Responsible dog owners understand that loving their dog unconditionally goes hand-in-hand with their responsibility of making sure that their dogs do not hurt others. Dog bites are amongst the most impactful incidents that can unfold. While some dog breeds are considered more dangerous than others, any breed will act aggressively, if the opportunity presents itself.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, even the cuddliest, fuzziest, sweetest pet can bite if provoked. A dog bites as a reaction to something, if it finds itself in a stressful situation, it may bite to defend itself or its territory. Dogs can bite because they are scared or have been startled. They can bite because they feel threatened. They can bite to protect something that is valuable to them, like their puppies, their food, or a toy. Dogs also might nip and bite during play. Even though nipping during play might be fun for the dog, it can be dangerous for people.
So, in their own world, dogs may have a very good reason to attack and bite humans. Blaming the dog for the attack, however, is unfair to the animal. Behind any dog attack, there is an irresponsible owner who may not have properly trained or restrained his/her dog or who may have failed to use due diligence in a particular circumstance the dog found itself in.
In short, it is the dog owner the one to blame for a dog bite, not the dog.
What is the Law on Dog Bites?
California does not have a “one-bite rule.” Dog bite cases in California are based on strict liability or on general negligence. If the one-bite rule stands for the proposition that dog owners cannot be held liable for their dogs’ action, unless they know or should have known that their dog might bite or has vicious propensities, the California strict liability doctrine holds the dog owner accountable if his dog bites a person, even if the dog had never exhibited a vicious behavior in the past and even if the dog owner was not negligent in restraining the dog.
California’s strict liability statute, codified in Civil Code §3342 states, in relevant parts, that “The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.”
Common affirmative defenses, in dog-bite cases, are assumption of risk and comparative negligence, which apply, for example, if the victim teases or otherwise provokes the dog.
What Type of Insurance Covers a Dog Bite?
Dog bite injuries may be covered under homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies. If the dog attack occurred on a common area in a condominium setting, the homeowner’s association policy may provide coverage for the incident. Some policies, however, exclude liability coverage for bite injuries coming from dogs of certain breeds.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, some insurance companies will not insure homeowners who own certain breeds of dogs categorized as dangerous, such as pit bulls. Others decide on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether an individual dog, regardless of its breed has been deemed vicious. Some insurers do not ask the breed of a dog owned when writing or renewing homeowners’ insurance and do not track the breed of dogs involved in dog bite incidents. However, once a dog has bitten someone, it poses an increased risk. In that instance, the insurance company may charge a higher premium, not renew the homeowner’s insurance policy, or exclude the dog from coverage.
Some insurers are taking steps to limit their exposure to such losses. Some carriers require dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites, while others charge more for owners of breeds such as pit bulls and rottweilers and others are not offering insurance to dog owners at all.
It is therefore crucial that a victim of a dog bite consults with an experienced attorney to determine the viability of a personal injury claim in connection with the dog bite incident.
I was Attacked by a Dog, but Not Bitten. Do I Still Have a Claim?
In the case of a dog attack where the victim suffers an injury without being bit by the dog, for example when falling to the ground while being chased by a dog, then the victim must show that the owner was negligent in handling his dog. The victim must show, for example, that the dog owner knew (or should have known) that his dog had the propensity of attacking or chasing passersby and that he failed to use reasonable care to prevent the dog from harming them.
What Types of Damages Can I Recover from a Dog Bite?
The monetary compensation a dog bite victim is entitled to recover may include medical expenses for an ambulance, surgery, physical therapy, and psychological counseling. Compensation may also include lost wages, loss of future earning capacity, physical pain, mental suffering, inconvenience, disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life. In the case of a severe injury, the spouse of the dog bite victim may be entitled to monetary compensation for the loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support. If you have been bitten by a dog and have suffered injuries, contact me for a free consultation to discuss your dog-bite case. Call my office at (510) 933-8335 or email me at Fulvio@PicernoLaw.com.