San Diego is home to hundreds of thousands of dogs. Most of them are beloved pets that bring joy and companionship into their owners’ lives. But bites are bound to happen whenever dogs and humans live around each other, sometimes with devastating consequences for innocent victims.
If you or someone you love sustained a dog bite injury in San Diego, laws may entitle you to seek compensation from the dog’s owner, insurance company, or another party. Here’s a review of dog bite liability laws in San Diego, CA, and how an experienced dog bite lawyer can handle your compensation claim.
California’s Strict Dog Bite Liability Law
Dog bites are so common that the California legislature decades ago passed a statute specifically addressing liability for them. The law states:
You can hold the owner of any dog 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 is what’s known as a strict liability law. In plain English, it means that San Diego dog owners must pay damages to people their dogs bite, even if they could not have anticipated that their dog would bite and did nothing wrong in failing to prevent an attack.
The damages they must pay can often include compensation for:
- Medical expenses in treating a dog bite and any related health complications
- Other expenses related to dealing with or recovering from the dog bite
- Lost earnings and job benefits due to the bite and any disabilities it causes
- Physical pain and emotional suffering caused by the bite or treatment for it
- Scarring or disfigurement caused by the dog bite
- Diminished quality of life or enjoyment of activities due to the bite
California’s dog bite strict liability law has a few limitations. One is that the bite must occur in a public place or a private place where the victim had a lawful right to be in other words, it usually doesn’t apply when a dog bites a trespasser on a property in San Diego. Another limitation is that the strict liability law doesn’t apply to the lawful deployment of a police K9 against a crime suspect. And another is that you can’t claim strict liability if you knowingly assumed the risk of getting bitten, such as if you are a dog trainer or veterinarian.
But these limitations also have exceptions. And even if California’s strict dog bite liability statute doesn’t apply in your case, you may still have the right to claim damages under other legal theories, such as negligence (see below). We encourage anyone bitten by a dog in San Diego to seek advice from an experienced dog bite attorney immediately, even if they’re unsure about how the law described above might apply to their case.
Negligence Claims in San Diego Dog Bite Cases
The strict liability statute described above gives San Diego dog bite victims a straightforward path to claiming compensation for their damages from the dog’s owner. But that’s not the only way to secure payment for the harm you suffered when a dog bit you. California law also generally permits individuals to demand payment for the harm they suffered because of someone else’s unreasonably dangerous decisions or actions—what the law generally refers to as negligence.
A negligence claim can make it possible to obtain compensation from not just a dog’s owner but also from a wide variety of other individuals and entities whose conduct led to a dog biting you. Anyone who had a generalized duty to protect you from a dog bite and whose unreasonable conduct instead put you in harm’s way could owe you damages.
That might include, for example:
- A dog walker or other animal handler who failed to keep an unruly dog under control in a public place
- The owner of a restaurant or other business that allowed a dog that bit you to run free on their premises
- The manufacturer of defective dog safety equipment, like leashes or fencing, that failed to protect you from an attack
- A landlord who allowed a tenant’s vicious dog to wander around an apartment building or condo complex
- A dog owner exempted from liability under the strict liability law but whose actions were so unreasonable that they should still be held liable for your bite-related damages
You can recover the same types of damages in a negligence claim as you can in a claim under the strict dog bite liability statute. In addition, an at-fault party’s conduct in failing to prevent a bite can sometimes be so extreme or outrageous that California law entitles you to seek punitive damages as punishment.
Negligence Per Se in San Diego Dog Bite Cases
San Diego County’s animal control ordinances (as adopted by the City of San Diego), dog owners and custodians must not allow their dogs to run unleashed in most areas and “shall exercise ordinary care” in preventing dog bites and other aggressive behavior. A violation of these ordinances exposes the owner or custodian to enforcement action by the City that can result in fines or the official designation of a dog as dangerous.
It can also serve as a basis for holding that person liable for a bite victim’s damages. Under a legal doctrine known as negligence per se, violation of a statute or ordinance aimed at protecting the public from dangerous or aggressive dogs can serve as evidence of the violator’s breach of a duty of care to a bite victim. In other words, if the dog attack that harmed you involved a violation of a San Diego animal control ordinance, the fact of that violation can go a long way in proving the violator’s liability for your damages.
The most reliable way to find out if you have a negligence or negligence per se claim to make in connection with your San Diego dog bite injury is to consult with an experienced dog bite lawyer today.
Protect Your Rights After a San Diego Dog Bite
California’s legal protections for dog bite victims are relatively robust. If you suffered a bite injury in San Diego, there’s a good chance you’ll have at least one, if not multiple, options for securing monetary damages.
But that doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels and expect automatic payment. In most cases, obtaining maximum compensation will require hiring an experienced San Diego dog bite lawyer to handle your claim. Additionally, your actions after getting bitten can have a significant effect on your legal rights. We strongly encourage you to consider following these tips to safeguard your rights.
Seek Immediate Medical Attention
Dog bites are nothing to take lightly. The bite can pose severe health risks. And the fact that the dog bit you can amount to a significant public health and safety concern.
We urge you to seek prompt medical attention after a dog bite that leaves any kind of mark on you or your loved one, regardless of whether it breaks the skin (but especially if it does). A bite can cause physical trauma like puncture wounds, lacerations, dangerous blood loss, fractures, and damage to ligaments, tendons, muscles, or nerves. A severe dog bite might also leave lasting scars or cause facial disfigurement. Young children frequently sustain the most severe of these physical personal injuries in dog attacks.
A dog bite can also pose a risk of a potentially deadly infection. Rabies, a viral disease that is nearly 100 percent fatal in humans if left untreated, is a particular concern. Owners of dogs in San Diego must vaccinate them against rabies to prevent its spread. But that requirement will not keep you safe if a dog bites you.
Some owners fail to vaccinate their pups, some stray dogs never get vaccinated, and no vaccine is flawless. If a dog bit you in San Diego, you should take the possibility of rabies exposure seriously and seek immediate medical attention to address it.
Visiting a doctor soon after a dog attack in San Diego also protects your legal rights. Medical records of your treatment can serve as powerful evidence in proving a claim for damages. And they protect you against the owner or an insurance company arguing that a dog did not cause your injuries.
Report the Bite
Always report a dog bite to local animal control authorities. A bite report serves multiple purposes. It alerts public health officials to a potential safety or rabies threat. It can put the dog’s owner on notice of the bite so that the owner can take safety measures to protect others. And it may provide you with information about the dog’s vaccination status and history of viciousness if you were able to identify the dog that bit you by its owner or license number.
Reporting a bite will not usually result in the dog being destroyed. Authorities may take steps to quarantine the dog for rabies observation or testing. But measures like putting a dog down only happen after an administrative process that protects the dog and its owner. You can feel confident that reporting the bite is the right and humane thing to do for humans and canines alike.
If you live within the San Diego city limits, report a bite to the San Diego Humane Society. If you live outside city limits but within San Diego County, report the bite to the county’s Department of Animal Services.
Don’t Sign or Agree to Any Settlement
California’s strict liability dog bite statute means that in most (though not all) dog bite situations, owners will have liability for bite-related damages. As a result, the owner of the dog that bit you in San Diego, and the owner’s liability insurance carrier, may see little sense in fighting your damages claim. Instead, they may immediately offer to pay you compensation for your losses.
But be careful. What seems like a quick and convenient resolution of your dog bite claim could instead amount to a costly mistake. Dog owners and their insurers rarely make unsolicited settlement offers for the full amount of your recoverable damages. Any offer you receive will likely fall well short of what the law entitles you to receive.
Agreeing to a settlement offer means permanently giving up your right to seek additional damages later. So never sign anything or agree to a payment before consulting with an experienced San Diego dog bite lawyer. In most cases, an attorney handling negotiations on your behalf can get you far more than what the owner or insurer offered.
What a Dog Bite Lawyer Can Do For You
Negotiation isn’t the only service a skilled lawyer can provide in a San Diego dog bite case, however. An experienced attorney can handle every aspect of securing payment for the harm you suffered.
For example, a lawyer can:
- Investigate the circumstances of the dog bite to determine who may have liability to you
- Track down records of the dog’s ownership and vaccination history
- Analyze local ordinances to identify instances of negligence per se in connection with your dog bite incident
- Prepare and submit lawsuits or insurance claims against liable parties
- Negotiate settlements of your claims whenever possible
- Take your dog bite injury claim to court to prove it to a judge or jury
- Collect and disburse the money owed to you by insurance companies or at-fault parties
You don’t need to worry about affording legal help, either. Most San Diego dog bite lawyers represent their clients on a contingent fee basis, which means they only receive a fee if they get you results.
Contact an Experienced San Diego Dog Bite Lawyer Today
If you or someone you love suffered dog bite injuries in or near San Diego, chances are you have potentially valuable rights to demand compensation from the dog’s owner and others. An experienced dog bite injury lawyer can handle your claim and get you the maximum compensation available.
For a free consultation about your rights after a dog bites you or your loved one, contact a skilled San Diego personal injury lawyer today.