Every year in the U.S., more than four million people suffer dog bites. Half of the victims are children. Dog bites send more than 800,000 victims a year to emergency rooms, and a small number of those victims die after dog bite attacks. Are you at risk? Is your child? If a dog bites, what should you do? Keep reading – especially if you are a parent or a dog owner in southern California.

You’ll also learn what the law in this state says about dog bites, and you’ll find some recommendations for keeping yourself and your family safe from aggressive dogs. The first thing to understand is that the legal principle governing dog bite cases in California law is called the “strict liability” doctrine.

WHAT IS STRICT LIABILITY?

What strict liability means – as it applies to dog bite cases in California – is that a dog’s owner is liable for all of the damages that may be caused by his or her biting dog, even if the owner was not aware of the dog’s aggressiveness and even if the dog hasn’t previously hurt anyone. A dog bite victim only has to prove that the bite occurred while he or she was on public property or legally on private property.

Thus, strict liability also means that for a dog bite victim’s injury claim to prevail, the victim does not have to prove that the dog’s owner was negligent – that the owner failed to take reasonable care to prevent the dog from biting. Thus, if you are injured by a dog bite in southern California, the law is on your side, and you should discuss your case with an experienced San Bernardino personal injury attorney.

However, the law also establishes several exceptions to the strict liability principle as it pertains to dog bites in California: if a dog was acting in the course of military or police work, or if the dog bite victim was illegally trespassing or engaged in committing some other crime when the dog bite occurred, then the victim has no grounds for a personal injury claim.

APART FROM DOG BITES, WHAT ABOUT OTHER INJURIES CAUSED BY PETS?

In California, strict liability applies to dog bites but not to any other aggressive behavior by a pet. If a dog or another pet injures someone by knocking a person over or by viciously scratching a person, for example, the “standard negligence” principle – and not strict liability – will apply, and the owner will be allowed to offer ignorance of the animal’s aggressive nature as a defense against a personal injury claim.

Below, you’ll find some recommendations for protecting yourself and your children from dogs that bite. If a dog bite occurs anyway – despite your best safety precautions – get medical attention immediately. If the dog displays symptoms of rabies – or if the dog cannot be found – your physician may order rabies vaccinations. Some dog bite victims will require extensive surgery and long-term therapy.

Always keep and make copies of any medical, legal, or insurance documents related to a dog bite case. If there were eyewitnesses, try to get their names and contact information – you may need their statements or testimony later. Have photographs taken of the injuries, and let your personal injury attorney handle all of the negotiations with the insurance company.

WHY WILL A DOG BITE VICTIM NEED AN ATTORNEY’S HELP?

After a dog bite, don’t sign anything – especially do not sign any insurance document – until you have consulted an experienced San Bernardino personal injury attorney. If you act without legal counsel, you might be accepting a settlement amount far below what your injury claim is actually worth, and you might be waiving your right to further negotiations or further legal action.

The statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits in California is two years. If you do not bring a legal action within two years of the date of the injury, you cannot recover damages. Do not, however, wait two years after a dog bite and then try to file a lawsuit at the last minute. Once you’ve obtained medical treatment for yourself or your child, in southern California, contact a San Bernardino personal injury attorney at once.

Yes, the victims of dog bites in California – who can prove that they have suffered damages due to a dog bite – are entitled to complete compensation for all of their current and future dog bite-related medical expenses, lost wages including future lost earning capacity, and all related losses and damages.

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS THAT A DOG IS ABOUT TO BITE?

Dog bite victims have legal rights in California, but of course, if you can, it’s far better to never sustain a dog bite at all. When they’re about to bite, dogs typically exhibit warning signs, and knowing those signs is essential for children and parents. Dogs may growl menacingly, bark angrily, lift their lips, and bare their teeth. Hackles on a dog’s neck and back may stand up, and a dog’s body may seem to go rigid.

While these are the usual indications that a dog is about to bite, not every dog will exhibit every warning sign. Since children are the most frequent victims of dog bites, teaching a child very candidly about aggressive dogs is imperative for parents.

When anyone first encounters a dog that you do not already know well:

– Do not pet or touch the dog.
– Do not approach the dog or make eye contact.
– Remain calm and motionless. Don’t run or scream – that may further provoke the dog.

Teach your child to ask a dog owner for permission to pet or even approach a dog. Parents must also teach their children to avoid strange dogs and to be careful not to provoke even a familiar dog. Dog owners must act to keep others safe; the strict liability principle in effect compels dog owners to take every reasonable precaution to keep a dog from biting.

In 2015, thirty-four people died from dog bites in the United States. Dog bites are responsible for amputations, disfigurement, severe muscle and nerve damage, and long-term psychological harm. If you or someone you love suffers a dog bite in southern California, seek medical attention first, and then consult an experienced California personal injury attorney. You can’t take any chances with your health or your future – or with your child’s.