Dogs are generally friendly and well behaved. Most dog owners train their dogs to be obedient, but sometimes even the most even-tempered dog can unexpectedly attack and bite an innocent person. When this happens, the victim often has to deal with the emotional, physical and financial damages resulting from the dog bite. In California, the victim of a dog bite is entitled to financial compensation for damages related to the dog bite accident.
Collecting Damages for Dog Bites in California
Some states continue to use the “one-bite rule” that says an owner is not held liable the first time his or her dog bites someone. In addition, some states require the victim to prove the dog had a history of attacks or aggressive behavior in order to hold the owner liable for damages.
Under California dog bite laws, the victim is not required to prove the dog has an aggressive or violent history or that the dog has bitten someone before. In order for the victim of a dog bite attack in California to hold the owner liable for damages his or her dog caused, the following elements must be proven:
- The victim was not trespassing,
- The victim did not willfully provoke the dog (this does not apply to children under 5 years of age),
- Who owns the dog, and
- The victim suffered an injury for which monetary compensation may be awarded
If these elements are proven, the victim of a dog bite can receive compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, loss of consortium and pain and suffering. In certain cases, a victim may also be entitled to receive punitive damages.
Claiming Punitive Damages in a Dog Bite Case
Punitive damages are designed to “punish” a defendant for behavior that is grossly negligent, malicious or willfully reckless without regard to the safety of others. Punitive damages are intended to send a clear message to the defendant and others that a particular type of behavior will not be tolerated, and it provides additional compensation to those who were victims of the behavior.
Under California Civil Code §3294, if a victim can prove “by clear and convincing evidence that a defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice, the plaintiff may recover damages for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant in addition to actual damages.” California defines malice as conduct that is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff; therefore, if a victim can prove the defendant intended to cause an injury, the victim would be eligible to make a punitive damages claim.
The most blatant situation where punitive damages are awarded in dog bite cases is when owners instruct the dog to attack. In these cases, malice is clear and the victim would be entitled to claim punitive damages. Another scenario under which a victim may be able to seek punitive damages is when the dog that attacked the victim has a history of biting people and has done so numerous times. The owner is aware of the behavior but did nothing to prevent further attacks. Under that circumstance, it is likely the Court will permit the victim to pursue a claim for punitive damages.
It should be noted that although homeowners insurance normally covers damages that must be paid by the owner of the dog, the insurance company will not pay any portion of the award associated with punitive damages. One must therefore consider the value of pursuing a punitive damage claim in a dog bite case, especially if the dog owner does not have significant personal assets to pay the punitive damages. It is a complete waste of time, effort and resources to get a Jury Verdict of punitive damages if you are unable to collect any of it at the end of the day.
Call an Experienced Dog Bite Attorney for More Information
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