In the state of California, dog owners are almost always strictly liable for the damages their dogs cause in the event of an attack. As such, dog bite victims typically do not have to prove the owner was negligent in order to recover compensation for medical bills, lost income, and other damages.
Unlike other states, California does not have a “one-bite rule.” That means dog owners can be held strictly liable for damages even if their animal had never bitten anyone or displayed vicious tendencies in the past.
What Must I Prove to Win a Dog Bite Claim?
Each dog bite claim is unique, but there are elements that must be proven in all such cases in order to recover damages. To prevail in a dog bite claim on the grounds of strict liability, the claimant must be able to prove:
- The claimant was not trespassing at the time of the incident;
- The claimant was injured during the attack; and
- The defendant is the owner of the dog in question.
Below are a few kinds of evidence your dog bite attorney might use to prove the above elements:
- Eyewitness testimony;
- Recordings from surveillance cameras near the scene;
- Social media posts including Facebook “check ins;”
- Medical records;
- Photographs of any visible bite marks, lacerations, or scratches;
- The dog’s adoption papers; and
- The dog’s veterinary records.
When Are Pet Owners Not Liable for the Injuries Their Dogs Cause?
Despite California’s strict liability doctrine, there are scenarios in which pet owners are not considered liable for the damages their dogs cause. If you were bitten by a dog, you might not be entitled to compensation if:
- You were not lawfully allowed to be on the owner’s property when the incident occurred;
- You provoked the dog enough to instigate the attack;
- You assumed the risk of an attack (by agreeing to participate in some kind of training exercise, for example); or
- The dog was assisting military or law enforcement personnel with executing a warrant, defending a government employee, or investigating a crime.
Regardless of whether one of the above applies to your situation, it’s still wise to seek legal counsel because there are exceptions to these exceptions. For example, if you were bitten by a police dog but you were not actually participating in—or suspected to be participating in—the acts that prompted the officers to use the dog in an official capacity in the first place, you might still have grounds for a personal injury claim on the basis of strict liability.
Could Anyone Other Than the Owner Be Liable for a Dog Bite?
In some dog bite cases, neither the owner nor the victim is liable for the attack. Depending on the circumstances, one of the following parties could be held responsible:
- The Dog’s Handler: If someone other than the owner was in control of the dog when it attacked, he or she could be found liable for the resulting damages. When this is the case, though, strict liability does not apply. In order for the victim to recover compensation, he or she must prove the handler knew the dog had aggressive tendencies yet failed to take reasonable measures to prevent an attack.
- A Landlord: If a landlord is aware of a dog’s vicious propensities but does not take steps to lawfully remove the animal from the premises, he or should may be liable for damages following any attacks that occur on the property. Landlords can also be liable if they fail to maintain their premises—or the fencing around the premises—and a tenant’s dog escapes and bites someone as a result.
- A Commercial Property Owner: If a dog bite occurs on commercial property, the victim may have grounds for a claim against the owner. Property owners have a duty to keep their premises free of any potential hazards including vicious dogs.
How Might Comparative Negligence Affect Dog Bite Cases?
California is a pure comparative negligence state, which means damages awards in personal injury cases can be reduced by the victim’s own percentage of fault. As such, insurance adjusters have incentive to find reasons to blame an attack on the injured party.
When investigating a dog bite claim, the insurance adjuster may search for evidence that the victim provoked the dog, ignored the owner’s warnings not to approach, or otherwise contributed to the attack in some way. A seasoned dog bite attorney can gather all available evidence to strengthen your claim should such a liability dispute arise.
What Can a Dog Bite Lawyer Do for Me?
If you were bitten by a dog, you have the right to file a claim without hiring a personal injury attorney. But if you’ve incurred significant medical bills or lost income or you believe a dispute might arise, it’s essential that you seek counsel from a well-credentialed and highly experienced dog bite lawyer. Your attorney can assist with your case by:
- Identifying all potentially liable parties;
- Interviewing eyewitnesses;
- Gathering time-sensitive evidence and, if necessary, filing subpoenas to obtain evidence that’s being withheld;
- Tracking all costs associated with treating your injuries;
- Estimating a reasonable figure for non-economic damages;
- Managing all correspondence with the opposing party;
- Handling settlement negotiations; and
- Preparing the case for trial if the opposing party is uncooperative.
Call (562) 206-1939 for a Free Consultation with a Long Beach Dog Bite Attorney
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
If you or a loved one was bitten by a dog, contact the Law Office of Michael D. Waks to determine the most strategic way to proceed. We understand the physical, emotional, and financial toll that a serious injury can take on the entire family, which is why we fight tirelessly to get our clients the results they deserve.
Michael D. Waks has been representing the injured and their families for more than three decades. Call (562) 206-1939 or use our Online Contact Form to set up a free case evaluation with a dog bite lawyer in Long Beach.
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