Did you know that dog owners can be held personally liable for the actions of their dogs? This may be true even if a dog has never exhibited any aggressive behavior in the past and a dog owner has no reason to believe that their dog would ever bite anyone.
There are a couple of different legal approaches to take in seeking compensation for a dog bite injury, including demonstrating that the owner acted negligently.
This article outlines how to prove negligence in a dog bite case.
Eye-Opening Dog Bite Statistics
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that there are 4.7 million dog bite cases annually, and nearly 20% require medical attention. These figures account for reported incidences only, so actual dog bite numbers are believed to be significantly higher. Therefore, if you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog and sustained an injury, you’re not alone.
Strict Liability vs. Negligence for Dog Bite Injuries
California law imposes strict liability on dog owners, meaning that a dog owner can be held liable for a dog bit even if the animal had never attacked anyone or showed previous signs of aggression.
The concept of strict liability applies as long as the dog bite victim was in an area where they were legally authorized to be, including on public streets, sidewalks, parks, and other common areas, as well as being invited or legally allowed on someone’s property.
As a result, if a dog bites someone under these circumstances, the owner will likely have to compensate the victim absent an exception, such as the dog performing a law enforcement duty.
Negligence, however, is a less stringent standard when proving liability. If it cannot be shown that a dog owner is strictly liable in a dog bite case, the victim may still be able to prove negligence.
Exceptions to Strict Liability
Dog bite cases can be nuanced, and a dog bite attorney can help determine if the owner is subject to either a strict liability or negligence standard.
A dog bite case might not meet the threshold of strict liability in the following circumstances:
- The dog bite victim was not lawfully on the property. Trespassers, for example, may not be able to claim strict liability.
- The animal was part of law enforcement initiated an attack while performing his duties (or the law enforcement animal was provoked or attacked).
- The person bitten by a dog assumed the risk, meaning that they knowingly and voluntarily engaged in an activity with a foreseeable risk of being bitten. Veterinarians and people working with animals may fall into this category.
How to Prove Negligence in a Dog Bite Case
Even when a dog owner cannot be held strictly liable, victims of dog bite injuries may still be able to recover financial compensation if they can show that the dog owner was negligent, or they knew the animal was a dangerous dog.
Proving negligence requires that the plaintiff demonstrate the following:
- The dog owner had a duty of care to prevent the dog from biting or causing harm
- The dog owner violated or breached that duty by failing to take reasonable precautions
- The dog owner’s negligence caused the dog bite injury
These circumstances are extremely fact-specific, and collecting evidence about the incident can be instrumental in proving your case.
Building a Negligence Case
The more evidence you can collect to prove negligence in a dog bite case, the better. However, the first and most important step before you even think about a dog bite lawsuit is to get immediate medical attention and address any wounds.
After your health and safety are prioritized, the following checklist can help as you begin building your case.
- Get the dog owner’s contact info. This includes their name, address, and phone number.
- Document your injuries. Take pictures and videos as soon as possible.
- Gather evidence at the scene. You might be able to observe a lack of fencing or other dangerous conditions.
- Collect witness statements. If anyone saw the attack, get their contact information and immediate observations.
- Get character testimony from neighbors. If neighbors have insights about the dog’s behavior, this information can demonstrate that the owner knew the dog was dangerous.
- Preserve clothing items that contain blood. The blood may be used as DNA evidence.
- If you can do so safely, take a video of the dog acting aggressively. This live evidence can be more compelling than a photograph, especially to a jury.
- Document the incident as soon as possible. Write down what happened while the event is still fresh in your mind.
- Collect medical bills and notes from your doctor. These records will document the extent of your injuries and the associated costs.
- Keep a healing journal. As you recover from your injuries, document the healing process. This evidence can be helpful in proving how long it took injuries to heal and how the injuries affected your career and personal life.
It’s recommended to follow these action items as soon as possible. Freshly collected evidence can more accurately capture the facts and demonstrate the extent of your injuries. It’s also a good idea to photograph the scene before a dog owner can take remedial measures to fix any issues.
The Role of Insurance in a Dog Bite Case
Renter’s and homeowners’ policies often include six-figure coverage for a dog bite case. This allows the insurance policy to cover any damages. If your injuries exceed the dog owner’s insurance coverage, then the dog owner may be financially responsible for the balance.
However, not all dogs are eligible for coverage under an insurance policy. Some breeds may be restricted, or coverage might not extend to an animal with a history of aggressive behavior. A dog bite attorney can help you pursue a claim through the dog owner’s insurance company or file a lawsuit if necessary.
Contact an Experienced Dog Bite Injury Attorney
At the Khalil Law Group, our attorneys have a successful track record in recovering financial compensation for dog bite victims. If you or a loved one has sustained a dog bite injury, please contact us at (714) 617-7870 to discuss your case.