a door is not trespassing and would not lead to a trespassing defense.
Examples of situations that would be eligible for dog bite compensation include:
- The victim was bitten while attending a backyard barbecue hosted by the owner.
- The victim was bitten while babysitting the owner's children.
- The victim was a close friend of the owner and bitten after stopping by for a surprise visit.
- The victim was someone who knocked on the door asking for directions after getting lost.
Examples of situations that would likely be considered trespassing and thus not eligible for compensation include:
- The victim was bitten after jumping a fence to retrieve a frisbee that had accidentally been thrown into the property.
- The victim was bitten after wandering into a fenced in backyard where he was expressly told not to go, even though he had permission to be inside the house.
- The victim was bitten after showing up uninvited and threatening the owner of the property.
- The victim specifically ignored a "No Trespassing" sign.
- A person broke into the property.
Key factors to remember when considering whether trespassing will be successful as a defense include:
- Police officers, emergency medical personnel, or mail carriers performing their job duties are not considered trespassers.
- Trespassing as a dog bite defense only applies to dog bites occurring on private property. However, the property doesn't necessarily have to be owned by the owner of the dog.
- The law makes no exception for the conduct of school age children. A child can be found guilty of trespassing if he enters an area without the necessary authorization.
Suing for Negligence
Even if a victim is found to have been trespassing, it may still be possible to sue for negligence in regards to injuries sustained during a dog bite attack. This would allow the victim to collect some compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
To prove a premises liability case involving an allegation of negligence, you must establish duty, breach of duty, injury, and causation. This means you must prove that the owner had a responsibility to act in an appropriate manner in regards to securing the dog, but his failure to do so was the direct cause of your injuries.
One example of a case in which the owner may be found negligent is if the animal was known to have aggressive or violent tendencies. Breed alone doesn't make a dog aggressive, but the court recognizes that owners have a responsibility to secure animals with a history of violence towards others.
Having a dog in a backyard that is not fenced in could also be considered negligent if the neighborhood is in an area where children are known to wander. Dog owners have a responsibility to secure their animals or take precautions to prevent children from entering the property.
Seeking Legal Representation
If you've sustained injuries in a dog bite attack, legal representation can help ensure that you receive any compensation available under California law. Claims related to dog bite attacks are generally paid under the owner's homeowner’s insurance policy, which means you'll be dealing with an insurance adjuster whose primary responsibility is to keep costs down for his employer.
The Inland Empire Law Group is committed to advocating for the needs of California residents who've been injured in dog bite attacks and to help them secure the best possible results. Please call today to schedule a free, no-obligation case review. Appointments are available at our Victorville or Rancho Cucamonga locations.
Can you still receive compensation in a dog bite attack if the animal was provoked?
California's dog bite law specifically allows provocation as a defense for liability in a dog bite claim. This means that you might not be eligible for compensation if the owner of the dog that attacked you can prove that you provoked the animal.
Understanding Provocation as a Defense
California's dog bite statute allows a person who is bitten by a dog to pursue a claim for damages based upon a theory of strict liability. This means that the dog bite victim does not have to prove liability, only that the dog bit the victim. However, that standard is not absolute. California's dog bite law allows provocation as a defense, which means that the conduct of the dog bite victim will be taken into account to determine if the claim should be denied entirely or the damages should be reduced by some percentage of fault attributable to the bit victim. What constitutes provocation is not clearly defined in California and is often case specific. This ambiguity has led to some difficulty in settling dog bite claims where provocation is properly asserted as a defense.
Some relatively clear examples of provocation include, a person who hits or kicks a dog repeatedly without reason, such as self-protection is an act of provocation. Other actions of provocation which do not include physical harm to the dog might include, taunting a dog with noise or food such that it causes the dog to reaction aggressively. In these circumstances a person who is then bitten by the dog they are provoking may not be eligible for compensation for some or all of the damages suffered by a dog attack. However, the nature of the attack would be measured against the dog's reaction to the alleged provocation. Some portion of the dog attack might be attributable to the provocation, while another portion is found to be out of proportion to the victim's behavior, thereby holding the dog owner responsible for the additional injuries.
Provocation does not necessarily have to be intentional or malicious conduct towards the animal. For example, stepping on a dog that you didn't see might be considered provocation depending upon the circumstances. Erratic, aggressive, or threatening behavior towards the animal's owner or caretakers may also be interpreted as provocation, even if the dog bite victim made no attempt to interact with the animal directly.
Case law helps a dog bite attorney understand how a court might rule on the issue of provocation. Some cases have ruled that the following behaviors specifically do not constitute provocation of a dog bite attack:
- Walking toward a dog.
- Petting or feeding a dog.
- Playing with a dog and patting its head.
- Rising up and turning to face a dog, when previously seated in front of the dog.
- Dangling hands and arms over a fence, without making quick or threatening gestures towards the dog.
Most actions of provocation are measured by the "reasonable person" standard. In other words, would a reasonable person interpret the particular behavior as likely to provoke a dog to act aggressively? In making this analysis one would consider the age of the victim and his or her ability to understand the consequences of such actions. Very young children are assumed to lack the capacity to understand their actions may provoke a dog.
Impact of the Dog's Past Behavior
Since the definition of provocation is somewhat subjective, the dog's past behavior will also factor into whether provocation is allowed as a defense. If the dog has a past history of aggressive behavior, provocation will less likely be a successful defense. Owners of animals prone to aggression have an elevated responsibility to secure their pets or otherwise limit contact to ensure the safety of others. A bite victim who is unfamiliar with the animal can't be expected to know that the animal is more aggressive than average. The dog owner assumes the responsibility to protect others from their dog.
Winning Your Dog Bite Case in Rancho Cucamonga, CA
To win a dog bite claim, you'll need to establish
- You were bitten by the animal
- The identify of the owner of the animal at the time of the attack
- The injuries you suffered from the attack
If the owner of the dog claims provocation as a basis for a defense, the burden is on the defendant to establish:
- You provoked the dog or were engaged in an activity which would cause a dog to act in the manner it did, such as, trespassing, engaging in criminal conduct, etc.
If you win your case, you'll be eligible for several different types of compensation
- Medical expenses, including past care and any anticipated future medical care related to your injuries from the attack, including future medical care, if applicable.
- Loss of wages for the time you were unable to work due to your injuries.
- Any applicable loss of future earning potential due to your injuries.
- Pain and suffering, including physical discomfort, emotional trauma, disfigurement, disabilities, fear and similar claims related to the attack.
To maximize your eligibility for compensation, it's best to work with a personal injury attorney who has extensive experience handling dog bite claims. The legal team at Inland Empire Law Group is dedicated to helping California residents receive fair and prompt dog bite settlements. Please call today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation at either our main office in Rancho Cucamonga or our Victorville location.