California’s dog bite law, Section 3342 of the California Civil Code provides, “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.”
California is a Strict Liability Dog Bite State
Strict liability rules provide that an owner cannot escape liability for a dog bite by claiming he or she was unaware the dog had a propensity to act or respond aggressively. Whether or not the owner was aware of a history of the dog’s aggression or innocence is irrelevant. The owner is responsible for all damages resulting from a dog bite, even if the dog has never bitten anyone before.
For strict liability to apply, an injured party need only prove 1) that he or she was bitten and 2) the bite occurred while the person was either in a public place or lawfully in a private place. There is no duty to prove the owner knew or should have known the dog would act in such a way, or that the owner failed to take reasonable care to prevent the dog’s actions. If, however, the injured person was not bitten, but injured some other way by the dog (ie., scratched, fell over, etc.), the injured person will have to prove liability under a negligence or other theory. In which case, the owner would then have to argue the owner knew or should have known the dog would act in such a way and the owner failed to prevent the dog’s actions.
Public vs Private Property
In order for the injured (bitten) victim to recover damages, he or shew will need to prove that she was bitten in either a public place or while lawfully in a private place. There are caveats associated with the strict liability statute which could potentially bar a bite victim from coverage.
Premise Liability & Standard of Care
A homeowner owes a certain ‘standard of care’ to anyone on their property. A person entering the property has a reasonable expectation that he or she will not be injured. The owner (or occupier) of the property must maintain relatively safe conditions for all persons entering the premises. This includes keeping potentially dangerous pets away from unsuspecting persons on the property. An example would be keeping the animal(s) away from guests or properly displaying warning signs about the propensities of the animal.
Exceptions to CA’s Strict Liability Rule
Despite the simplicity of CA’s strict liability law, there are several exceptions and factors to consider when pursuing compensation in this type of personal injury claim.
The Statute Applies to Dog Bites Only
This Statute applies to dog bites only, not abrasions, bruises, fractures, broken bones, etc.
This Statute protects bitten victims who were either in a public place or lawfully in a private place. This means that the injured person must have had permission to be on the dog owner’s property at the time of the bite. If the injured person was on the private property or private residence unlawfully, the homeowner may not be found liable and they may not be able to successfully recover damages. Additionally, a person is not lawfully in a private place if he is trespassing or attempting to commit a crime on the property.
Dog bite victims who provoked the dog may be barred from recovery. A court may consider the bite victim liable for his own injuries if he intentionally aroused the animal or elicited such a response.
The Statute of Limitations
In order to pursue compensation for damages in a dog bite claim, the injured person must file the lawsuit within two years from the date of the incident.
Who Pays When the Dog Bites Someone On Your Property?
In many cases, a valid legal claim brought by a victim of an animal bite injury is often paid by an insurance company, with some exceptions.
Dog attack and dog bite incidents make up around 33% of all homeowner insurance claims. Most homeowner or renter insurance policies have some form of coverage available in the event that you are sued due to an animal bite or other pet injuries on your property.
The average amount of liability coverage in homeowners’ policies is somewhere between $100,000 and $300,000. Typically, homeowner insurance policies will only cover the first incident. Any subsequent attacks, bites, or other injury-causing incidents are typically excluded. Policies may include breed-specific exclusions as well. For example, Pit Bulls and other Bully breeds may be excluded from being covered in the policy in the even a dog bite occurs.
There are also certain types of pet insurance policies that may cover incidents such as a dog bite. Similar to homeowners’ policies, pet insurance policies typically do not cover subsequent bites after the first incident. Thus, the owner of a dog with dangerous propensities who has acted on those propensities more than once, will have to find insurance coverage that specializes in covering these unique situations.
Who Pays if There is No Coverage?
Ultimately, if you have neither homeowner/renter insurance nor pet insurance coverage, you can be held personally liable if you lose a lawsuit against an injured party. If you were injured by a pet whose owner does not have insurance and you feel reluctant to bring a claim against him, the dog owner is not responsible for your medical bills and expenses absent a court judgment or settlement. This means you, the injured person, would bear the losses.
How to Find Out if the Dog Owner is Insured
Finding out whether a dog owner is insurance can be challenging. The simplest and most straightforward way to obtain insurance information is to ask the owner. Unfortunately, the owner may be hesitant to share the information with you and even if they are willing to share the information, they might not know whether their insurance policy covers dog bites. If given incorrect information, it can be extremely difficult to find the correct information on your own.
Filing a lawsuit can guarantee obtaining the information about the dog owner’s insurance or lack thereof. During the litigation process, the information becomes “discoverable” and the dog owner/homeowner cannot legally withhold or lie about this information. If you need help with this process, it would be wise to reach out to a personal injury attorney with questions and concerns.
To get a fair evaluation of your case, reach out to Batta Fulkerson Law Group to learn more about filing a dog bite injury claim in San Diego. We know the financial and emotional burden a dog bite injury can have on you and every area of your life. You have rights, and our team of experienced dog bite attorneys is dedicated to defending them to get the best resolution for your case.
Contact the team at Batta Fulkerson Law Group today to schedule a FREE one-hour consultation to review your case and available options.
What to expect in your Consultation Meeting:
- Collection of information about you to help assist you better
- Review of any court documents
- Review of what happened in your claim
- Explanation of court processes, fees, and what we can do to help your case.
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