Dog Bites in California: A Closer Look

April 16, 2021

Homeowners’ insurance companies pay about $700 million a year to resolve animal attack claims. This figure has increased significantly in recent years. As outlined below, the injuries in these cases are often gruesome. However, the issues are quite complex. Insurance company lawyers know all the possible loopholes in California’s dog bite law. They do not hesitate to use them to reduce or deny compensation to victims.

So, if you want fair compensation for your serious injuries, you need a tough Los Angeles personal injury attorney. Weak or inexperienced lawyers do not scare insurance companies. A diligent lawyer knows how to collect proof, and how to present this proof in court. Without such representation, many victims must pay medical bills and other expenses out of their own pockets. We do not stand for that.

Dog Bite Injuries

Perhaps no other personal injury claim, even a serious car wreck claim, features the physical and emotional injuries that dog bites create.

Normally, victims must undergo reconstructive surgery to correct the superficial physical wounds a dog inflicts. Even then, there is usually some permanent scarring, disfigurement, and/or loss of use. These attacks also cause internal injuries, like head injuries, broken bones, and internal hemorrhaging.

On a related note, dog bite injuries have very high infection rates. Sometimes, an attorney must deal with infection-related injuries in a separate matter.

Emotionally, many victims, especially child victims, must cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms. These symptoms, which include hypervigilance, depression, flashbacks, and sudden emotional outbursts, make it difficult or impossible to function at home, school, work, or anywhere else.

Establishing Liability

To obtain compensation for these serious injuries, victim/plaintiffs must establish liability, or legal responsibility, by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. Several possible legal theories are available:

  • Strict Liability: California has a limited strict liability law. Owners are automatically liable for bite injuries, even if they did not know the animal was dangerous. There are some drawbacks. First, the initial knockdown often causes more serious injuries than the bite. Second, some jurors view strict liability laws as financial penalties for dog ownership.
  • Scienter (Knowledge): Owners are liable for bite and non-bite damages if they knew the animal was potentially vicious. Evidence of viciousness includes pre-bite behavior, like aggressive barking, and previous attacks against people. Sicenter is often a very effective theory, but it has limited applicability.
  • Ordinary Negligence: Essentially, negligence is a lack of ordinary care. In this context, “ordinary care” usually means watching dogs closely and keeping them away from children, older adults, and other vulnerable individuals.
  • Negligence Per Se: Los Angeles and other area cities usually have strict leash laws, fence laws, and other animal restraint laws. If owners violate these laws and that violation causes injury, the owner could be liable for damages. This theory usually resonates well, even with jurors who own pets.

Current owners cannot blame former owners for dog bites, even if they have only owned the animal a few minutes.

Third parties are sometimes financially responsible for damages. For example, landlords who knowingly allow tenants to keep dangerous dogs could be responsible for bite damages. Employers could be responsible as well. The respondeat superior rule normally applies in cases like a teacher who allows students to play near a strange dog.

Possible Defenses

The provocation defense is usually available in all dog bite claims, including strict liability cases. However, provocation has a very limited meaning.

People cannot accidentally provoke dogs. Sudden moves and loud noises are not legally provocative in this context. In fact, the provocation must be more than intentional. The insurance company must prove the victim inflicted an intolerable amount of pain on the animal.

Assumption of the risk is often a defense to negligence claims. This defense applies if the victim voluntarily assumed a known risk.

Contrary to popular myth, a “Beware of Dog” sign does not automatically establish this defense. The insurance company must still prove that the victim saw the sign, could read the sign, and could understand what it meant. Dog bites often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, contact the Law Offices of Eslamboly Hakim & Sharona Hakim. You have a limited amount of time to act.

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Sharona Hakim

Sharona Eslamboly Hakim, Esq. is a successful personal injury attorney and the principal of the Law Offices of Eslamboly Hakim firm in Beverly Hills, California.

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