Dogs can make great and lovable pets, however, they are also capable of inflicting bodily harm. State law in California has changed to make it easier to hold dog owners responsible for damage caused by their pets. In California, dog owners can be held “strictly liable” for injuries that are caused by their pets. This means that whether or not the dog owner did anything wrong or knew the dog was dangerous the owner can still be held liable if the dog attacks someone and causes injury.
It is not uncommon for pet liability to be covered under homeowners insurance policies, which means the victim will generally have to work with the pet owner’s insurance company. Dealing with the insurance company can be a difficult matter as the insurance company will seek to pay out as little as possible, possibly refusing to settle for the total cost of the injuries sustained. This is why in dog bite cases it is recommended that you seek the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney to represent your best interests.
Building a dog bite injury case
Dog bites can lead to expensive medical bills as well as permanent disfigurement, nerve damage, infections, and even long lasting emotional scars. An experienced personal injury attorney representing a dog bite victim will often work with professionals such as medical experts, psychiatrists, and animal trainers to strengthen the case of the victim by establishing dog owner liability and determining an accurate dollar amount attributable to the injuries sustained.
While you have up to two years to pursue legal action against the dog owner, it’s very important to the strength of your case that evidence is preserved and injuries are documented. Some items to consider include:
- Determine if the dog has bitten others
- Take pictures to document your injuries immediately
- Keep copies of medical reports and medical expenses
- Take pictures of enclosure or property where the dog is kept
- Continue to document injuries throughout the healing process with photographs
California passed a statute that eliminated the “one-free bite” rule by holding the dog owner liable even if the dog has never bitten anyone prior or shown a tendency toward biting. This statute states that liability is based upon ownership and that the dog’s past behavior is irrelevant. In California the victim of a dog bite attack must establish:
- The dog was owned by the defendant
- The bite took place on public property or while the victim was lawfully on private property
- The victim was actually bitten by the dog
- The victim was injured by the dog
There can be many complexities surrounding dog bite cases. Working with a personal injury attorney is generally your best option to ensure your rights are protected. A personal injury attorney will also seek to obtain the compensation you may be entitled to.