While dogs make great companions, they are still animals, and a bite or assault from "man's best friend" might leave you with severe injuries and a trip to the hospital. Dog attacks and bites can inflict serious physical harm and lead to high medical expenditures and a considerable decrease in quality of life due to the trauma the victim experiences. In addition, dog owners are held legally liable for their pet's behavior; therefore, you can sue them for compensation if you suffer an injury resulting from a dog bite.
The amount you might expect to get in a settlement for a dog bite depends on several factors in your case. First, you must hire an expert attorney to help claim the entire worth of your losses, as it might become complicated to do so on your own.
What laws in California govern dog bite settlements?
Dog bites are governed by Section 3342 of the California Civil Code. Dog owners face severe liability under the law if their pet causes injury to a person. Unless the victim provoked the dog, the owner is liable for any injuries sustained due to the attack.
Under the law of strict responsibility, a dog's owner is legally accountable for any harm their pet causes, regardless of whether the dog has ever displayed aggressive tendencies. However, the "strict responsibility" rule does not cover the following situations.
- If the victim was a trespasser
- If the victim shares in the blame
- If the dog is part of the law enforcement
- The victim knew the risk involved
California law allows you to file a lawsuit regardless of whether the attack is mild or severe.
What is the Statute of Limitations for a Dog Bite in California?
When filing a claim against the dog's owner, you have two years from the bite incident. Therefore, the victim should file the case as soon as possible while the damage, evidence, and witness memories remain fresh. If your dog bite complaint is not filed within two years after the incident, the court will likely not accept the case without ever hearing the facts.
How do state dog bite laws influence the value of a case?
State laws regarding dog bites vary widely. As a result, the value of a case can be affected by how strict these regulations are in holding dog owners accountable for injuries caused by their pets. Most pressing legal concerns include:
- Whether or not the state will apply the negligence standard to hold the owner liable (i.e., whether or not strict responsibility will be used).
- In terms of how the state's personal injury laws deal with a shared fault.
State liability laws
There are two types of State liability laws;
- Strict liability laws, and
- The "one bite rule."
Many states use the strict liability model of the California dog bite law. These laws make the dog's owner financially liable for any damages their pet causes, regardless of whether the owner was without fault. Owners are held responsible for dog attacks even if they had no idea they were happening and took all necessary precautions to avoid them.
One-bite laws are in effect in certain states. In some states, dog owners can be held liable for attacks only if they were aware of their dog's dangerous tendencies or should have been. The "one bite rule" derives its name from the fact that previous dog bites are usually the most compelling and widely available evidence in such cases. The owner will undoubtedly be aware of the dog's viciousness if it has bitten someone or if there are records at animal control outlining its violent conduct.
States with strict liability laws may award more compensation for identical dog bite incidents. In certain states, it makes no difference whether or not the dog's owner is aware of the threat their pet poses to others. The dog's owner can't use that as an excuse to dodge liability. The case would be easier to win without this defense. This may be reflected in higher settlement offers as a result.
Shared fault rules
In most cases, a single party is not to blame for an accident. However, the defendant bears less responsibility when the injured party was also at fault for what happened that led to their injury. Shared blame in an accident is dealt with in one of three ways under personal injury law:
- Contributory negligence
- Pure comparative negligence
- Modified comparative negligence
The victim could not seek compensation if they were partially at fault for the dog bite, as in states like Virginia that apply contributory negligence. Dog bite victims in California apply pure comparative negligence and will have their awards reduced by their amount of blame. Compensation may be reduced if the owner can prove that the victim provoked the dog. The insurance company will use proof of shared fault to coerce the victim into accepting a lesser settlement.
Dog Bite Compensation Variables
When it comes to dog attacks, California does not adhere to the one-bite rule. Instead, it would allow an individual to seek compensation for their medical bills even if the animal was a docile pet up to the assault.
If a dog bites you and the attack occurs in a public area or on the dog owner's property (and you were invited there), the dog owner is responsible for your medical bills and other damages. Damage claims cannot be made by anybody who was proven to trespass on the dog owner's property at the time of the attack.
When their dog bites or attacks a person, California dog owners cannot claim they didn't know their dog was dangerous. Likewise, they can't use the fact that they didn't realize the animal was hostile or that it may harm a human as an excuse for not preparing a proper defense. Many other states still abide by the "one free bite" law, but not this one. As a result, the dog's owner is still liable for any injuries caused by the animal, even if the owner took reasonable precautions to prevent the bite from happening, such as using a leash or other form of restraint.
How much can I get from a dog bite settlement?
Some dog bite victims will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation, while others will receive almost nothing after suffering similar injuries. Unfortunately, it is hard to put a figure you will receive until an investigation begins, as this sum depends heavily on the insurance policy.
Dogs are wonderful pets because they provide their owners joy, peace of mind, and affection. However, when they become furious or feel threatened, they can explode into an uncontrolled rage that has devastating consequences. A dog bite injury can be very painful and often results in a lifelong scar for the victim. A homeowner's insurance coverage and other criteria will determine how much compensation can be received after an attack.
While the exact amount a successful plaintiff receives in a settlement depends on the specifics of their case, according to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bite injury cases constitute one-third of all homeowner's insurance liability policy claims due to bodily harm. In addition, dog bite claims in 2007 resulted in settlements and jury judgments totaling more than $356 million. According to 2019 data, California led the United States in the number of claims in 2018 (2,166), and the average cost per claim, at $45,543 in 2018. This amounted to more than $98.6 million. According to data compiled by Triple-I and State Farm, two of the country's largest home insurance carriers, almost $900 million was paid out in 2021 to resolve dog-related claims. There were 17,989 claims for dog bites, costing an average of $49,025. You can get compensation for the following losses:
- Medical Expenses: A doctor should check out your injury. As one might expect, this treatment doesn't come cheap and can put a severe dent in one's finances. However, if you win in court, your settlement check will include reimbursement for any costs incurred due to your treatment at a hospital.
- Lost Wages: Your ability to go about daily life and do even the simplest of duties may be severely affected after a severe dog bite or attack. You can seek damages for lost earnings if the injury prevents you from working.
- Pain and Suffering: Cases involving dog bites can leave victims with long-lasting emotional scars. Because of the injury, you may find it challenging to resume your previous way of life, but you may be entitled to financial compensation.
- Disability Benefits: Irrational behavior stemming from an animal's natural instincts can quickly turn a once-friendly creature into a vicious predator. You can get disability benefits in your settlement if you are permanently handicapped due to injuries sustained from a dog bite.
You should expect the insurance company to write a check for your situation based on their assessment of the level of injury you sustained. Unfortunately, the lack of empathy on their part will lead to them making assumptions about the severity of your injuries and maybe trying to reduce the compensation you receive. Your suffering is unique, and you deserve just compensation for it.
What Factors Affect an Average Dog Bite Settlement
While many people are curious about the typical cost of a dog bite settlement, there is no exact figure. In California, the amount you receive for injuries caused by a dog may depend on several circumstances. A reasonable compensation can be determined with the use of this information by your personal injury attorney.
Severity of Injuries
Bite wounds from dogs can be mild or severe. Below are some specifics to think about when assessing your injuries:
- The amount of blood loss resulting from the attack
- Whether any disease was transmitted
- The location of the bite
- The dog breed
- Whether the dog bit through the skin
- Nerve damage
- Dismemberment as a result of the dog bite or amputations to treat it
Your settlement might be more significant than California's state-wide median for dog bites if your injuries were particularly severe. In addition, your claim's value will decrease depending on your injuries' severity. Your attorney will consider all of these aspects while determining the extent of your injuries.
It is common practice to consider the victim's age in dog bite cases. For instance, adults often do not tease dogs since they know the repercussions of doing so. And if a dog were to bite, adults would have a greater chance of defending themselves. Conversely, children are typically helpless in the face of an aggressive animal. Children are particularly vulnerable to the physical and psychological consequences of dog bites. This is why insurance claims settlements for dog bites typically favor small children.
Long-Term Effects of Dog Bite
A dog bite can cause long-term physical damage. For instance, a vicious bite on the face might cause permanent disfigurement. In addition, the effects of such an accident on your daily life might be devastating.
Scarring or disfigurement
Permanent scarring or disfigurement from a dog bite also results in larger payouts. These scars, however little, might be a continual reminder of what you went through. Social shame and isolation can result, especially for children or if the scarring is obvious and difficult to conceal. In addition, because of the potential for extreme emotional discomfort, significant emotional discomfort might result from this.
Whether you trespassed
Based on California dog bite law, you might expect a lower compensation offer if you were trespassing at the time of the attack. The California dog biting law does not apply to trespassers. This law imposes severe liability exclusively on property owners in cases when a dog bites a lawfully present guest. In addition, you would have to show that the owner's carelessness led to your injuries if you were hurt while trespassing.
Trespassers are more likely to be found partially at fault by juries regardless of whether they entered a public or private space. Damage awards may be reduced as a result of comparative fault statutes.
The dog's aggressive history
If there's proof that the dog's owner was aware of the animal's aggressive history, the compensation sum may be increased accordingly. In addition, dog owners may increase settlement offers because of the risk of paying punitive damages in a court trial following a dog bite.
Mental or emotional trauma, like a new fear of dogs
As a result of dog attacks, you can develop a fear of them. You may avoid your friends and relatives who have pets because you fear them.
Animal attacks can do more harm than only physical harm. Many also struggle with emotional pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. The sight of a dog can trigger a terrible emotional crisis in some people. California has a lot of dog owners, so you could have some unpleasant run-ins with their pets.
What Do You Need to Prove in a Dog Bite Case?
You can file a lawsuit for damages if you are bitten in a public or legally private area. The right to be on private property does not extend to the general public but does include those with legal duties, such as postal carriers and delivery staff. In addition, if a dog bites a person by the skin but does not puncture the flesh, the victim can still make a dog bite claim.
Victims of dog bites may be barred from suing owners under certain circumstances. For example, when a police or military dog is on duty protecting a citizen from criminals, the victim cannot pursue a claim unless they are an innocent bystander. Likewise, if a veterinarian or veterinary assistant gets bitten by a dog while treating the animal, they cannot bring charges against the owner.
California's comparative negligence law covers injuries caused by dogs. If you provoke the animal into attacking, you can expect a reduction in your compensation according to your share of the blame.
Does Insurance Cover Dog Bites?
Insurance against injuries caused by dog attacks is optional for dog owners. Many dog owners prefer not to carry dog bite insurance because of the increased expense caused by the "opt-in" option on homeowner's and renter's policies. In addition, the insurance premium for a dog of a "dangerous" breed, such as a German shepherd, Doberman pinscher, husky, or pit bull, is relatively high, and the owner may be denied coverage altogether.
Steps to take following a dog bite
Dog attacks can be chaotic and violent, primarily if many dogs attack the victim. If the victim survives the attack, the victim will most likely suffer superficial wounds such as puncture wounds, scratches, or crush injuries. In addition, dog bite victims may need rabies vaccines or other preventative measures if the dog is not up-to-date on its immunizations. Dog bites can result in puncture wounds, which may be excruciatingly painful and take weeks to heal. Getting medical help after a dog attack is important.
Seek Medical Attention
The victim should get medical help immediately, whether calling 911 at the scene of the accident or going to the doctor afterward. Health should be the main priority. Dog bites can cause everything from mild to severe injuries, so it's advisable to be checked immediately after the incident.
It's important to write down the following information before filing a report;
- The name and contact of the dog owner
- The type of dog breed
- The description of the dog
- Ensure to take pictures and videos of any important information
Report The Dog Bite
Dog bites are serious and should be reported to the proper authorities for everyone's protection. The standard protocol for determining whether or not a dog has rabies after a bite is to quarantine for ten days. It is essential that the victim contact animal control as part of the claim documentation.
Contact A Dog Bite Attorney
Legal representation is not always necessary when filing a dog bite claim; however, getting an insurance company to pay up without legal representation can be difficult.
The compensation the victim gets may vary greatly depending on several factors unique to the accident. An experienced dog bite attorney can ensure that all of the case details are being taken into account, such as the cost of any necessary cosmetic procedures in the future.
What is the settlement process in a dog bite case?
The victim and the dog's owner will have to have a series of conversations to reach a settlement in a dog bite lawsuit. It can start immediately after the bite and continue until the jury issues its judgment.
Negotiations can commence when an insurance company for the dog's owner makes a first settlement offer. This proposal will be appealing since it will reimburse the victim for the current medical bills. But unfortunately, it won't pay for ongoing healthcare costs or other losses. If the victim doesn't accept the initial payment offer, the lawyer can send a demand letter to the dog owner or their insurance company to keep the negotiations going. A Demand Letter
- informs them of the victim's current predicament
- gives them notice that the victim is thinking about taking legal action against them.
When a demand letter fails to provide a satisfactory settlement, the next step is to file a lawsuit. The discovery process begins when the complaint is filed and the defendant is served. As more information is gathered, settlement negotiations will speed up. As the case progresses, the dog's owner or insurance provider could make several proposals. Both parties can reach a settlement without going to trial. However, the case will go to trial if no fair settlement is reached. However, attorneys might make settlement proposals for the dog owner and the insurance company before and during the trial. Events like these are possible up until the jury announces its judgment.
Contact An Experienced Dog Bite Attorney Today
Taking on an insurance provider on your own can be an arduous task. You need a lawyer at the bargaining table who will take your case seriously and never give up on your behalf. We know the cost of your suffering is immeasurable, so we will never accept anything less than full compensation.
McCrary Law Firm - A Personal Injury Law Firm in California is here to help, and you can rely on our experienced counsel. We have the expertise to help clients navigate the complex area of personal injury law, thanks to our many years of experience in the field. The insurance companies know us better than any other personal injury law firm because we try more cases than anybody else. They'll stop trying to lowball you with settlement offers when they find out you're working with us. They are reluctant to have us in court, so they are willing to settle for more money. Contact McCrary Law Firm at (855) 752-6326. Call us for a free initial consultation, and we are available 24/7.