Having a dog at home brings a lot of joy and companionship to the family, but this changes if the dog attacks a person in rare cases. A dog bite or any other animal attack could leave you with severe harm, permanent injuries and sometimes could even cause death. Also, treating these injuries is expensive, and the situation becomes worse when you lose your income because you cannot work. Luckily, California dog bites statutes offer protection to individuals like you.

When you sustain injuries from a dog bite, it becomes a matter of strict liability, meaning you can sue the canine owner for compensations, regardless of whether the dog had bitten someone before or had a propensity for violence. The law is different from other states where you can only sue the dog owner if they know the canine’s propensity for violence. Although the state has put the protection you need in place, all bites are not the same.

Can you sue a dog owner for injuries inflicted by their canine?

The answer to the query depends on the factors highlighted below.

Dog Provocation

Under California Civil Code 3342, a dog owner will be responsible for your injuries if a canine bites you and causes harm without any provocation. The element of provocation is critical when determining whether you have a claim against the dog owner. Firstly, the court must establish if you provoked the canine in any way. When the bite came after provoking the animal, you could not pursue any damages from the animal owner because, in the eyes of the court and the law, your behavior triggered the animal’s viciousness that resulted in the bite.

The hard part comes when proving your behavior did not amount to provocation when the incident occurred. You will need a profound dog bite injury attorney to explain your behavior at the time and how it shouldn’t be interpreted as a provocation.

Also, you can bring an injury claim against the animal owner if you were in the line of duty when you were a bit. Performing your assignments is not in any way a type of provocation towards the dog, meaning you can move forward with a civil action.

Location at the Time of the Canine Bite

Civil Code 3342 allows you to sue the dog owner if you are bitten in public or legally on private property, including the animal owner’s property. So, if your canine bite happened in a place open to the general public, you can hold the owner strictly liable for the dog’s action.

However, when the animal bite occurs in a private property, the dog owner’s property included, matters become more complex. Whether or not you can sue them for damages depends on whether you were in the property lawfully. If you were there with the owner’s consent, you could seek compensation for their dog’s actions.

The situation would be different if you were trespassing on private property. Your presence there will be interpreted as illegal, meaning you can’t go after the canine owner to claim compensation for the harm inflicted by the dog bite.

The Conflict Between You and the Dog Owner

The court will consider whether you and the dog owner had a conflict. The animal owner might be minding their business, spending some quality time with their dog, and all of a sudden, you attack. Also, if you were trying to mug the dog owner and you were attacked, the court will view the dog as vicious against you in self-defense, meaning you cannot sue for damages.

Note that you cannot sue for the injuries when bitten by a dog participating in military or police work. Nonetheless, you can sue for negligence by the owner, usually the city or police department. If you were not a suspect in an alleged criminal activity, you could sue the city if a police dog bites you while performing its legal duties.

Also, the injury must be from a canine bite and not any other conduct from the dog. If it is a scratch or jump from the canine that causes your damage, you cannot sue for a dog bite, although you could pursue a negligence claim. This is the case because a dog bite under the Dog Bites statute refers to when a canine grabs you with its teeth and breaks the skin. If the animal’s teeth do not break your skin, that doesn’t count as a dog bite meaning you cannot sue unless for negligence.

When filing a claim against the animal owner for negligence, you must understand that the burden of proof shifts to your side and not the negligent party. You must show the court through your injury attorney that the canine owner didn’t exercise reasonable care leading to your injuries.

When a Minor is a Dog Bite Victim

The liability issues when a dog bites a minor are unique because the minor will require medical attention for the bodily injuries and need therapy because of the mental and emotional trauma. Also, the injuries sustained might be fatal because they are usually around the neck and the head.

Adults know the right and wrong ways to handle puppies and, therefore, can be negligent, leading to a dog bite. However, for children below five years, the court deems them as incapable of engaging in negligent acts or reasonably handling a dog.

If you sustain a dog bite as a minor, the laws for suing for damages are slightly different. First, the statute of limitation is two years from the date you turn 18. Failure to file a claim within this period will result in the loss of the right to do so. On the other hand, when you decide to file an injury claim on behalf of the child, you must obtain court approval for the minor’s dog bite settlement. This is regardless of whether you settle the matter in or out of court.

The One-Bite Rule

California adopts the strict liability rule on dog bites, unlike other states that apply the one-bite rule. Unlike California, in these states, the court doesn’t hold the animal owner responsible for the injuries caused by a bite unless they were on notice for the dog’s previous viciousness or is dangerous. Suing in these states after a bite from a canine without prior history of aggressiveness might not be the right move because the owner will argue that the animal has never attacked anyone in the past. Thus they had no reason to believe it was a threat to anybody’s safety.

Luckily, California doesn’t adhere to this rule, meaning you could sue the owner whether or not they are on notice because of previous cases of aggressiveness. Again, you don’t have the burden of proving the dog’s vicious history to obtain compensation. However, the court might impose an extra duty of care on the canine owner to prevent incidents like those in the future. In California, even if the canine that bit you has no history of bites, you can still claim damages. The one-bite rule does not apply, meaning you can go after their owner for compensation even in the absence of a bite history.

The Parties You Can Sue For Your Dog Bite Injury

The canine owner is not the only person you can hold responsible for the animal bite injuries. Anybody with custody or cares for the canine can be held accountable for the bite. These parties include:

  • Dog walker service

  • Animal shelter

  • Property owners

  • The police department

  • Landlords

  • Renters

  • Dog pounds

Compensatory Damages You Can Sue For After a Dog Bite

Once you have established that you were not wrong after a dog bite, it’s time to forge ahead with the lawsuit. If you hadn’t hired an attorney to evaluate your case initially, now it’s time to retain the services of a profound injury attorney to help you claim damages. You may recover damages by representing yourself in the claim, but you might not obtain maximum benefits. However, when you retain legal counsel by your side, you will acquire the compensatory damages you deserve. The damages you are eligible for are classified as follows:

  1. Special or Financial Damages

Tangible or economic losses are those damages that you can easily attach a dollar value to. They include lost income as the injuries deprive you of the capacity to work. Dog bite injuries can be severe, limiting employment opportunities now and in the future. Due to this, you are entitled to compensation for the wages you could have earned but could not do so because of the animal bite.

Again, treating canine bites is an expensive process, meaning you will part with vast sums of money to cover medical bills now and in the future. After a dog bite, the medical attention you might need includes emergency surgeries, reconstructive surgeries for disfigurement, and scarring. Also, the bite might cause dog phobia, making it necessary to undergo expensive counseling.

To ensure your recovery of all medical losses incurred, you should preserve all the medical receipts to make it easy to prove that you incurred the losses you are seeking compensation for.

Other special damages you can pursue are:

  • Physical rehabilitation

  • Job training if the injuries force you to look for another job or position that requires a different set of skills than the ones you previously possessed.

  • Property damage

  • Counseling

  1. General Damages

General losses are damages that result from the dog bite, but you can’t attach a dollar value to, and they include:

  • Pain and suffering

  • Loss of consortium when the bite is fatal

  • Emotional distress

Note that when the dog bite results in the death of a loved one, you should pursue wrongful death damages.

Punitive Damages in Dog Bites Injury Claims

You can recover punitive damages in a dog bite suit. These damages, also known as exemplary, aim to punish the liable party for engaging in destructive behavior that results in the canine bite. By punishing these defendants, the law deters other animal owners from engaging in any conduct that might result in bites and subsequent injuries.

However, these damages aren’t going to come quickly. You must present sufficient and solid evidence to demonstrate that the defendant acted maliciously or fraudulently. It means you should table proof to show the defendant acted in conscious disregard of your safety or the safety of others.

Courts rarely award punitive damages, and few cases have made it to the appellate court, which sets the superiority for lower courts to follow. However, even though these damages come rarely, nothing prevents the lower courts from awarding these damages.

Civil and Criminal Liability for Dog Bites

California requires you to do it within the provided timeline to hold the dog owner civilly liable for the animal bite. The timeline for filing a claim is two years, and the clock starts ticking immediately after the bite. Because of this timeline, you should consider involving an injury attorney in the suit. An attorney will help prepare evidence to take civil action before the duration elapses. You might think that you can prepare the injury claim in person but considering you want to focus on recovery and your business, you may want a professional to handle the case on your behalf.

Additionally, the defendant can face criminal charges, but this decision is left to the District Attorney. If an individual owns or cares for a dog deemed dangerous or aggressive, they could face misdemeanor or felony charges when the dog attacks someone. The offense is a misdemeanor if the bite only causes injury. However, when someone loses their life because of a dog bite, the canine owner will face felony charges. Sometimes, a defendant will face homicide or manslaughter charges when the dog bite results in death. A conviction for these offenses attracts severe penalties including payment of hefty monetary court fines and length prison incarceration.

A canine is dangerous if it acts viciously, not less than two times within three years. These incidents must have occurred away from the dog owner’s property and involved biting someone, injuring, or causing death to a pet.

Suing When Someone’s Dog Bites Yours

You probably wonder if you can sue when someone else’s dog bites your domestic pet. Yes. The law allows you to sue even when it’s your dog and not you that has been bitten. However, you will file the lawsuit under a different statute because Civil Code 3342 only protects injuries from people. Therefore, you cannot take civil action against a canine owner after your dog has sustained dog bites.

A dog is the owner's personal property, and therefore when yours sustains injuries from a bite by another dog, you can sue for property damages. You will be seeking compensation for reducing your dog’s market value because of the bite injuries. Also, you could file a claim to seek compensation for the cost of treating the dog for the damages. However, the challenge is determining the losses incurred due to the dog’s market value reduction or the veterinarian bills. It’s advisable not to exaggerate the damages. Instead, ensure you claim reasonable amounts.

If the animal’s owner had been previously found guilty of animal cruelty charges, the court might require the owner to pay restitution. Nevertheless, the amount you will receive as restitution for the property damage will equal the veterinarian bills or the cost of replacing the dog.

Also, you can claim punitive damages after your dog has suffered a bite from another canine. However, this is only possible if the actions by the dog owner were malicious. An example of malicious conduct includes ordering their pooch to attack yours.

What To Do Before Suing

Before going after the liable party for damages, you should seek medical treatment for the injuries and ensure you keep copies of the medical report and receipts.

Treating animal bites can be very expensive, and if you do not have health coverage, you might not afford to foot the bill out of pocket. Luckily, doctors are available willing to work on a lien basis, where they treat you and pay later after obtaining compensation. Nonetheless, you might need an injury attorney to help you find a doctor working on a lien basis and negotiate the terms. That way, you avoid hefty financial commitments that you might not fulfill if the dog owner lacks insurance or assets to pay for compensation.

Apart from the medical report, you may need an account from the local animal control officer to prove that the canine owner was aware the animal was dangerous.

Find a Reputable Dog Bite Injury Attorney Near Me

When suing for a dog bite injury in Los Angeles, you are encouraged to consult with an attorney with experience in personal injury law. At The LA Personal Injury Law Firm, we can offer help by evaluating your case to determine if you have a claim. Further, we will protect your rights and ensure you obtain maximum compensation for the damages. Contact us today at 310-935-0089 for a zero-obligation consultation.