Dog bite injuries can be catastrophic. All too commonly, people ask me what to do if their child is bitten by a dog. Sometimes if it’s a minor bite, and a little fright, if it goes away and there’s one little doctor visit, my advice is, “Gee, let it go.” But, unfortunately we’ve seen some horrible dog bites in our career, with major permanent damage and scarring. And, in those cases, California has what’s called a Strict Liability Law for dog bites. So, unlike other kinds of injuries, you don’t have to prove that the owner of the dog is negligent.
If the dog bit someone, the owner is strictly liable for that. And, as a general rule, the owner’s homeowners insurance covers them for dog bites. And homeowners insurance is usually carried at a high level. In California, a good eighty percent of the homeowner’s insurance policies have liability limits of $300,000 or more.
We do a lot of these cases. I wish there weren’t so many, but there are. And, the law is very much on the side of the injured child.
Learning More About Strict Liability and Dog Bite Injuries in California
We often hear from parents: My child was bitten by a dog, and I do not know what to do. As we mentioned above, in cases where dog bites are very serious and result in severe or life-threatening injuries, it is important to file a dog bite claim in order to seek compensation from the liable party.
Who is liable in a California dog bite case? As we stated, California follows a theory of strict liability when it comes to dog bite injuries. This is a term that sounds difficult to understand, so we would like to clarify for you. In many personal injury cases, the lawsuit is built around a theory of negligence. In other words, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s negligence, or carelessness, is what led to the accident that caused her injuries. In dog bite cases, this is very different. The plaintiff does not need to prove that the dog owner was negligent or careless in taking care of the dog or in restraining the dog. Instead, under a strict liability theory, the plaintiff only needs to show the following:
- Injury resulted from a dog bite
- Plaintiff was on the property legally when the dog bite happened
To be clear, even if the dog owner takes the utmost care to ensure that her dog does not bite anyone—from regular training to socializing the dog—the owner will be liable if her dog bites someone and causes an injury if the dog bite victim was legally on the property (either private or public property) when the bite occurred. That is what strict liability means.
California’s Dog Bite Statute
If a dog does bite your child, you also might want to know more about California’s dog bite statute. Dog bite injuries and dog bite claims generally fall under California Civil Code Section 3342. The statute clarifies that California is a strict liability state:
“The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.”
The statute clarifies that being on private property lawfully extends to anyone who is on the property by express or implied invitation, including postal workers. In addition to using language that makes clear the theory of strict liability, the statute also refers to the viciousness of the dog. Why does it do this? Some states require a previous history of vicious behavior—owner’s knowledge of the dog’s viciousness—in order for the owner to be held liable.
As you can see, California dog bite law is extremely friendly toward plaintiffs since there is no requirement that the owner know of a dog’s viciousness in order to be liable for injuries from a dog bite. Indeed, the dog could be a perfectly trained animal that has been docile over the course of a long life, and the owner still will be held liable if the dog bites someone.
It is important to note, however, that the statutory language is specific to dog bites. The law does not extend to cases in which a dog scratched a person, or otherwise injured a person.
Treating Dog Bite Injuries
If your child’s dog bite injuries are minor, you may be able to treat the injury at home. According to WebMD, you should take the following steps to provide first aid at home:
- Use a clean towel and place it over the injury to stop the bleeding
- Keep the area of the bite as elevated as possible
- Wash the bite wound with soap and water
- Apply a sterile bandage to the dog bite wound
- Apply an antibiotic ointment daily to prevent the bite from getting infected
In most cases, it is not advisable to treat a dog bite injury at home. As WebMD emphasizes, if you do not know the dog, if the dog bite wound is particularly deep, or if the wound begins showing any signs of infection, you should see a physician as soon as possible. At that time, you should be prepared to answer some of the following questions to the best of your ability:
- Who is the owner of the dog?
- Is the dog up-to-date on its vaccinations?
- Has the dog been vaccinated against rabies?
- Was the dog provoked when it bit your child?
- Does your child have any health conditions that could make him or her more susceptible to a serious infection?
Contact a Dog Bite Attorney in California if Your Child was Bit by a Dog