Defenses for dog owners –Part 5

Dog Bite Liability Defenses

Dog owners have some defenses they can use to defend themselves against claims.

  • No proof of ownership. Just because a dog is on a person’s property does not mean the property owner owns the dog. Sometimes stray dogs roam on other people’s property. The person who has control of the dog is considered to be the owner. This can be identified by animal control records and veterinarians.
  • Victim was trespassing. If the victim was on the dog owner’s property unlawfully at the time of the attack, then the person was not a guest and therefore is not covered under the law.
  • Victim was harassing or provoking the dog. If the victim was hitting the dog, attacking it with an object or otherwise annoying it right before the attack occurred, then the dog owner is not liable.
  • Victim was not bit by the dog. Dog bite laws in California apply to dog bites only. The bite does not have to penetrate the skin, but it must be an actual bite nonetheless. If the dog jumped on the person, tripped over the person or scratched the person, but never bit the person, then that is not enough to be covered under the state’s dog bite law.

It is important to know that those who work directly with dogs—such as veterinarians, pet sitters, dog trainers and dog groomers—typically are unable to receive compensation for injuries caused by dog bites, since that risk is inherent in their occupations. However, there are four conditions in which they may be able to receive compensation:

  1. The victim was bitten before or after working with the dog, but not during the course of employment.
  2. The victim was employed by the dog owner.
  3. The owner knew that the dog had bitten before, but did not disclose that information to the person handling the dog or anyone else in the company.
  4. The dog owner signed a contract making him or her liable for any injuries caused by the dog.
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Civil and Criminal Liability for Dog Bites—–Part 4

In order to file a civil suit against a dog owner, the victim has must do so in a timely manner. The statute of limitations in California for personal injury claims is two years. This means you have two years from the date the dog bite occurred to file a claim against the liable party.

In addition to civil liability, dog owner may face criminal liability as well. If a person owns a dog considered to be dangerous or vicious, he or she could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. If the dog causes injury, then the charge may be a misdemeanor, but will rise to a felony in the event of the person’s death. Such charges could include manslaughter or murder.

A dog is considered dangerous if it acted aggressively in at least two separate incidents over a 36-month period. The incidents must have involved biting another person or injuring or killing a domestic pet. The incidents must have occurred while the dog was away from the dog owner’s property.

A dog is considered vicious if it has been used in illegal dog fighting or has severely injured or killed a person using aggressive force.

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Kids and Dog Bites—–Part 3

When a Child is a Dog Bite Victim

While adults should know the difference between right and wrong when it comes to handling and petting dogs, do these same laws apply to young children? Court cases have ruled that children under the age of 5 are not capable of knowing this. Judges believe that children that young are incapable of acting in a reasonable manner around dogs.

What happens when a child is bit while at a daycare center? This is a common occurrence across the nation. In some areas, dogs are forbidden from daycare facilities. Even in areas where it is not against the law, it can be considered negligent.

While some daycare facilities ask parents to sign agreements releasing the facility from liable in the event of a dog attack, the courts tend to side with the victim and consider these releases to be against public policy.

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California is a strict liability state when it comes to dog bites—– Part 2

California is a strict liability state as related to dog bite injury claims. This means that the owner is liable for the damages caused by their dog biting another person, whether it’s the dog’s first time injuring someone or not.

California Dog Bite Law: Civil Code § 3342

According to California Law, Section 3342, the dog owner is liable for the damages it causes a victim who is bitten by the dog. The dog bite can occur in a public or private place, including the dog owner’s property.

The dog owner is liable for such damage regardless of the fact that the dog never displayed such viciousness in the past. This applies to victims who are on the dog owner’s property legally. This includes those conducting business on the property—such as postal workers—or those invited onto the property by the owner, such as guests.

Also, if any dog bites another person while defending itself from a provoking, annoying or harassing act, then the dog owner likely will not be held liable.

In addition, the law applies to situations where an actual dog bite has occurred. If a person is injured by a dog’s jumping or scratching, then they are not covered under this law. However, they do they have the legal right to file a negligence claim against the dog owner.

California also has laws that place extra responsibility on the dog owner if a previous attack has occurred. Under California Law, Section 3342.5, an owner of a dog who has previously bitten a person must take reasonable care to prevent future bites from occurring. Once a dog has bitten a person on two separate occasions, the district attorney will assess the situation and look at the circumstances to see if the dog owner took the appropriate steps to keep the dog away from others and prevent a dangerous situation from occurring.

Depending on the facts involved, the district attorney may take the appropriate steps to prevent such a situation in the future. This may include removing the dog from the home, or in extreme cases, euthanizing the dog.

If a dog caused injury to a person with no biting involved, then the victim can file a negligence claim. The victim has the burden of proving that the dog’s owner did not use reasonable care, and that this lack of care caused an injury to occur.

For example, a dog could have jumped up on a child and scratched his or her face. A dog could have knocked over an elderly person, causing broken bones or head trauma. In these cases, the victim must show that the dog owner did not properly restrain the dog with a leash or fenced-in area and this lack of restraint caused the injuries.

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Dog Bites and Lawsuits

Victims of severe dog attacks often suffer acute damage, which may require upwards of $250,000 in specialized medical care treatment. Reconstructive surgery, such as skin grafts, tissue expansion and scar reduction, often requires multiple procedures over a period of years.

Steps to take after a dog bite:

  1. Identify the dog and its owner
    Immediately identify the owner of the dog or the person who had custody of the dog when it attacked you. Obtain the names and addresses and request proof of rabies vaccination. If this information cannot be obtained, you may be forced to undergo a series of rabies shots, which are expensive (exceeds $3,000).
  2. Seek medical care
    Depending upon the severity of the dog bite, contact first responders (9-1-1) for immediate medical attention or have someone drive you to emergency care. Always seek professional medical treatment after being bitten or attacked by a dog. The risk of infection from a dog bite is very great.
  3. File a dog bite report
    After you’ve been medically treated — even if the injury was minor —file a dog bite report with the proper city or county authorities. This legally documents your case and provides help to the next victim who may be bitten or attacked by the same dog. Without a paper trail, authorities cannot enforce the law effectively.
  4. Gather more information
    After identifying the dog and its owner, find out more about the dog. Obtain the dog license information and any records pertaining to its history. Has the dog bitten or attacked a person or animal prior to biting you? Has the dog been legally designated “potentially dangerous” or “dangerous” by authorities?
  5. Photograph your injuries
    Take photos of your injuries, even if you need to unwrap gauze. It is also recommended that you photograph all of your wounds, including bruises, as well as all torn, bloody clothing and the location of the dog attack.
  6. Contact an attorney
    Contact a dog bite attorney right away. The legal issues surrounding dog bites are always complex. Your dog bite lawyer (or personal injury lawyer) is the only person who will look after your best interests.
  7. Begin a journal
    If you seek medical compensation for your injury, start a journal as soon as you can. Spend a little time each day recording your thoughts for the few first weeks after the attack. Anticipate keeping this journal on a daily basis over the course of time.
  8. Call Attorney Linda Fessler at 213-446-6766 for a free consultation.
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