Dogs are an extremely popular pet, with nearly 40% of households in the United States reporting they own at least one dog. With statistics like that, it’s no surprise dogs are known as man’s best friend. However, dogs can also be dangerous. Many clients ask us, Can you sue for a dog bite in CA?
If a dog has bitten you, you have the right to sue the owner to recover compensation for your injuries. The attorneys at Frederick Law Firm can talk you through your options and help you decide what to do after your dog bite injury. With over three decades of experience representing victims of dog bites, we have helped countless people hold dog owners accountable for their dogs. Contact our award-winning trial attorneys today.
Suing for a Dog Bite Injury
Many people underestimate how much harm a dog bite can cause. Bite injuries can require extensive medical treatment, including reconstructive surgery in severe cases. Even if you don’t experience physical trauma, being bitten by a dog can cause serious psychological harm.
Under California law, you can typically sue the owner of a dog that bites you, regardless of whether the bite punctured your skin. Owners in California are subject to strict liability, which means you can sue whether or not the owner had reason to believe the dog might be violent.
This rule may contradict what you’ve heard. Some states have a “one bite” rule, where a dog owner needs to know that their dog might hurt someone to be liable for harm it causes. California doesn’t follow the one-bite rule. You can sue even if the dog had always been gentle and well-behaved prior to the moment it bit you.
When You Can’t Sue
There are limited exceptions to the general rule, including when the dog bite victim was:
- Not legally allowed to be where they were,
- Bitten by a police or military dog in the course of the dog’s work, or
- A veterinarian or a person in a similar profession performing their job.
You can think of these limitations as the guard dog, police dog, and veterinarian exceptions.
Guard Dog Exception
Places you’re legally allowed to be include public areas and private spaces you have been invited to, whether the invitation was express or implied. Some examples include:
- Public parks,
- Government buildings,
- Parties you were invited to,
- Stores that are open for business, and
- A friend’s house you have a key to unlock.
Additionally, postal workers, delivery drivers, and people in similar professions are lawfully allowed to be on private property when performing their jobs.
In contrast, being in a place you’re not legally allowed to be can involve anything from criminal breaking and entering to sneaking into a friend’s property without permission because you want to set up a surprise party. This exception also applies to any areas a property owner designates off limits. If a party’s host tells you you’re not allowed to go into their basement and you go there anyway, you’re no longer in a place you’re legally allowed to be.
If you’re somewhere you aren’t legally allowed to be when a dog bites you, you won’t be able to sue.
Police Dog Exception
One source estimates there are around 50,000 active police dogs in the US. Although some police dogs are trained as drug sniffers and search-and-rescue dogs, others are trained to apprehend suspects and provide crowd control. Those dogs are taught to attack.
If a dog bites you during lawful police operations, you often can’t sue for related injuries. However, if a police dog bites you while its handler is not behaving reasonably, including using excessive force, you may be able to sue.
The use of canine officers has a complicated history, particularly because police dogs have frequently been used to attack civil rights protestors. In addition, almost 12% of police-related serious injuries or deaths in California in 2021 were linked to police dogs. To address these concerns, some California lawmakers have proposed a law eliminating the use of police dogs in arrest and crowd control. The bill is inactive as of June 2023, but the legislature will revisit it in 2024.
Finally, a person who works with dogs professionally often can’t sue if they are bitten while performing their work. Veterinarians, dog groomers, shelter workers, and those in similar professions have assumed the risk that a dog could bite them. Because the professionals know the risk and choose to do the work anyway, they usually can’t recover.
How Much You Can Recover for a Dog Bite
What you can sue for in a dog bite case is generally limited to compensation for the harm the injury caused. Such harm can consist of both economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages include costs you incurred after the bite, like medical bills, property damage, and lost wages. Noneconomic damages include less tangible things, like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of quality of life.
Limits on Recovery
California applies a comparative fault rule to dog bite cases. This means a dog owner can avoid liability if the dog bite was partially or entirely your fault. If the dog owner succeeds, what you recover is reduced by the percentage of fault that’s yours. For example, if a dog bit you while you were in its face harassing it, the owner can argue you were at fault. Even if the owner proves you provoked the dog, however, you can still recover damages if the jury finds the owner at least partially responsible.
Consequences of Suing for a Dog Bite
Many people worry that suing for a dog bite will get the dog killed. Despite the harm they’ve suffered, they don’t want to risk the dog’s life. Animal lovers can take comfort in knowing that a dog bite lawsuit in California is far from an automatic death sentence for the dog.
After a dog bites a person, the owner must “take such reasonable steps as are necessary to remove” risks that the dog will bite another person. If the dog bites a person again, the government can sue the owner and make them prove they’ve made changes to prevent the dog from biting someone again. If the court concludes the dog is still a danger, only then can they order that the dog be removed from the owner’s custody or destroyed.
The Frederick Law Firm Will Fight for You
At the Frederick Law Firm, we focus on you. You tell us where you want your case to go, and we fight to get it there. We have three decades of experience pursuing favorable results for our clients, whether that means settling the case or battling it out at trial. If a dog has recently bitten you, contact us today. We can answer your questions, like, Can you sue for a dog bite in CA? and more.