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Dog Bite Injuries in California

I was thinking about dog bite cases recently. Why you ask? I was taking a walk on a nice stretch of beach in Huntington Beach, called Dog Beach. It true. It’s a long, wide area of our HB coast where it is legal to walk your dog on the beach. They can walk, run, hit the waves and even surf there. Ok,  that last bit is uncommon, but still is seen on occasion.

So, back to my walk. It was a nice SoCal Sunday. Nice temp outside. There was a couple walking their dog, coming opposite us from the other end of the beach. As they reached us, the dog goes behind me and bites me on my left butt cheek. Firmly. After only a hint of a muffled growl. Not a big deal. No, I did not ask the handlers for info and insurance nor anything else.  I did a self-examination of the bite site and determined the pooch did not break the skin and it was no big deal. The owners were apologetic, professing the animal never but anyone before. Blah, blah… The point is that it got me thinking what I can share with my readers about dog bite injuries.

Hell, I’ve handled hundreds of dog bite cases. Many of my bite clients have been letter carriers as a result of over a million dollars recovery received on a bite claim handled for a letter carrier years ago. So here you go. A bit about bites.

When it comes to dog bite injuries, the state of California is a strict liability state. Strict liability is a term, in dog bite cases, that means that a dog’s owner is liable for any bite injury that is caused by their dog. Period. They are responsible even if the dog had no history of aggressiveness, never bitten a person before and was an otherwise nice dog.

There are an estimated 4.5 million dog bite injuries every year, with around 885,000 bites needing medical attention. Half of these cases are injuries to children.

Whether you were in a public place, your neighborhood, on the owner’s property, your own home, or even at work, you should contact an attorney who is well versed in this type of claim to assist in pursuing just compensation for the injuries you sustained and to safeguard your rights.

In addition the damages for the personal injury, the dog owner and handler may also be liable for addition damages, such as punitive damages, if they harbor a dog known to be vicious and fail to take appropriate measures to avoid permitting the animal to harm someone. If the owner of a vicious dog attacks and hurts someone, it may be appropriate to sue the owner for these additional damages where scienter is present. What is scienter?

Scienter is a legal term that means prior knowledge of wrongdoing. If a dog has a history of biting someone even if it’s just once, and the owner knows about it, and the dog then bites someone else, the owner may be held liable for additional damages, depending on many factors.

Still, dog owners can defend themselves and use exceptions to avoid liability. For example, if you sue someone who is not the dog’s owner, they will likely not be liable. If you fail to take precautions and are bitten the owner can allege that you were comparatively responsible for the injury.

What do you need to prove in a case?

At a minimum, you need to establish:

• You were actually bit;
• The person you are filing a claim against was legally responsible for the dog;
• The dog bite caused the damages you are claiming.

Do you need a lawyer for such a case?

Depending on the seriousness of your case you should consult with a lawyer who has handled many such cases. Many attorneys who handle these cases provide an initial consult without expense to you. Hiring a dog bite injury attorney in California will not cost you anything out of pocket in most cases as most attorneys of us do so on a contingency basis.

At Moss Hovden, I have handled hundreds of dog bite cases. Many clients have had simple bites, but many others have developed substantial infections from wounds as well as scarring and deformity and skin breakdown as a result of dog mauling.

The bite injuries I have seen to children are often very traumatic. In these situations, it may be advisable to take your child to a child psychologist for evaluation and possibly treatment.

Children process this type of event – bite wounds and the events which led to it – vastly distinct from adults. Extreme fright can be a life changing event to a child. Never suggest they need to “just get over it” when what they may need is a cozy therapeutic environment where they can express their emotions about the dog attack.

One further thing. If you are a dog owner, be sure you have insurance coverage for any dog you own and/or handle. If you walk someone’s dog, check your insurance. Most homeowners and many home renters policies provide coverage or can add animal coverage for a small premium. If you own a dog, you really need this protection.

If you or a loved one have sustained a bite injury give me a call. I am happy to strategize with you on the best way to handle the claim from the start. If you have a claim being handled by another attorney but it doesn’t seem that attorney is paying attention to you, you are also welcome to contact me. It will not likely cost you money to switch counsel. On some occasions, I have called a prospective client’s current attorney and determined that the current attorney has been handling the claim properly but just need the “reminder” of the call to communicate better with the client. I only take over a claim or case where it appears we will all benefit by my retention.

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