Dogs can be wonderful companions, and many owners consider their dogs to be part of the family. However, dogs are also strong animals that can be extremely dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are approximately 4.7 million dog bites throughout the U.S. each year. Some of these dog bites end in minor injuries, some in major ones. Unfortunately, it can also end in death. In 2019 in California, there were nine dog bite-related fatalities.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a dog, you may pursue financial compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. The Scott Carr Law Firm helps victims in San Francisco and throughout California seek the resources they need to recover financial stability after an unexpected injury or death. To schedule a free consultation, call the San Francisco office at 415-799-2229.
California’s Strict Liability Law and Dog Bites
In 2018, the City and County of San Francisco estimated that there were approximately 232,000 dogs living in San Francisco. Although most dogs are safe and gentle, there were more than 300 reports of dog bites in San Francisco in 2017.
California’s strict liability law applies to dog owners. According to the state’s civil code, a dog owner is liable when their dog bites/attacks an individual even if they weren’t negligent and/or didn’t know that the dog was vicious.
This is a stark contrast to many other state laws that have a “one-bite rule” that considers owners not liable unless their dog has previously bitten someone. This means that if you file a personal injury lawsuit for a dog bite, you don’t need to prove that the dog was vicious or that the owner was negligent.
Who Can File a Personal Injury Lawsuit for a Dog Attack?
You may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the owner of a dog that bites or attacks you. However, there are several exceptions that could make you ineligible to sue:
- If you provoked the dog
- If you were trespassing (e.g. on the dog owner’s property without permission)
- If the dog was protecting its owner based on California’s self-defense laws
- If the dog was an “on-duty” police or military dog
While trespassers are eligible to sue for damages in a premises liability case, they aren’t allowed to seek compensation for a dog bite.
Compensation in Personal Injury Cases
In a personal injury case, you can seek economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are compensation for the financial costs of your injury:
- Bills for medical treatment
- Therapy for mental health conditions (e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD))
- Lost income during recovery
- Reduced earning potential
You can also sue for non-economic damages. A jury may award non-economic damages to compensate for non-monetary consequences of your injury:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of physical affection
While you generally can’t pursue punitive damages in a personal injury lawsuit, you may be able to for a dog bite. Punitive damages are intended to “punish” dog owners for their behavior. If you can prove that an owner acted maliciously with a “willful and conscious disregard for the rights or safety of others,” you may be able to recover punitive damages. An attorney can help you understand whether your case could qualify for this type of compensation.
Should You Hire a Lawyer?
You aren’t required to hire an attorney for a personal injury lawsuit in California. However, doing so can reduce your stress and make the process go more smoothly.
A personal injury attorney can listen to your story and explain what your legal options are. If you choose to file a personal injury lawsuit, a lawyer can help you gather evidence and build your case. California has a two-year statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits (and wrongful death suits). An attorney can help you prepare for your case faster so you don’t run out of time to file.
What Should You Do After Being Bitten by a Dog?
If you are attacked or bitten by a dog, there are several things you should do:
- Get medical attention, even if the bite doesn’t seem serious
- Document the attack: location, circumstance, and injuries
- Take pictures of your injuries
- Record the name and contact information of the owner and any witnesses
- Report the bite to your local county health officer (required by California law)
You aren’t required to file a police report, but you may choose to do so. Informing the police may make it easier for you to pursue punitive damages in a personal injury case.
Get Financial Compensation for a Dog Attack
Being attacked by a dog is terrifying. You can suffer severe physical injuries and end up dealing with mental health conditions such as PTSD. Some dog attacks end in the death of the victim. Under California law, a dog owner may be held liable for the victim’s injuries or death regardless of whether they were negligent or knew their dog was dangerous.
The Scott Carr Law Firm helps California victims and their families pursue fair compensation for injuries sustained in a dog attack. Call our San Francisco office at 415-799-2229 to schedule a free consultation and learn about your legal options.