With respect to dog bite attacks, California law used to adhere to the "one free bite rule," which required that a dog's owner would only be liable for any dog bite attacks if the dog had already demonstrated a propensity for viciousness, usually demonstrated by the dog having already bitten someone. Hence, the dog was usually afforded "one free bite" before the owner would be held liable.
How Does Strict Liability Apply For Dog Bite Claims In California?
Today, California has abandoned this rule and holds dog owners strictly liable for any dog bites, meaning that no proof of prior viciousness is required now. This law has been codified in California Civil Code §3342(a), which states:
"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."
This means that a dog bite victim needs only to prove the following to hold a defendant (and usually his/her homeowner's insurance) liable:
- The dog bit the plaintiff;
- The defendant owned the dog;
- The plaintiff was in public or lawfully on the premises where the dog bite occurred; and
- The bite caused the plaintiff's injuries.
While this code drastically increases the scope of liability for dog bites and makes litigating such cases a bit easier for plaintiffs, it is still imperative that dog bite victims are aided by experienced attorneys in order to maximize their recovery.
What Your Attorney Can Do For You
One of the most important aspects of dog bite cases is properly gathering the evidence to satisfy the code and prove all of the plaintiff's damages. This evidence may include obtaining:
- Information regarding the dog and its owner
- Information regarding any witnesses to the attack
- Photographs of the victim's injuries immediately after the bite
- Photographs of the victim's injuries after medical treatment has been received, especially where there is any permanent scarring
- Photographs of the dog and the premises where the dog bite occurred
- Medical records documenting the treatment received for the injuries caused by the dog bite
When such evidence is properly gathered, the plaintiff's attorneys can be much more successful in recovering the full value of the plaintiff's claim. Attorneys at Easton & Easton, LLP are very experienced in handling dog bite cases and can often help victims quickly settle their claims against the dog owner's insurance company for the full value of the claim.
A Recent Client
You may recall reading in the Orange County Register in December of 2008 about a woman who was attacked in Laguna Hills by 3 Bullmastiffs that had escaped from their owner's backyard. It was reported that the 3 dogs viciously mauled the woman, shaking her like a ragdoll. Several neighbors came to the aid of the woman and used shovels to beat the vicious dogs off of her so she could be rescued. The woman was taken to the hospital where she underwent 8 hours of surgery to treat her severe injuries. The 4 neighbors that came to her aid were later honored as heroes by the City Council of Laguna Hills.
One of the neighbors who came to her aid was also bitten by the dogs and retained Easton & Easton, LLP to represent him. In early 2009, we were able to obtain a very favorable settlement for this client.
Attacks By Other Kinds Of Domestic Animals
While the one free bite rule has been abandoned in California with respect to dogs, it remains in effect for other types of domestic animals. For example, where an owner's domestic cat, bird, rodent, or other animal attacks or bites a victim, the owner of the animal can be held liable for the victim's injuries as long as the victim can prove that the owner had knowledge or should have had knowledge of the animal's vicious propensities. Therefore, where the plaintiff can prove the animal has attacked or bitten someone before, the owner will usually be held liable.
Another Recent Client
Attorneys at Easton & Easton, LLP, recently helped a woman who was petting a cat inside a home and was subsequently bitten on the finger by the cat. The bite became infected and our client eventually had to be hospitalized for the infection.
We were able to prove that the owner had knowledge of the cat's vicious propensities by proving that the cat had previously bitten the owner and the owner's boyfriend and that these facts weren't disclosed to our client before she petted the cat. After establishing this, we were able to settle our client's claim against the cat owner's homeowners insurance carrier for $100,000, the full amount of their homeowners liability insurance.
Learn More About How We Can Help You
Over the years, we have represented many dog bite claimants, as well as victims of other types of animal attacks, some of whom have received settlements in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Our years of experience allow us to skillfully negotiate our clients' claims with the defendant's insurance carriers, as well as seamlessly assess and coordinate medical care to make certain the full extent of our clients' injuries are identified, treated, and proved to the insurance carriers.
We understand the tricks, stratagems, and defenses the insurance companies and their attorneys use to defeat or minimize a claim, and at Easton & Easton, LLP, we utilize our experience, skill, and dedication to make certain our clients do not fall victim to the insurance companies' tricks and stratagems.
Please call our dedicated premises liability lawyers at 800-461-8259 for a free initial consultation. If we do not take your case, there is no charge.