Northern California Dog Bite Lawyer
Most dogs are loving animals and great pets. Sometimes, however, they are so protective of their families that they bite anyone they perceive as a threat — even when the bite victim has done nothing provocative. Some dogs are raised in a way that makes them quick to bite. Others bite because that is their nature.
Dog owners debate whether certain breeds are dangerous, but the fact is that dogs of any breed can be sweet and gentle, while other dogs of the same breed might decide to bite. Nobody can read a dog’s mind. Understanding why a particular dog chooses to bite at a particular time is not always possible. A dog’s decision to bite will sometimes surprise the dog’s owner. Fortunately, liability for dog bites in California does not hinge on proof that the dog’s owner was at fault.
Dog bites can cause serious and lasting damage, including scars and infections. If a dog in the Bay Area bit you or your child, a personal injury lawyer at KKG Law can help you obtain the compensation you deserve. Our personal injury team represents dog bite victims in Oakland, San Jose, Fairfield, and all other Bay Area communities.
California Dog Bite Liability
You may have heard the phrase, “every dog is entitled to one bite.” For much of our nation’s history, courts quoted that phrase to express that idea that a dog owner could not know that a dog had “vicious tendencies” until the dog actually bit someone. Courts held that dog owners were not responsible for the dog’s first bite, but had a duty to control their dogs after learning that the dog had a propensity to bite.
That rule makes the ability to obtain compensation for a dog bite dependent on proof of the dog’s prior behavior. When dog owners conceal their awareness that a dog has bitten someone, the rule makes liability difficult to prove. The rule also produces unfair results by allowing a second bite victim to collect compensation while the dog’s first victim gets nothing.
Many states, including California, have abandoned the “one bite” rule in favor of a rule known as “strict liability.” Strict liability imposes a duty on dog owners to control their dogs even if they believe that the dog is unlikely to bite someone. A state with strict liability recognizes that dog owners are in the best position to prevent their dogs from biting, and holds them responsible when their dog bites an innocent person.
Under Civil Code section 3342, California law now provides that a dog’s owner “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.” Parks and city sidewalks are examples of public places.
The phrase “lawfully in a private place” protects guests who are invited into a home. Trespassers who are not “lawfully” on a property’s owner’s premises are not protected by California’s strict liability law, although dog bite victims who were not lawfully in private place may still be able to recover damages if they can prove that the dog owner was negligent.
In two other instances, California dog owners may be able to avoid the state’s strict liability standard. An exception to strict liability might reduce the victim’s damages when the bite victim caused the dog to bite by provoking the dog. For instance, if the bite victim was 50% at fault because the victim pulled the dog’s tail, the victim’s compensation is reduced by 50%. Children under the age of five, however, are presumed to be incapable of acting negligently, so they are typically entitled to recover compensation even if they provoked the dog that bit them.
Provocation generally refers to inflicting pain on a dog that justifies the dog’s decision to bite in self-defense. California court decisions have concluded that approaching a dog, holding out a hand to pet a dog, or attempting to feed or play with a dog does not constitute provocation.
Assumption of Risk
Another exception to strict liability is called “assumption of risk.” A bite victim assumes the risk of being bitten by approaching a restrained dog that is showing clear signs of aggression. For example, if a dog is restrained in its yard by a fence and it barks, growls, or bares it teeth at people who pass by on the sidewalk, a bite victim who reaches through the fence to tease the dog has probably assumed the risk of being bitten. When a reasonable person should recognize the likelihood of being bitten and chooses to ignore that risk, a jury is entitled to deny the bit victim any recovery for his or her injuries.
Dog Bite Injuries
Children are particularly vulnerable to dog bites. Children are more likely than adults to be bitten in the face or neck, both because a small child and a large dog may encounter each other face-to-face and because children are less capable of fending off an attack. Adults are more likely to be bitten on their arms and hands.
Children are three times more likely than adults to require medical treatment after a dog bite. Bites to the face may result in scarring and permanent disfigurement. Cosmetic surgery may be necessary when the child is older to reduce the visibility of residual scarring.
A dog bite that punctures the skin can have serious consequences, in addition to the immediate pain that a bite inflicts. Nearly one out of five dog bites become infected. Pasteurella bacteria are present in about half of all infected dog bites. The bacteria cause a painful infection to develop at the location of the bite wound.
Bite victims who suffer from a weak immune system are at risk of contracting a serious disease after exposure to pasteurella bacteria. Disease symptoms include swollen glands and joints as well as a loss of mobility.
Other diseases that can develop from dog bites include tetanus and MRSA, a dangerous form of Staph infection. MRSA infections can affect the skin, lungs. and urinary tract. MRSA infections can be life-threatening.
Compensation for Dog Bite Injuries
Fortunately, many dog owners carry homeowner’s or renter’s insurance that covers dog bite claims. Compensation that should typically be paid for dog bite injuries includes:
- Past medical expenses
- Anticipated future medical expenses, such as cosmetic surgery
- Counseling expenses (to cope with fear of another dog attack)
- Lost wages
- Pain, suffering, anxiety, and emotional distress
To learn how KKG Law can help you receive fair compensation if you or your child were bitten by a dog, call us at 707-898-8125. You can also use our online contact form to send us a message. KKG Law represents dog bite victims in Oakland, San Jose, Fairfield, and all other Bay Area communities.