Dog attacks are a persistent problem across the country, and they happen more frequently than you might think. No matter the size of the dog, whether it happens in a home or outside, dog bites can cause serious and life-threatening injuries, or even death.
At one time, the “one-bite rule” guided the judgements of dog attack cases, which meant that the owner was liable for injuries that their dog caused to another only if they knew that the dog had aggressive tendencies or had attacked in the past. So, the burden of proof lay with the victim of the attack, not the animal’s owner.
Many states, including California, now have laws that increasingly hold the owners accountable for their pet’s behavior, and that also require owners to keep aggressive animals confined. The prevalence of dog-bite attacks, especially in breed-specific cases, has led to heightened awareness of the issue and greater accountability for the owner.
The high cost of dog bites
There are an estimated 85 million dogs in the United States, and more than a third of homes have at least one dog. Sadly, those who are most vulnerable, specifically children and the elderly, are the most often injured in a dog attack. Between 2000 and 2018, almost half of all bite-related fatalities occurred to children under the age of 16. In addition, insurance claims of $854 million were due to bites and other dog-related injuries.
Injuries from a dog bite can range from torn skin and muscle or tendon damage to nerve injury, disfiguration, broken bones, or scarring. Victims may need reconstructive surgery or extensive rehabilitation, and some never completely recover.
Dog bite liability in California
There are approximately 4.5 million injury-causing dog bites each year, and California was one of the top ten states reporting them in 2020. Victims of a dog’s biting attack should remember what to do afterwards:
- Clean the wounds and seek medical attention.
- Get contact information of the owner and find out the breed of the dog, its vaccination history, and any history of aggression.
- Get contact information for any witnesses.
In California, the dog owner is liable for injury or death from an attack by their dog, whether it occurred on private property or in a public place. The only exception to the law is if the victim was illegally trespassing on the premises where the dog was confined.
In a successful lawsuit, the injured party can collect medical expenses and lost wages, as well as emotional distress and pain and suffering. It is important when pursuing a claim to understand your rights and the best way to seek compensation for your injuries.