Depending on where you live in the United States, dog bite injuries may be handled differently. For example, states like Texas and Nevada have laws known as the one-bite rule that allows dogs and their owners to avoid legal repercussions after their first dog bite incident. One-bite rules apply to all dogs, regardless of breed. One-bite rules allow the dog and its owner to be free of liability for the dog bite so long as they have not previously been made aware of a past biting incident. However, California does not provide one-bite rules to its dog owners. Because of this dog owners in California can be held liable for any type of attack.
California Dog Bite Law
California Civil Code Section 3342 states that dog owners are responsible for all injuries and damages a dog bite victim suffers. Further, it specifies that dog owners will be held liable for these actions regardless of whether the incident occurred in public, private, or on the dog owner’s property. Unlike one-bite rules in other states, California law requires that dog owners be held liable for all incidents even if they had no pre-existing knowledge of their dog’s violent behavior. This structure of legal accountability is formally known as strict liability. There are a few exceptions to this law. Despite the widespread protection California dog bite laws provide victims, the following exceptions do apply.
If a dog bite injury results in any of the following settings, owners cannot be sued:
- If the dog is part of a government agency, such as police force or military, and the bite occurred while they were assisting an employee.
- If the dog bite occurred as the result of the dog defending itself from a violent attack or dangerous situation.
- If the dog-related injury was sustained due to jumping or scratching. Dog bite personal injury laws do not provide coverage for injuries from these actions.
In the instance that a dog owner has been previously involved in a dog bite personal injury case, they may be held to a greater level of responsibility for the subsequent attack. Specifically, if a dog owner is aware that their dog has previously bitten and injured someone at the time of the present attack, they must prove that they have taken both the sufficient and necessary steps to prevent another incident. Therefore, if the injury you’ve sustained is not the dog’s first offense, the district attorney in your area will be responsible for evaluating the situation and determining the outcome. If the district attorney reviewing your case finds that the owner had not taken the necessary steps to prevent the incident, they may take disciplinary actions such as removing the dog from the home or euthanization.
The Severity Of Your Dog Bite
Because California employs strict liability when handling dog bites, dog owners remain liable for your injury regardless of its size or severity. This means that dog owners cannot avoid being held liable by arguing that they were not aware of their dog’s violent behavior. Following precedent, California law determines that even if the bite does not break the skin, but the dog has grabbed someone with its teeth, the owner can still be held liable for this action. Therefore, even minor dog bites meet the requirements to file for a personal injury claim.
Like any personal injury case, you must prove that the owner’s negligence is responsible for your injuries. To do so your personal injury case must prove the following:
- The individual you are suing is the dog’s rightful owner.
- The dog bite occurred in a public place, or while you were legally present on private property.
- The victim suffered an injury from the dog bite.
- The dog bite is the main cause of the victim’s injury.
Filing a Civil Lawsuit vs. Pressing Criminal Charges for a Dog Bite:
Regardless of the severity of the injuries, individuals who have suffered a dog bite in California may choose to file a personal injury claim. While most victims choose to file a civil lawsuit, they might also choose to pursue criminal charges against the negligent party. However, civil lawsuits may be filed without filing any adjacent criminal charges. Before deciding which path you would like to take to receive compensation, it is important to understand the difference between a civil lawsuit and a criminal case. The main difference between the two is the extent to which your claim must be proved.
In civil lawsuits…
your claim must be proven to the extent allowed by the evidence; this is known as the preponderance of the evidence. The preponderance of evidence means that the claims being brought forth to the court have been supported by evidence that has sufficiently convinced the jury they are more likely true than false.
In criminal cases…
your claim must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. In comparison, the burden of proof is much lower in civil lawsuits. Regardless of the type of suit you are filing, charges made against the dog owner must be filed within two years of the injury, unless you are granted a case-specific extension by the courts.
Reaching a Settlement Amount
When suing a dog owner for the injuries you sustained from a dog bite, you are suing for compensation specific to your injuries and damages. Therefore, there is no specific amount that you should expect to receive from a dog bite personal injury case. However, compensation received from dog bite cases can be a significant amount. The national average compensation received for dog bite personal injury claims is 51,000 USD. Depending on the factors of the case and the injuries you sustained, you may be eligible to receive over 100,000 USD in compensation. This settlement amount is typically reached when the injuries the victim sustained were severe. In dog bite personal injury cases severe injuries typically include dismemberment, significant scarring, facial injuries, or, the incident’s victim was a child. In addition to the severity of your injuries, various other factors will be taken into consideration when reaching a settlement amount. These factors may include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Any form of emotional distress or injury will be factored into your claim as pain and suffering.
In extreme cases, dog bite injuries may result in death. In this instance, the victim’s family may choose to seek compensation through a wrongful death suit instead.