Understanding dog bite liabilityBeing the victim of a dog bite attack is a traumatic experience, especially when you are left with significant wounds, are battling infections and pain, scaring and looking at sizable medical bills as the result of the incident. Fortunately, California's strict liability approach to determining financial responsibility for dog bite injuries makes it easier to receive the compensation you need to move forward with your life.

Approaches to Determining Liability for Dog Bite Attacks

In the United States, there are two main approaches to determining liability for dog bite attacks: the one bite rule and strict liability.

The one bite rule, sometimes called the free bite or first bite rule, is a common law principle that shields the owner of a dog from liability for the first victim's injuries. The justification for this rule is that a domestic pet isn't by definition inherently dangerous. Therefore, an owner wouldn't know that the animal posed a risk until it lashed out at someone else.

Currently, a minority number of states use the one bite rule for dog bite attacks.  Some states rely primarily on the one bite rule, but incorporate elements of strict liability into their laws. These states are called mixed dog bite statute states.

California uses the strict liability rule.  Strict liability means that a dog's owner is responsible for any damages the animal inflicts even if the animal has never shown evidence of aggressive behavior. The majority of states use the strict liability approach for allowing victims to financially recover for dog bite attacks.

In California, dog bite victims who file a California personal injury claim will by supported by strict liability.  The victim is not obligated to prove the animal was dangerous, that the owner had knowledge of this danger or that the owner was negligence.

California's Strict Liability Rule and Your Personal Injury Claim

A California dog bite attack victim must be able to show the following to win a personal injury claim:

  • The dog was owned by the defendant.
  • The bite took place when the victim was not engaged in inappropriate conduct when the bite occurred.
  • The victim was bitten and suffered damaged by the dog.

Note that trespassing is a key exception to strict liability. If the victim was in an unauthorized location when the attack occurred, he is not eligible to receive compensation for his injuries. Victims of attacks by police dogs can also make claims for bite injuries under limited circumstances.  A dog bite lawyer who understands the rules associated with these specially trained dogs is critical to succeed against a police department that improperly used its dog thereby causing injury.

Protecting Your Right to Compensation

California's statute of limitations on dog bite injury claims is two years.  The statute of limitations for dog bite claims against a government entity is shorter and also requires a government claim to be filed within six months of the injury.  If you wish to seek compensation for your dog bite injuries, you must file before the appropriate deadline.  Victims of dog bite attacks can seek compensation for the following:

  • Previous medical bills, including expenses related to emergency room care, surgical care, physical therapy, and necessary prescription medications such as antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection or painkillers to minimize discomfort during the recovery process
  • Any anticipated future medical care, such as the cost of surgery to treat nerve damage or minimize the appearance of scars
  • Loss of wages while you were unable to work during your recovery
  • Pain and suffering, including the emotional trauma associated with the attack
  • Permanente scaring and nerve damage

In most cases, dog bite claims are paid from a homeowner’s or renter's insurance policy. However, you are still entitled to seek compensation for your injuries—even if the animal's owner does not have a valid homeowner's or renter's insurance policy.  But in many cases when there is no available insurance, it is far more difficult to recover an appropriate amount of financial recovery for the damages suffered.

It's a common misconception that hiring an attorney to negotiate on your behalf is simply too expensive. This is not the case.  Personal injury attorneys typically accept dog bite cases on a contingency fee basis, which means there are no upfront costs or expenses you have to pay for legal representation. Your attorney will be compensated by receiving a percentage of a settlement or judgment, once obtained.  If there is no recovery, then there are no fees which have to be paid.

To learn more about protecting your right to compensation for dog bite injuries, contact the Inland Empire Law Group. Free, no-obligation consultations are available at our offices in Victorville or Rancho Cucamonga.