What You Should Know About Dog Bite Claims in California

People refer to dogs as man’s best friend, but sometimes that isn’t the case. Animals can be unpredictable, including dogs. A dog may display its aggressive side and end up biting someone.

When you don’t provoke a dog, but it bites you anyway, you could have the legal right to bring a claim for damages. However, dog bite claims can be complicated to pursue, which is why you need an experienced California dog attack lawyer on your side. Here’s what you should know about dog bite claims in California.

What Is the Average Dog Bite Settlement in California?

An aggressive dog in California.Understandably, prospective clients want to know what the average dog bite settlement in California is. However, there is no specific amount or range that these types of cases resolve for in California. That is because no two dog bite cases are identical. If you or someone you love sustained injuries due to a dog bite in California, speak with our skilled legal team at Henderson Law to learn what your potential case is worth.

If you want some type of average, you can look at the prior payouts for 2020 in California. According to the Insurance Information Institute, California saw 2,103 dog bite cases. The total value in claims was almost $136 million. That works out to around $64,622 for each claim. Remember, this is not an accurate representation of your case is potentially worth—merely an average based on what was reportedly paid out.

Dog Bite Statistics

Researchers estimate that dogs bite more than 4.5 million people every year, about 50% of which are children. Not all these bites result in injuries, but some do. More than 800,000 people seek medical attention for dog bites. That means almost one in five people need medical attention after a dog bite.

Dying from a dog bite is quite rare, but it does happen. The National Canine Resource Council notes that less than 50 people a year died from dog bites in recent years. Thirty-eight people died in 2018, while 47 passed away from their injuries in 2019.

A concerning statistic is what appears to be an increase in dog bites during the pandemic, especially in California. According to State Farm, California had the highest number of dog bite claims in 2020, with over 400 claims.

The potential reason for this could include anxiety, which dogs can also sense. During lockdowns, dog parks were closed, people were home, and tensions rose. Also, many people adopted new dogs during the pandemic. The sudden change of people going back to work or altering their routine has affected pets too.

Civil and Criminal Liability for Dog Bites

Dog owners can face both civil and criminal liability for dog bites in California. It’s a civil case when you pursue a claim for financial damages related to the dog bite. You are suing the dog owner or responsible party for money to compensate you for the injury and other losses associated with the attack.

In some cases, dog owners can also face criminal liability. Individual people don’t bring criminal cases; the government does. In a criminal case, the defendant could face one or more charges that result in jail or prison time and fines. The state could opt to pursue a misdemeanor or felony charge depending on the severity of your injuries. If someone dies from their injuries, the charges could be manslaughter or even murder.

It’s crucial to understand that criminal and civil cases are entirely separate. If the dog owner is being prosecuted for a crime, it doesn’t mean you have no civil case. They are two different cases completely and filed by different plaintiffs. That means a dog owner could be found not guilty in a criminal trial, but you could still collect compensation in your civil case.

California Dog Bite Laws

California dog bite laws tend to favor the victim. There are a lot of protections in place for dog bite victims, but it doesn’t mean you have a slam dunk case. California has something called strict liability for dog bites. That means a dog owner could be liable for their dog biting you, even if the dog never attacked someone previously.

There are limitations to California’s dog bite laws. The law says the owner is strictly liable when someone:

  • Sustains a dog bite; and
  • Was either in a public place or lawfully in a private place, such as the dog owner’s property.

California allows injured victims to seek recovery in cases where a dog grabbed someone with its teeth, but it didn’t break the skin. But there must be a bite, not just a dog jumping on someone.

There is also a law that requires dog owners to take proper steps to remove any danger of potential future attacks. You can file a lawsuit against a dog owner who has an animal that has already bitten someone. People can file a civil lawsuit against a dog owner when their dog has already bitten someone in two separate incidents or the dog is a trained-attack dog who injured someone with only one bite.

In situations where a dog is a suspected threat, law enforcement or animal control may file a petition for a hearing. Depending on the hearing outcome, the dog owner may be required to keep the dog indoors or on a secure leash in a fenced yard.

Defenses to Dog Bite Liability Arguments

Despite strict liability, dog owners will try to avoid any financial responsibility by asserting one or more legal defenses. Common defenses in California dog bite cases include:

  • No bite (victim did not sustain an actual bite);
  • No proof of ownership (a stray dog on a dog owner’s property;
  • The victim was trespassing when the bite occurred; or
  • The victim provoked the dog or was harassing it.

The law also allows for several exemptions where you cannot pursue a claim. One example is where the dog is a police or military dog acting according to written policy.

What Types of Compensation Can You Recover in a California Dog Bite Claim?

Dog bite victims are typically eligible to receive certain types of compensation depending on the case’s individual circumstances. The most common damages in a dog bite case include:

  • Medical expenses to date;
  • Future expected medical costs;
  • Lost wages to date;
  • Future loss of earning capacity;
  • Disability;
  • Physical pain and suffering;
  • Mental anguish; and
  • Psychological counseling for emotional trauma.

Many dog bites result in scarring. That can dramatically impact the potential average dog bite settlement in California. The amount scarring is worth may depend on the person’s individual circumstances. For example, a well-established fashion model may lose their entire livelihood due to a visible scar on their face.

Contact Our California Dog Attack Attorney

As you can probably see, California dog bite laws are complex. You shouldn’t attempt to pursue a claim independently. Let the skilled team at Henderson Law assist you. We have over two decades of experience helping injured dog bite victims in California. We know the laws well, and we aren’t afraid to take your case to trial if necessary. Please contact Henderson Law today and schedule a consultation to learn more about how we can help you pursue a dog bite claim in California.