Though dogs are “man’s best friend” and there are many benefits to having a dog in the home, there is still a risk a dog can turn on people and inflict serious injuries including disfigurement, maiming and even killing.
Let’s take a look at the following statistics:
- Approximately 4.7 million dog bites occur yearly in the U.S.
- Close to 800,000 of these dog bites require medical care
- Nearly 50% of dog attacks involve children under the age of 12
- 82% of dog bites needing ER treatment involve children under 15 years old
- Each year, insurance companies pay out approximately $1billion in dog bite claims
Each state has a statute of limitations that places a deadline on personal injury lawsuits filed in the state's civil court system. California's statute of limitations on personal injury cases is two years. Since a claim for dog bite injuries would be considered a personal injury lawsuit, this means that the injured person has two years after the bite occurs to file the case in court to preserve their rights. If the case is filed after the two-year deadline has expired, the court will almost certainly throw it out without hearing it.
California's dog bite law, section 3342 of the Civil Code, states that the owner of any dog is liable for damages if: the damages were caused by a dog bite, and the person bitten was in a public place or lawfully in a private place. The statute creates an exception for people who suffer dog bite injuries while a dog is carrying out police and military work. For California's dog bite statute to apply, the injury must be caused by a dog bite, not by some other behavior on the part of a dog.
For instance, suppose that a child is playing on the sidewalk when a dog jumps on the child, accidentally scratching the child's eye and causing damage. The dog bite statute does not apply, because the injury was not caused by a bite. However, California’s negligence rules would apply to situations like these, and the argument would be that the dog owner failed to take reasonable steps to secure the dog.
Different states handle dog bite cases in different ways. Most states are either "strict liability" or "negligence" states. California is a "strict liability" state for dog bites. This means that an owner cannot escape liability for a dog bite by claiming that he or she had no idea the dog would act aggressively. The owner is responsible for all damages resulting from a dog bite, even if the dog has never bitten anyone before. If you are bitten, you need only to demonstrate that the bite occurred while you were in a public place or lawfully in a private place. You do not have to show the owner knew the dog would bite or failed to use reasonable care to prevent the bite. But remember, you'll need to take these extra steps to prove your case if you were injured by a dog, but not by a bite (i.e. you were pushed down after a large dog jumped on you).