Biting Dogs – Man’s Best Friend?

At this year’s Rose Parade, Bakersfield’s Tara the Cat was honored for protecting her owner’s daughter from a dog in May 2014. Unfortunately, dog bites are a common occurrence and can cause severe injuries. Some resulting in loss of wages and even a loss of life.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur in the United States every year, and 900,000 of those bites become infected. The U.S. population is approximately 325.8 million people as of 2017. That means a dog bites 1 out of every 72 people.

This December, authorities in Virginia found a 22-year-old woman who was mauled to death by her dogs after taking them for a walk in the woods. Almost weekly it seems we hear of other tragic situations where people are attached by dogs, causing severe injury or death

In California, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases is two years, meaning that anyone suffering a dog bite due to negligence of others must file a case in court within two years after an injury occurs.

California’s dog bite law, section 3342 of the Civil Code, states that the owner of any dog is liable for damages if:

  • their dog bites you and causes damages
  • the person bitten was in a public place or lawfully in a private place.

In order for California’s dog bite statute to apply, the injury must be caused by a dog bite. The bite cannot be by some other behavior on the part of a dog. If injuries are suffered due to some other behavior other than biting, negligence laws may apply if the owner of the dog did not take reasonable steps to secure the dog. 

States handle dog bites differently. California is a “strict liability” state for dog bites, meaning that an owner is liable for dog bites regardless of whether they knew the dog would act aggressively or not. It also does not matter if the dog has never bitten anyone previously. Dog owners are responsible for damages caused by a dog bite in California.

If bitten by a dog, you must demonstrate that the bite occurred while you were in a public place or lawfully in a private place (e.g. not trespassing on someone’s lawn).  For dog bites, you do not need to demonstrate that the owner knew the dog would bite or that the owner failed to use reasonable care to prevent the bite. Remember, however, that for injuries other than a dog bite, you must show that the owner failed to use reasonable care to secure the dog.

If you’re the victim of a dog bite or injured by a dog, call my office. Preserve any evidence such as photos of the bite, the location where it occurred and other details about the event.

In addition, there are things you can do to protect yourself from a potential bite or injury.  First and foremost, never trespass onto private property. The Humane Society offers additional suggestions such as:

  • Never approach an unfamiliar dog. Especially one that is tied up, confined behind a fence or in a car.
  • Do not pet a dog (even your own) without letting them see/sniff you first
  • Don’t  disturb a dog while they are sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy or bone and protecting their puppies
  • Always assume that a dog that does not know you sees you as a potential threat
  • Pay attention to a dog’s body language. Notice things such as tensed body, stiff tail, pulled back ears/head and an intense stare or growling
  • Avoid eye contact with a dog that you believe is a threat

Immediately wash any wound with warm soap and water if bitten by a dog.  Then contact your physician for additional care and advice. Also, report the dog bite to the city or county animal control. Then call my office for advice on how to proceed should you want to seek damages for the bite or injury.

Dogs may be man’s best friend; however, they are animals that require the proper care and respect. Be a responsible dog owner and use caution when interacting with dogs so that everyone is safe and secure.


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