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Dog Bite Laws In CaliforniaGetting attacked by a dog is an experience that can leave you with permanent scars, including emotional trauma. If you have recently suffered injuries as a result of a dog attack, you likely have many questions regarding who is liable and what compensation you can pursue in court. The Law Offices of Samer Habbas & Associates, PC breaks down California’s dog bite laws in the following guide.

Who Is Liable If I Am Bitten By Someone’s Dog?

According to California law, dog owners may be held strictly liable for any injuries that their dogs cause. This means that dog owners may be held accountable for harm regardless of whether the owner was negligent in any way leading up to an attack. Also, according to the law of strict liability, the owner of the dog needn’t have been put on notice that their dog has a propensity to be vicious. Thus, it is irrelevant whether you or someone else were the dog’s first bite victim; the defendant-owner is still – almost certainly – responsible for the harm you’ve suffered. It’s equally irrelevant where the dog bite took place as long as you were lawfully present on said property.

Dog Sitter 

Will a California court hold a dog owner liable if the dog bite occurred while the dog was in the custody and care of a dog sitter? Yes. You can still pursue legal action against a dog owner even if the incident occurred while the dog was being cared for by someone other than its owner. Furthermore, you can potentially pursue legal action against the dog sitter as well. Dog sitters are also held to a standard of strict liability, in California, once they assume care and control over an animal. 

Pet Care Company

In a matter wherein a dog sitter works for a pet care company, you can pursue legal action against the dog owner, pet sitter, and the pet care company under the legal theory of respondeat superior. The law of respondeat superior states that courts can find an employer liable for the negligent actions of their employees. For this legal strategy to be effective, a court must find that an injurious incident happened while an employee acted within the ordinary scope of their employment.

For example, suppose a pet sitter is taking someone else’s dog for a walk on a public sideway. You’re out jogging and lightly jog past the pet sitter and the dog. The dog bites you, unprovoked. Although nothing suggests that the pet care company hired an inept or reckless pet sitter, the pet care company’s insurance may be responsible for your compensatory damages nonetheless because the sitter was on the job at the time of the attack.

Minor Dog Sitter

If you’re bitten by a dog while it’s in the custody and care of a minor (i.e., a person under 18), then you can potentially sue the minor’s parents or legal guardians due to your injuries.

What Are The Exceptions To Strict Liability In Dog Bite Cases?

There are exceptions to strict liability laws that govern dog bite cases. For example, a dog owner may not be held strictly liable for your injury if you were a trespasser on the dog owner’s property. In that case, the dog was protecting its home and the owner had no reason to safeguard their property in anticipation of your presence. 

A dog owner is also not necessarily responsible for your injury if the bite occurred after you had provoked their dog. For example, if you were throwing objects at it, teasing it, or hitting it, chances are that a court is not going to rule in your favor. 

Lastly, an owner will not be held strictly liable for your losses if the owner is your employer and the incident took place while you were at work. A different set of laws is going to apply under those circumstances. 

Under California law, you also cannot seek recovery if the dog owner is a government agency (e.g., military, law enforcement) and the dog bite occurred either:

  • While the dog was defending itself from provocation or harassment,
  • While you were reasonably suspected of committing a crime and an officer was arresting you,
  • While you were being investigated for committing a crime, or
  • While the dog was defending a law enforcement agent

The above law does not apply if you were not the suspect in question but were merely a friend or acquaintance of the suspect, or in the vicinity of an alleged perpetrator’s arrest when you were bitten.

What Should I Do After I’m Bitten By A Dog?

Taking certain actions will increase the likelihood of success in re: a personal injury dog bite claim and a healthier overall recovery from a bite.

  1. Identify the dog that bit you
  2. Get the names, addresses, and phone numbers of anyone who witnessed the incident
  3. Locate and speak with the dog’s owner and get the dog owner’s name, address, and phone number
  4. Ask the dog owner whether the dog has all its shots (you may also request proof)
  5. Take pictures of the bite wound
  6. Go to the emergency room (you won’t know whether the dog is infected and you may not know whether it has had all its shots)
  7. Document whether you’d suffered lost wages from missing work days
  8. Consult with a knowledgeable dog bite attorney 

What Can I Sue For After I’m Bitten By A Dog?

You can sue for compensatory damages, which are separated into economic and non-economic damages. In cases where the dog owner acted with wanton and willful misconduct, you may be able to recover punitive damages (i.e., damages that are intended to punish the defendant instead of recouping your losses). However, punitive damages are rarely awarded, especially in dog bite and act-of-negligence cases. 

Non-Economic Compensatory Damages

Non-economic damages are emotional damages. These damages are not readily quantifiable and do not come with a receipt. Rather, they are based on the emotional harm you’ve endured because of your injury. You may have suffered emotional harm worth recovering from if the incident made you severely afraid of leaving your home or going to places where escape may be difficult (agoraphobia) or if you found the bite wound to be so hideous that it made you less intimate with your spouse (loss of consortium). 

Common non-economic damages include but are not limited to:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Emotional trauma
  • Scarring and disfigurement
  • Disability or impairment
  • Loss of consortium

Economic Compensatory Damages

Economic damages reflect financial losses, such as your medical expenses. Any out-of-pocket expense you’ve suffered because of the dog bite can be sued for via a personal injury suit. You should keep your receipts for this reason. Judges will require evidence of your expenses. Luckily, you should be able to retrieve the necessary documents from any hospital or clinic if you need them after the fact.

Common economic damages include:

  • Medical bills.
  • Physical therapy bills (if the dog bite crippled you to some degree).
  • Lost wages (if you had to miss work after being bitten).
  • Diminished earning capacity (if your injury was severe and such that has decreased your work productivity, such as if you were a construction worker or coach and now can’t perform your daily work tasks). 

Contact Experienced Dog Bite Injury Lawyers Near Irvine, CA

You should not have to foot the bill if another person is responsible for your financial and emotional injuries. Unfortunately, convincing a court that you deserve to be “made whole” is not easy, especially if you do not have an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side. That is why you should contact the Law Offices of Samer Habbas & Associates, PC for a free consultation at 949-727-9300 so that you can learn more about your rights and options, as well as how we can help.