Dog Bites and Attacks - Los Angeles Attorney

Dog Bites and Attacks: Your Rights of Compensation in Los Angeles, California

Dog bites in Los Angeles, California, can be devastating – especially to children and some adults vulnerable to trauma. A victim can face infections, broken bones, bruises, lifelong scars, and sometimes even death. Additionally, the dog bite victim can also suffer financially, such as hefty emergency room and medical bills, lost wages for missed work to recover from the attack. Yet far too often, victims of dog bites are not aware of their rights and fail to receive a just and fair compensation for their injuries. 

This article will discuss the legal rights dog bite victims have in Los Angeles, or anywhere else in the state of California, and how to maximize compensation. There will be a discussion of California’s strict liability statute, responsible parties, key defenses, evidence gathering, possible damages and compensation, leash laws, timeframes, settlement talks and legal skills needed to win adequate settlements.  

1. Establishing Liability Through California’s Strict Statutory Law

California  Civil Code Section 3342 imposes a strict liability standard regarding dog bites. . This means that victims must only establish that:

– Defendant owned or possessed the dog that attacked them, 

– Plaintiff was legally allowed to be in the location where the bite occurred, 

– Plaintiff sustained physical and / or emotional injuries.

You may have noticed that there is no requirement to prove that the dog owner was negligent – unlike a vehicle accident or a slip and fall. The concept of strict liability in California removes the requirement of negligence. As such, in dog bite cases the focus becomes ownership and possession of the dangerous animal itself. 

Under strict liability, the owner of a dog is liable for ANY injuries their dog inflicts, even if the owner had no clue the dog was capable of biting. 

2. Responsible Parties: Dog Owners & Property Owners

Let’s discuss who may be legally liable for dog bites. In a typical dog bite case in Los Angeles, a victim may pursue damages against the following people: 

– The dog owner themselves

– The property owner where the attack happened

– Someone temporarily watching or handling the dog like a walker or sitter

– Landlords renting to irresponsible tenants with dangerous dogs

A dog bite victim should name every possible person that could share liability for the traumatic attack in their lawsuit complaint. This is one of the ways to ensure maximum compensation for their injuries.  

3. Additional Theories Beyond Strict Liability: Premises Liability    

Premises liability represents an additional legal theory beyond strict liability that can be used to hold property owners accountable in a dog bite case.  Property owners have a legal duty to keep their properties safe. For example, a homeowner must repair broken walkways or other dangerous conditions on the property that may lead to injury. 

The same concept applies when the property owner keeps a dangerous animal on its premises: a property owner should have been aware of any potential dangers posed by a dog on their premises and taken steps to prevent harm. By failing to properly secure a dog from biting others, they may be found negligent and legally liable under the principle of premises liability to dog bite victims. 

4. Role of Insurance in Dog Attacks

The central issue in any personal injury claim is who will compensate the victim for any injuries as a result of the dog bite. In a typical dog bite case, there are several different sources of insurance policy which we may be able to go after: 

  • Pet liability insurance policy. This type of policy is specifically designed to offer protection for the dog owner against any type of personal injury or property damage which the dog causes. 
  • Homeowners or renters insurance insurance policy. These types of policies will often contain provisions related to legal liability claims arising from dog bite incidents. Typical policies cover dog bite cases which occur on the insured’s property or are caused by pets belonging to named insureds or household members. However, it should be noted that some homeowner’s and renter’s policies specifically exclude dog bites completely or bites by certain breeds of dogs with aggressive propensities. An experienced attorney will review the applicable policy and identify the exclusions.

In cases where the dog owner is not insured or their insurance policy excludes or denies coverage, we will always look to see if the owner has enough assets that we can pursue. In most instances, a dog owner who owns a house has sufficient assets to pursue outside of an insurance policy. 

5. Common Defenses in California Dog Bite Claims  

While California imposes strict liability upon dog owners, handlers and property owners, there are still ways to defeat a dog bite claim with one of the following defenses. 

  • Provocation: If the victim somehow incited or aggravated the dog before the bite, then that may be a partial or complete bar to recovery. Hitting, grabbing, or kicking a dog may be a form of provocation that would limit a victim’s personal injury recoveries.
  • Trespassing: When a person enters someone else’s property without permission or legal right and is then bitten by a dog, there may be a defense to liability. However, defense depends heavily on the specific circumstances. For example, a delivery driver entering a property to make a delivery will not be considered trespassing  because he has implied permission to be on the property. But a person who jumps a fence to burglarize a house may be found be trespassing. 
  • Assumption of Risk: If a dog bite victim was fully aware of the specific danger but freely proceeded, then there may be a defense to any recovery. For example, a dog trainer who is bitten by a dog is said to have assumed the risk of being bitten. 
  • Criminal Activity: If the dog bite or attack occurred during the victim’s alleged crime; that may be a defense to recovery. 

6. Seeking Medical Care & Alerting Authorities  

After a dog bite, always get urgent medical care at the ER – no matter how seemingly insignificant. Rabies and dangerous infections like MRSA, staphylococcus, and capnocytophaga often lurk in animal saliva and claws.  

The full extent of soft tissue, nerve, muscle and skeletal damage may take weeks to manifest. Bite wounds should be evaluated by specially trained plastic or reconstructive surgeons as soon as possible for best chance at infection avoidance and minimized scarring.

In conjunction with seeking medical care, victims should alert the following agencies: 

  • Local police department
  • Animal control and services agency  
  • Public health department

 By immediately notifying the appropriate authorities, a dog bite victim creates the necessary documentation needed to file a claim. Additionally, it starts intervention processes to ensure the hazardous animal is located, identified, evaluated and acted upon. 

7. Investigating Dog Bites & Preserving Evidence  

After a dog bite in Los Angeles, California, it is important to take immediate action to preserve all important evidence for your claim. Here is a brief summary: 

  • Contact the local police department or animal control department and make a report for investigation. Make sure to get the name of the animal control officer and contact information. 
  • Extensively photograph the bite wounds from all angles/lighting. This is very important since your injuries will immediately begin to heal. 
  • Request copies of all diagnostic testing results, clinical notes and future appointments.
  • Document pharmacy and prescription details if antibiotics or medications provided.
  • Obtain any contact information for witnesses that may have been around and saw the incident. 
  • Secure any video surveillance footage if available from surrounding buildings before they are destroyed or taped over. 
  • Take detailed photos of the scene, blood splatter, clothes and shoes.  

When dealing with dog bite cases, time is of the essence in gathering information. An experienced Los Angeles dog bite attorney takes this burden off victims to launch a swift, thorough investigation.

8. Recoverable Damages in Dog Attack Cases  

Compensation in California dog bite claims can encompass the following:  

  • Past medical bills and expenses, such as emergency room treatment, hospitalization, surgery, medications, and testing.
  • Future medical costs like reconstructive procedures, physical therapy, and psychological counseling.
  • Lost past and future earnings due to recovery time off work. 
  • Loss of future earning capacity if there is any sort of temporary or permanent disability. 
  • Property losses like damage to clothing, shoes, glasses, or bags. 
  • Pain and suffering damages.
  • Emotional distress damages. 
  • Loss of companionship if death of a spouse or child occurs as a result of the dog bite. 
  • Loss of consortium between spouses.
  • Punitive damages in severe cases where the dog owner was aware of the dog’s dangerous breed or aggressiveness. 

Skillful attorneys ensure clients fully understand potential damage categories when evaluating settlement offers. Maximum compensation aligns with the true severity of trauma suffered.

9. Los Angeles Leash Laws & Owner Negligence

Several jurisdictions like the City of Los Angeles mandate dogs be restrained by leash at all times when not on owner property. For example, in Los Angeles, the law requires dogs in public places to be on a leash no longer than 6 feet. If an unleashed dog causes any injury, then the dog owner is liable for all damages – even if no actual contact occurs between the dog and the victim. For example, if a person attempts to avoid an unleashed dog and in the process falls down and breaks a leg, then the dog owner is liable for the victim’s damages. Liability arises in these cases even though there was no actual dog bite. 

10. Settlement Talks & What Happens When Negotiations Fail

Pre-Litigation Settlements: Out-of-court settlement starts once medical treatment has been completed and potential economic and non-economic damages are clear. The attorney then prepares a demand package and sends it to the dog owner’s insurance company. In most cases, dog owners and their insurance company usually deny liability, but then slowly concede liability trying to minimize payouts – until attorneys apply litigation pressure. 

During this stage, both sides exchange offers and counteroffers, supported by evidence and justifications. The injured party’s attorney might highlight the severity of the injuries, the emotional impact, and the financial losses, while the insurance company might try to minimize the damages or contributory negligence.

If negotiations are not productive, the parties may choose to engage in mediation or arbitration. Mediation in dog bite cases usually involves a neutral third party, known as a mediator, who facilitates communication and negotiation in order to reach a resolution without going to court. The mediator doesn’t actually decide any issues or reach a conclusion. 

The parties may also choose to go to arbitration. Unlike a mediator, an arbitrator in dog bite cases acts like a judge and makes a decision after considering the facts and the evidence presented by each party. This process is typically chosen as an alternative to traditional litigation in court. 

Litigation and Trial: If reasonable settlement offers don’t surface after exhaustive demands, the attorney for the victim may file a formal lawsuit with the court. Litigation is often time consuming and complex. Both sides will engage in discovery, which includes such things as depositions, expert witnesses, reviewing documents related to the dog, and possibly subpoenaing documents from third parties. 

During litigation, the parties will also engage in motion practice in an attempt to resolve certain issues pertinent to the case. Usually, this will open the door to more productive negotiations and offers to settle. However, sometimes the parties may reach an impasse in these dog bite litigation cases with no other option but to head to trial. 

12. How Long Do You Have to Bring a Dog Bite Claim

In California, the statute of limitations for filing a dog bite lawsuit is two years from the date of the injury. This is the legal timeframe within which the victim must formally initiate legal proceedings to seek compensation for damages resulting from a dog bite. After the two-year window elapses, the injured party may lose the right to pursue a claim. 

It is crucial for those affected to be aware that this does not mean that a person has 2 years to start negotiation with the insurance company or the dog owner. Rather, the time period begins to run from the moment the injury occurs – whether or not any claim has been opened with the insurance company for the dog bite. 

Consulting with a legal professional promptly after a dog bite incident is essential to ensure a thorough understanding of the specific circumstances and to take appropriate actions within the stipulated time frame.

13. How Much Is a Dog Bite Case Worth

One of the most common questions dog bite victims ask is how much their case is worth. This is a serious and important question which deserves a lot of attention and explanation. 

According to data from the Insurance Information Institute, the average dog bite settlement in 2022 was $64,555; up from $49,025 in 2021. However, it is important to remember that no two cases are the same or alike – which means that no two compensation are alike. 

The value of a dog bite case depends on a multitude of factors, ranging from the severity of the injuries to the dog owner’s negligence. However, we can delve into some key elements that influence the compensation a person might receive:

  • Medical Expenses: Both past and future medical costs are pivotal factors in determining the compensation for a victim. Puncture wounds, lacerations, permanent scars, and nerve damage often necessitate extensive medical treatment and prolonged recovery, contributing significantly to the overall case value.
  • Lost Wages: Time away from work due to the bite and subsequent recovery, along with the potential loss of earning capacity in the future, constitutes a substantial component of damages recovery.
  • Pain and Suffering: Arguably one of the most critical elements in assessing a case is the degree of physical pain and discomfort resulting from a dog bite and its subsequent treatment. Emotional distress, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stemming from the incident can also play a significant role.
  • Punitive Damages: In certain instances, if the dog owner displayed particularly egregious negligence or recklessness, punitive damages may be awarded to both punish their behavior and serve as a deterrent against future incidents.”

Don’t get taken advantage of by insurers. Contact my law firm for urgent legal help if you or a loved one suffers a dog bite or attack anywhere in California. Guiding overwhelmed bite victims and families through confusing legal, medical and insurance processes gives me purpose – while relentlessly pursuing fair compensation for life-altering traumatic injuries restores a sense of justice. We help terrified people navigate chaos – emerging stronger while sending a message to all negligent animal owners/handlers that carry consequences. Justice brings change.

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