Dog bites are a serious issue in California. In fact, out of all 50 states, California has seen the most deaths in recent years. Many of these attacks occurred in Southern California, specifically in San Diego. The San Diego County Department of Animal Services investigates at least 2,500 dog bite cases each year. If you live in California and own a dog or if you have been injured by one, understanding the laws on owners’ civil and criminal liability as it relates to what happens after a dog bite is reported is good practice.
If you’re unsure about your rights and obligations under the law as they pertain to dog bite injuries in California, then call (888) 488-1391 to speak with a legal expert at Arash Law FREE of charge. California is one of the states with “strict liability” dog bite laws that make pet owners responsible for most dog bite injuries. When a victim sues to get compensation for their injuries, it doesn’t matter whether or not the dog’s owners knew they had bitten someone before.
That means they can’t argue that they didn’t realize their dogs could be dangerous or that they cared to prevent the animals from hurting someone. California law does have some limits. The person who is injured by a dog can only recover damages if they were
- Bitten in
- Either public or while “lawfully on private property.”
In the context of the statute, anyone who’s carrying out a legal duty (like delivering mail or checking an electrical meter) is lawfully on private property. A person can’t sue under this statute if they were bitten by police or military dogs doing law enforcement work or defending someone. This exception only applies to suspects and does not apply to victims who weren’t suspected of participating in the alleged crime.
That means that a crime victim or innocent bystander may sue a city after being bitten by a police dog. (Cal. Civil Code § 3342 (2020);) City of Huntington Beach v. City of Westminster, 57 Cal.App.4th 220 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 1997).) California courts have also held that owners are generally exempt from liability if their dogs bite veterinarians or their assistants during treatment. (Priebe v. Nelson, 39 Cal.4th 1112 (Cal. Sup. Ct. 2006).)
What Counts as a “Bite” Under California Law?
The laws are different in every state, but if a dog grabs you with its teeth without breaking the skin, it can still count as bitten under California law. In a case where a worker fell from his ladder after a dog closed its jaws on the cuff of his pants, the court held that the animal’s owner was liable for the injuries under section 3342 (Johnson v. McMahan, 80 Cal.Rptr.2d 173 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1998)).
Non-Bite Related Injuries Caused by Dogs
California’s strict liability laws won’t help victims injured by dogs that didn’t bite them. For example, if a dog attacks someone’s bicycle wheel or chases them on a motorcycle, which causes erratic driving that causes an accident. Simply because the victim wasn’t directly bitten doesn’t necessarily mean they have no other options.
Injured people in California may receive compensation if they can prove that their injuries resulted from the dog owners’ negligence. For example, suppose a neighbor’s dog jumps on a child playing on the sidewalk and scratches the child. If the victim’s parents sue, then they must prove that the owner didn’t use reasonable care to control the dog, such as keeping it on a leash or in a yard with a fence.
Reporting a Dog Bite in California
Many dog bites in California go unreported each year out of loyalty to a friend, family member, or neighbor who owns the animal. Although seemingly disloyal, reporting a dog bite to the proper agency helps the victim and helps society as well. If a dog in California has bitten you, you should immediately receive medical care, then make it a priority to report the bite to the appropriate agency.
Check with the Animal Control agency in your area to get instructions on how to submit a report. In addition, you may be told to report the dog bite to the local health department and local police department.If the dog can be identified, then vet records will reflect if the dog is current on its rabies shots. If it’s not current, or if the dog is a stray, then you may need to endure having rabies shots yourself.
Reporting the dog bite is a key factor in helping you recover compensation for your injuries in a civil court action. Relatively minor dog bites and scratches can cause chronic pain and cost several thousand dollars to treat. Dog bite victims can also get compensation for emotional damages such as stress and a sudden fear of dogs. If a dog in California has bitten you or a loved one, then you should call the dog bite injury experts at Arash law for a FREE consultation at (888) 488-1391.
Medical Professionals are Obligated to Report Dog Bites in California
Doctors and nurses are obligated to report dog bites in California for people they provide evaluation or treatment to. Medical professionals have to make the report even if the victim was not seriously hurt and the dog was not rabid. The information goes to local health officials and has to be made immediately.
The purpose of mandatory dog bite reporting in California is to stop the spread of rabies. However, medical staff still have to report the bite, even if they do not suspect that the dog is rabid. The only exception to the reporting requirement is when a dog has bitten another animal.
Steps You Should Follow After a Dog Bite
With so many dog bite injuries happening in California, anyone can be a victim at any time. That’s why it’s so important that the general public knows what to do if they are bitten. While medical care is paramount, victims should have the presence of mind to consider potential litigation needs to help recover compensation for expenses arising from the dog bite.
Reporting the incident to the proper authorities almost goes without saying, but to help simplify things further, here are some helpful steps you should take following a dog bite injury in California.
Dog bite injuries vary in severity, from nicks and scratches on the hands to serious ones causing disfigurement or even death. No matter how minor an injury from a dog bite may seem, it’s always a good rule of thumb to pull out your smartphone and start taking photos. It only takes seconds to do so, but these photos can provide immense value for litigation purposes.
If possible, take photos of the dog’s owner too. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, the owner will grab their dog and vanish to avoid the consequences. Next, take photos of the area where the attack occurred; specifically, take pictures of anything that will help identify the address where the incident took place. These might be needed by the police department, animal control, insurance companies, or even by an attorney later.
Get the Dog Owner’s Information
If the owner doesn’t grab the dog and try to flee the scene, then try to get the owner’s name, address, and contact information. Ask for the dog’s name, gender, age, and breed. Ask for their homeowner or renter’s insurance information as well.
You’ll also want to find out the dog’s primary veterinarian information so you can contact them for vaccination details later, especially concerning rabies. If the dog is licensed and wearing tags, ask the owner to give you that information.
Call the Police
If the injury is anything more than a scratch, or if the dog’s owner is aggressive, call the police immediately. A police officer can help diffuse the volatile situation, radio for medical assistance, and decide if the dog needs to be impounded for the general welfare of the community.
The police can also file a report about the incident, which will be important for insurance and litigation purposes later. Be sure to get the incident report number from the police and keep that for your records, which will help when referring to the case.
Seek Medical Treatment
It would be best if you got medical care as soon as possible. If the injury is minor, you can make an appointment to see your primary care physician within 24 hours. If that’s not possible, go to urgent care or emergency room the same day.
Dog bites almost always get infected without medical care, and even a simple scratch can cause big problems if left unattended. If you are more severely injured, the police officer will call for an ambulance, assuming you haven’t done so already.
Call Animal Control
After receiving medical care, you’ll want to call your local animal control and report the incident. If you receive treatment from a medical professional, they are obligated to report it anyway. Many states, like California, New York, and North Carolina, require that doctors report dog bites to prevent the spread of rabies.
When a dog bite is reported, animal control can verify if the dog is up to date on its vaccinations. Keep in mind that reporting a dog bite is usually required by law. In addition, if you would like help covering medical bills and recovering lost wages, the bite must be reported.
Call Your Insurance Company
Contact your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance company and notify them of the incident. Depending on your policy coverage, they may be able to provide additional assistance in pursuing subrogation against the dog owner and their insurance company for compensation that covers your out-of-pocket expenses and lost wages.
How is a Dog Bite Report Investigated?
Even if the police respond to a dog bite incident, the local animal control agency will be handed the case for further follow-up. The animal control officer must verify if the incident happened in the same way as it was detailed in the police report. In addition, they will also assess the victim’s risk of contracting rabies from the sustained bite, which can be done by cross-referencing veterinarian records of the dog (assuming there are any).
The investigation doesn’t stop there as the animal control officer must also interview the victim. The severity of the bite is assessed, in which case the animal control officer can give the victim adequate information about the medical care that they should seek unless medical treatment has already been provided. The animal control officer will gather the following information during the investigation:
- The dog’s rabies vaccination history
- The breed of the offending dog
- Contact information for the dog owner
- The bite history of the dog and any records of previous aggressive behavior
- The contact information of the person or facility that’s taken responsibility for the dog during the mandated quarantine
- The version of events as stated by the person who either owns or had responsibility for the dog
- Information about the dog’s license (if any)
- The condition of the home where the dog lives (especially the measures being taken by the owner to keep the dog under control, like fencing)
The results of this animal control investigation may be subpoenaed as evidence if any legal proceedings occur in the future.
What Happens After the Animal Control Investigation?
The animal control office takes all of the information gathered during the investigation to determine the dog’s classification, potentially dangerous or vicious. Each category carries its stipulations under California law, which are:
- Potentially dangerous dogs are required by California law to be confined either inside the owner’s home or in a fenced-in yard reported to be both child-proof and escape-proof. In addition, the dog is required to be on a substantially strong leash and under the control of an adult who is considered to be legally responsible for the dog when the animal is off of the owner’s property.
- Potentially vicious dogs can be euthanized in most cases under California law; however, authorities might allow the dog to remain alive in some instances. For example, if the dog has been diagnosed with a curable disease, which has temporarily caused this aggressive behavior, then treatment is provided to combat this illness.
What Types of Compensation Can a Dog Bite Victim Receive?
Most experienced California dog bite lawyers will pursue the greatest amount of compensation available to the victim of an animal attack. These compensations include:
- Medical bills for past and future treatment
- Pain and suffering
- A reduction in earning capacity due to permanent disability
- Loss of wages
- Lifestyle changes as a result of permanent disability
- Punitive damages
Why You Should Hire an California Injury Attorney After a Dog Bite
An “experienced dog bite attorney” is one who is specialized to help in the legal proceeding when severe dog biting has occurred. They can either represent the victim who has sustained the dog bite to recover compensation for their injuries, or they can assist the dog owner during the euthanasia hearing and in dealing with the insurance companies. It is important to note that dog bite incidents can carry both civil and criminal liability in California.
For example, anyone who owns or is responsible for a dog may face criminal charges if the animal injures someone while roaming around, but only if the owner or keeper who knew the dog was prone to “mischievous” behavior and didn’t keep it under control. The crime would be a felony if the dog bite killed the victim and a “wobbler” (a felony or misdemeanor) if the victim was only injured. (Cal. Penal Code § 399 (2020).)
Despite criminal charges being filed in connection with a dog bite, the injured party can sue the owner for compensation, as long as the civil suit is filed within the statute of limitations, which is two years (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 335.1 (2020)). The statute of limitations might extend the period in some circumstances.
If someone is suing you over a dog bite or other injury that your dog supposedly caused, or if you are considering suing after being hurt by someone else’s dog, then you should consider speaking with a personal injury lawyer at Arash Law by calling (888) 488-1391. An attorney experienced in this area of law can explain how California’s law applies to your situation and help you explore all of your options.