California dog owners are responsible for all damages resulting from their dogs’ bites. That sounds straightforward. Unless you are the dog bite victim and the dog’s owner is a tenant without insurance. In that case, you may wonder about landlord liability for dog bites.
Determining liability is important to victims because the liable person must pay for the victim’s injuries. Dog bites can cause serious scarring and permanent damage. Injuries may require multiple surgeries. Dog bites can leave victims disfigured, blind, or fighting against life-threatening infections. Innocent victims should not have to pay for these problems.
Who Pays for Dog Bite Injuries?
The California Civil Code, Section 3342 explicitly states dog owners’ responsibilities if their dogs bite:
(a) 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.
While this sounds like a powerful declaration of responsibility, it is only helpful to dog bite victims if the owner is able to pay for the injuries. What victims need is compensation for harm, not simply a statement of liability.
Many dog owners have homeowner’s insurance or general liability insurance, which covers dog bites. When a dog’s owner has insurance, the victim files a third-party claim with the dog owner’s insurance company. The claim includes the value of economic and non-economic damages.
Comparative Negligence Applies to Dog Bite Injuries
Even though the statutory liability sounds simple, the insurance company will likely look for ways to blame the victim. Insurance adjusters do this because they need to minimize the insurance company payout. In California, a pure comparative negligence state, any compensation for injuries is reduced by a percentage equal to the victim’s share of fault. So, if the insurance company can prove that the dog bite victim provoked the dog or ignored a warning not to approach the dog, the company will pay the victim less. An experienced dog bite attorney knows how to build a persuasive case and show that the dog bite victim was not negligent and did not contribute to his own injuries.
What is the Scope of Landlord Liability for Dog Bites?
Sometimes a dog owner does not have insurance, or his insurance doesn’t cover dog bites. Unfortunately, uninsured dog owners are also unlikely to have money or assets to pay for a victim’s injuries. In those situations, an experienced dog bite attorney can help identify other people who might share responsibility for the dog bite. In some cases, courts have found landlord liability for dog bites.
Proving landlord liability for dog bites requires the assistance of a seasoned dog bite lawyer. A clear statute does not exist, and court decisions depend on specific factual details. In general, if a landlord knows that a tenant’s dog has bitten someone in the past, the landlord is responsible for keeping third parties safe from the dog because the dog can be considered a dangerous condition on the property. The landlord’s duty to visitors also applies when the landlord knows of the dog’s vicious nature.
Importantly, a landlord will only be held liable if he is able to do something about the dog. A landlord cannot enter a tenant’s house and remove a dog, even if the dog is dangerous. Even with landlord liability for dog bites, landlords must follow rules for dealing with tenants.
The landlord could ask the tenant to remove the dog or serve a formal notice that the tenant is creating a nuisance. If the presence of a dangerous dog violates a lease condition, the landlord could begin eviction proceedings. This option depends on state and local landlord-tenant laws. The landlord could also file a report with local animal control authorities.
Landlords who know about a tenant’s dangerous dog must act to protect visitors. Legally available actions take time, though. A landlord will not be held liable if a victim is injured before the landlord could reasonably take action.
Landlord’s Responsibility to Help Secure Dangerous Dogs
Some courts have found landlord liability for dog bites even when the bites occur off the property. These are rare cases where a tenant’s dog escapes because of a hole in the fence or a broken gate. If the landlord is responsible for maintaining the property, including fencing, there might be landlord liability for dog bites.
In one case, Donchin v. Guerrero, the court said the landlord knew that the tenant’s dog was dangerous. The court said, “if the dog escapes the landlord’s property because of defects in that property, the landlord is liable for the off-site injuries.”
The terms of the lease and the tenant’s and landlord’s actions and words will help a court determine who is responsible for maintaining the fence or other barrier.
How a Long Beach Dog Bite Attorney Can Help
Your Injuries Are Personal To Me
If a dog bit you or a loved one, the dog’s owner should compensate you. Compensable injuries include psychological as well as physical pain. Many dog bite victims suffer fear and anxiety resulting from the dog’s attack. Your injuries are personal to me and I will not stop fighting until you receive the maximum compensation you are entitled to.
Call the Law Office of Michael D. Waks at 888-394-1174 today if you were the victim of a dog bite. Or use the convenient online contact form to schedule a free consultation. Learn how an experienced Long Beach dog bite lawyer can help if you’ve suffered a dog attack.
You will be under no obligation and you will never pay any money unless you recover compensation for your losses.
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