Who Is Responsible for Dog Bite Injuries?

Q: I was bitten by a dog while I was invited to the home of a friend's friend during a social gathering. The dog owner told me that the dog was never aggressive and had never bitten anyone before. I was given first aid and assured that the dog's shots were current. However, two weeks after the incident, my bite wound still had not healed. I went to see my doctor and ended up spending a lot of money for treatments and medicines. I also missed work for a few days since it hurt to walk. Who should be responsible for my damages?

A: California law states that the owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog. The owner is liable whether the bite occurred at a public place or in a private place, including the property of the dog owner.

Other states allow owners to have their dogs get “one free bite.” This means a dog owner has no liability to a person that his or her dog injured if that was the first time the dog had bitten anyone. However, in California, dog owners are liable regardless of whether the dog has bitten anyone before or not.

Even though the dog bite law imposes liability only on the dog owner, any person might be liable if he or she was negligent or maintained custody or control of the dog even after knowing that the dog was dangerous. These other persons may include employers, landlords and breeders.

Dog bites result in thousands of injuries every year, sometimes even including death and other catastrophic and permanent injuries, such as scarring. In addition to physical injuries, they may cause severe anxiety to the victim. Liability for these injuries can be significant. The law allows the dog bite victim to recover the following:

  1. Medical treatments such as first aid, emergency room, ambulance, hospital and doctor visits.
  2. Future medical treatments including scar revision or reconstructive surgery.
  3. Psychological counseling to overcome the emotional trauma of the dog attack and its consequences.
  4. Loss of earnings
  5. Pain and suffering (also known as general damages)

In many cases, the damages are paid by the homeowner's insurance, renter's insurance, landlord's insurance, or dog owner insurance. There is also insurance that cover employers and breeders. For dog owners, it is prudent to check with their insurance agent if they have applicable insurance coverage in the event their dog hurts anyone. Additionally, some breeds of dogs are excluded from coverage so they must clarify if the insurance company will cover the breed of dog that they have.

There are many people who love their dogs and in fact, dogs and humans for the most part co-exist harmoniously. However, given the serious injuries that these dogs can and do cause, owners have a duty to take reasonable precautions to protect members of the public. Should they fail in that duty, the victims may seek remedies under the law.

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