The United States has the second-highest dog population in the world — 63.4 million households own at least one dog. Unfortunately, as the population of dogs continues to grow, so does the chance of dog attacks occurring. In 2020, 16,991 insurance claims were filed for dog bites, at an average cost of $50,245 for a total payout of $853.7 million. Of the total insurance claims, California led the pack with the most dog bites in the country and 2,396 claims.
Dog bite prevention, first and foremost, comes down to the dog owner. An owner’s behavior towards their dog will determine their dog’s personality, in which if a dog owner encourages aggressive behavior and abuses their pet, the dog will be more likely to attack or bite. Dog owners are responsible for following leash laws and other legal restrictions, and they are liable for any actions caused by their pet.
There are three kinds of law that impose liability on owners: a dog-bite statute, the one-bite rule, and negligence laws. A dog-bite statute is where the dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes without provocation. The one-bite rule occurs when a dog causes an injury and the owner knew the dog was likely to cause that type of injury—in these cases, the victim has to prove the owner was aware the dog was dangerous. Lastly, negligence laws are when the dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because the dog owner was unreasonably careless in controlling the dog.
In 29 states, dog owners are liable for injuries their pets cause; California's dog bite law (section 3342) imposes strict liability on owners of dogs that bite someone. In California’s law, every dog does not get one bite — an owner will still be held liable even if their dog has no history of biting or vicious behavior. There are some technicalities to the California law: this rule does not apply to trespassers or police dogs performing their duties; it only applies to bites (instead of, say, being knocked over by a dog); and the law only applies to the owner of the dog. In California, the "negligence per se" doctrine (section 669) comes into play when someone violates animal control laws and they are presumed to have acted negligently whenever they violate a law and cause an injury that the statue was designed to prevent. For example, if an owner walks a dog without a leash or lets their dog roam free without confinement.
Many cities in Los Angeles County have municipal codes that differ from the California state dog bite law. Some of these codes eliminate some of the previously listed technicalities. For example, in the Beverly Hills Municipal Code, “any person owning, controlling, or having care or custody of any animal shall be liable for any injury caused by such animal, and for any damage caused to any public property, or to any private property.”
If you were bitten by a friend or neighbor’s dog, you can rest easy knowing that dog bite claims are typically filed against the dog owner’s homeowners or renters insurance company, not the individual themselves. In addition, dogs who do not have a history of aggression will very rarely be put down.
Choosing the right law firm may feel overwhelming after suffering from a dog bite injury, but our lawyers are ready to help you recover money for your pain and suffering, medical bills, and lost time at work.