Victims of dog bites and attacks have a right to seek compensation for their injuries in many cases. Damages in dog bite cases often include medical expenses for treating both physical and psychological injuries from the attack, which is almost always a traumatic event for the victim.
But what happens if you’re the dog’s owner, rather than its victim? California has strict laws around dog ownership and liability when a dog attacks someone. In addition to taking proper safety precautions and abiding by state law in the care of your animal, it is also important to get and stay familiar with what to expect in the event your dog does attack someone.
Who is liable if my dog attacks?
Rodriguez & Associates attorney Blaine G. Mustoe notes that there are several ways in which a dog owner could be held liable if their animal bites or injures another person.
Negligence is one. Dog owners are expected to adhere to safety laws, such as keeping their animals on a leash in public spaces. When an owner becomes careless about these things and their dog bites or attacks another person, the owner could be found negligent. If an owner already knew their dog was vicious and/or dangerous, that person would be automatically liable for any injury caused by the dog, without the need for a plaintiff to prove negligence.
For dog bites specifically, California has very rigid laws. Section 3342 of the California Civil Code makes very clear that dog owners are “strictly liable” for any injury their dog causes. That applies even in cases where a dog has no history of violent behavior.
There are some exceptions to the liability factor. For example, if the victim was trespassing or provoked the dog (teasing or harming it), that person may not be eligible for damages.
Will my insurance cover injuries committed by my dog?
Mustoe notes that a homeowner’s insurance and/or umbrella policy will usually cover liability when it comes to dog bites and attacks. Read the fine print, though. Some policies exclude this provision for certain types of dogs (e.g., pit bulls).
In most cases, coverage does not apply if the dog owner is found to have intentionally encouraged their animal to attack someone.
What should I do if my dog attacks someone?
First and foremost, tell your insurance carriers. If your coverage includes injuries caused by your dog, the insurance company should agree to pay any settlement demanded by the injured person. That could include medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage. Note that medical expenses can include treatment for stress and anxiety in addition to care for physical injuries. Compensation is usually determined based on the severity of the victim’s injuries.
If an injured person files a suit against you, your insurance carrier will provide an attorney. However, you are still entitled to hire your own.
Working with your attorney, you will have to provide answers to written questions under oath (the written discovery) and be interviewed by the injured person’s attorney under oath (the deposition). If your case goes to court, you will also have to make appearances there.
While the hope is that your case can be settled out of court, the unfortunate reality is that some insurance companies insist on putting their customers through the lengthy, stressful process of a court case rather than agreeing to a settlement. This is another reason it’s a good idea to consider hiring your own attorney if your dog attacks someone.
Rodriguez & Associates has decades of experience working on dog attack cases in the State of California. We are committed to helping clients through this process, whether you are the dog owner or the injured party. To speak with an attorney about your case at no charge, reach out to us today.