Category: Dog Bites

Earlier this year a Good Samaritan – after hearing cries for help – was able to pry the jaws of a pit bull from the neck of a much smaller dog. As Margo Delgado walked her mini Labradoodle down a Valencia street a man approached with his leashed pit bull. When the two dogs neared Delgado asked if the pit bull was friendly – to which its owner responded in the affirmative. Moments later, however, the pit bull had attacked the Labradoodle and managed to puncture Delgado’s hand. Had it not been for the Good Samaritan it is likely that Delgado’s dog would have died from the attack. The pit bull and owner fled before they could be identified.

Who is liable for injuries after a dog or animal bite occurs? Does the owner need to have prior knowledge of a dog’s violent tendencies to be responsible for its actions? Is the owner more culpable for the pit bull’s actions after he falsely confirmed that the dog was friendly? These are all questions Mrs. Delgado likely has in the wake of the dog bite attack. At Glotzer & Leib, LLP, we help our clients understand the answers to these questions and hold dog owners accountable for injuries their pets inflict. We have decades of combined experience helping clients recover compensation for injuries caused by dog bites.

Dog Bite Laws in California

Under California law, owners are responsible for dog bites that occur on public grounds or on private property where the victim was an invited guest. California imposes strict liability on dog owners. Strict liability means that victims are not required to prove a dog owner’s negligence to recover compensation. In California, owners are strictly liable for their dog’s actions regardless of:

  • Knowledge (or lack thereof) of a dog’s prior disposition or behavior;
  • Preventative measures imposed to reduce the risk of a dog bite or attack; or
  • When a dog owner purchased or adopted the dog in question. Ownership begins the moment the owner obtains legal custody of the animal.

There are some exceptions to liability for dog bites in California. State Civil Code 334 provides a number of exceptions, most of which are in place to shield police or military officers from liability for injuries caused by working dogs. Police and military officials or offices are not liable for injuries caused by a police or military dog if the dog was protecting itself or another or aiding in official police business.

Dog bite victims may be barred from recovering compensation if they were not lawfully on private property, instigated, or provoked the dog when the bite or attack occurred. Employees injured by an employer’s dog on the job may be barred from filing personal injury lawsuits for damages, but may be able to recover through a claim for worker’s compensation.

If the dog bite victim is a child these exceptions to recovery may not apply. These exceptions are rooted in the theory of negligence, and young children generally lack the mental capacity to act negligently.

Prior Knowledge of Dog’s Propensity for Violence Triggers Duty

If the pit bull owner was well aware of his dog’s violent behavior and actions he may be liable for additional damages. California imposes a duty to prevent future harm on dog owners who are aware of their animal’s history of unsafe behavior. Breaching this duty – which may include falsely indicating a dog is friendly – may result in additional liability and even criminal sanctions. How do owners know if they have this duty? If their dog has been labeled as potentially dangerous or vicious they are likely responsible to take extra precautions.

A potentially dangerous dog in California is one who, when unprovoked on at least two separate occasions in a 36 month period engages in aggressive behavior requiring defensive action to prevent bodily harm or kills, seriously bites, inflicts injury, or otherwise causes harm to another domestic animal.

A vicious dog in California is one who, without provocation, inflicts severe injury or kills a human being. Alternatively, a dog may be labeled as vicious if it was determined to be potentially dangerous and the owner took no precautions upon notification.

Recovering Damages After a Dog Bite

It is important to file a dog bite claim for damages within two years of the dog bite. Once the statute of limitations runs claims for injuries stemming from the incident are generally barred. Filing a claim within the statute of limitations provides a way for California dog bite victims to recoup the compensation they require to recover from their injuries. Damages that may be recovered are generally broken down into two categories: economic and non-economic.

Economic damages include verifiable, calculable losses that result from the accident. These may include:

  • Medical bills and expenses;
  • Rehabilitation;
  • Lost wages;
  • Loss of future wages; and
  • Plastic surgery.

Non-economic compensation includes damages that are harder to assign a monetary value. These typically vary with each specific case and may include:

  • Pain and suffering;
  • Mental anguish; and
  • Loss of companionship.

Punitive damages are generally not awarded in California dog bite lawsuits. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. If the injury was intentional or the result of fraud, malice, or oppression, punitive damages may be available. Punitive damages may also be awarded if it is found that a dog attack against another animal was willful or the result of gross negligence. Alternatively, some California municipalities impose additional penalties against owners of dangerous dogs in the event of a bite or attack.