Orange County Dog Bite Attorney
Each and every day, across the United States, as many as 1,000 people will require emergency care due to a dog bite injury. Those who are attacked by a dog could have extremely serious, even fatal injuries. Others could suffer severe disfigurement. Children are particularly susceptible to dog bites. Whether you are a dog owner in the state of California, or you have been bitten by a dog, it helps to have a solid understanding of California laws pertaining to dog bites.
If you are the victim of a dog attack, call Orange County dog bite attorney John Rapillo today. Mr. Rapillo has over 38 years experience fighting on behalf of injury victims. We offer a free consultation and only get paid if you win.
Dog Bite Statistics
According to dogsbite.org, the following statistics represent dog attack deaths and injuries in the United States between 1982 and 2014:
- Although pit bulls, Rottweilers, mastiffs and boxers account for only about 9.2 percent of the total dog population, these dog breeds are responsible for 81 percent of the dog attacks to children, 89 percent of the dog attacks to adults, 86 percent of the dog attacks which result in serious injury, and 76 percent of fatal dog attacks.
- About 42 percent of the dog bites which occur happen to children fourteen and under. Injuries from dog bites are highest among children between the ages of 5 and 9.
- Dogs who bite are 6.2 times more likely to be male than female, 2.6 times more likely to be intact, rather than neutered and 2.8 times more likely to be chained as unchained.
- When all age groups are combined, there are more female victims than male victims, and among those age 50 and older, 81 percent of dog bite victims are female.
- About 57 percent of all fatalities due to a dog bite involved more than one dog.
- Texas led the nation in deadly dog attacks in 2014, followed by Florida, North Carolina, Alabama and Ohio.
- California is the state with the highest number of dog bite claims.
- Postal workers actually have a high likelihood of being bitten by a dog; in 2012, nearly 6,000 postal carrier employees were bitten.
California Dog Bite Laws
Under California Civil Code, Section 3342, a civil claim may be filed against the owner of a dog when that dog causes injury to a person, and when the injured person was either in a public place, or was in a private place (lawfully) when the bite occurred.
This section also states that the injury in question must only be caused by a bite from the dog, rather than from other behaviors such as jumping on a person or scratching a person. If a dog has bitten a person in the past, then California Code places that dog owner on notice regarding future dog bites or attacks.
Section 3342.5 states: “The owner of a dog that has bitten a human being shall have the duty to take such reasonable steps as are necessary to remove any danger presented to other persons from bites by the animal.” There is one exception to the statute, which covers dog bites occurring while a dog is performing military or police work. In these cases, a person who is bitten by a dog is not normally allowed to sue for damages.
Strict Liability vs. Negligence in Your Dog Bite Injury
Most states operate under either strict liability or negligence, where dog bites are concerned. California is a strict liability state, meaning the owner of a dog is unable to escape liability for a dog bite, simply by claiming he or she was unaware the dog might possibly act in an aggressive manner. In other words, even if the dog has never bitten another human being, the owner of the dog is still liable. The owner of a dog who bites a person cannot claim that he or she took reasonable care to prevent the dog from biting another person as a defense.
However, a person seeking damages from injuries that are not from a dog bite must show the owner of the dog did not use reasonable care to prevent the dog form injuring the person, and that lack of reasonable care was responsible for the resulting injuries. As an example, suppose you are walking in your neighborhood when a dog who is on a long chain runs in front of you, tripping you, then scratches you while you are on the ground. You must show that your resulting injuries—say a sprained ankle and facial scratches—were directly related to the owner’s failure to keep the dog on a shorter chain or within a fenced yard.
Criminal Liability for a California Dog Bite
When a dog in the state of California is considered “dangerous” or “vicious,” the owner be criminally, as well as civilly, liable. A dangerous dog is one which:
- Has acted in an aggressive manner while off the owner’s property, at least two times within a three-year period, forcing a person to defend himself or herself;
- Has, while away from the owner’s property, bitten, killed or injured another domestic animal at least two times, within a three-year period, or
- Has, while unprovoked, bitten another person, resulting in a non-severe injury to that person.
A vicious dog is a dog that:
- Has inflicted severe injury on a human being in an aggressive manner;
- Has been determined to be a dangerous dog, yet whose owner ignored the necessary precautions for keeping a dangerous dog, or
- Is owned by a person convicted of any offense which is related to illegal dog-fighting.
Owners of dangerous or vicious dogs who do not exercise reasonable care to ensure the animal is restrained, or who lets the dog roam freely, could be charged with a felony if that same dog attacks and kills a human being. If the dog causes serious injury, the owner could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances.
What are the Most Common Types of Injuries Following an Attack by a Dog?
Dog bites can be extremely painful, and can become infected, leading to further problems. Dogs can also fracture a bone during a dog bite as the dog’s jaw closes on that bone, particularly in a small child. Therefore, a dog bite can result in puncture wounds from the dog’s teeth, as well as a broken bone. A broken bone can take weeks of immobilization in a splint or cast to fully heal. The bacteria in a dog’s mouth can contaminate the wound, resulting in an infection.
Those with any type of pre-existing condition which could impair immunity (diabetes or HIV, to name two) must be particularly careful following a dog bite.
An open wound from the dog bite will need to be checked frequently, for any signs of infection, and antibiotics are likely to be prescribed. Most dogs bite on the head, neck and face, or on the arms, as the victim attempts to defend themselves, and on the lower legs for smaller dogs. Facial lacerations and facial fractures can require extensive levels or reconstructive surgery.
The face is one of the most vulnerable areas, and can be left disfigured, with scars, following a dog attack. Deep wounds may require many stitches, as well as the services of a highly skilled plastic surgeon. Those who are bitten on the face may require dermabrasion, surgical excision of a scar, pressure scar modification, and may need to use special, heavy makeup to cover up the scars left from the dog bite. Unfortunately, some insurance companies may consider reconstructive or plastic surgery a cosmetic issue, refusing to pay for the procedures. Children in particular, as well as some adults, may experience post- traumatic stress disorder following a severe dog attack, and may be anxious and depressed. Children with facial scars from a dog bite could experience teasing from classmates. As you can see, the injuries from dog bites and their aftermath, can be extremely severe, and can last many years, or even for the remainder of the person’s life.
California Statute of Limitations for Dog Bite Injuries
California, like all other states, set a statute of limitations, which governs the amount of time a person has to file a personal injury claim. In the case of a dog bite, there is a two- year statute of limitations, meaning you have two years from the date of the dog attack, in which to file a personal injury claim. If you wait longer than two years to file a claim, the court will not hear your case, and you will be left with no compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, etc.
What Type of Compensation Can You Expect Following Your Dog Bite Injury?
The compensation you can expect, following your dog bite injuries, are largely dependent on the severity of those injuries as well as the circumstances surrounding your dog bite. Most people are entitled to receive compensation for all their medical expenses. These expenses can include hospital charges, physician expenses, prescription drug medication expenses, rehabilitation expenses, and, in some cases, even gas money to drive to and from your doctor’s appointments. If you are required to drive a considerable distance to receive medical treatment you may also be entitled to recover any expenses for motels and meals.
Under compensatory damages, you may also be entitled to lost wages. If you were off work for a few weeks following your dog attack, you will probably receive what you would have made during that time if you had been at work as usual. If your injuries are so severe you may never be able to work again, you may be entitled to lost future wages as well. You could also be entitled to compensation for the pain and suffering you have endured as a direct result of your dog bites. Punitive damages are sometimes awarded in cases where the negligence of the owner was both willful and malicious. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant, as well as to deter the same type of behavior in others.
How an Orange County Attorney Can Help You Following a Dog Bite
Because dog bite claims can be extremely complex, it is important to speak to an experienced Orange County personal injury attorney who has dealt with dog bite claims. If your attorney is unable to negotiate a settlement, he or she will probably recommend that you file a lawsuit prior to the time when your statute of limitations has run. Your attorney will investigate the facts of your case, determining who is liable for your injuries, and will ensure your rights are protected at every turn.