Dog Bite Attorney in Southern California
Every year, thousands of people suffer personal injury due to animal bites,
most often dogs. In many cases, a person bitten by an animal may have
a legal right to recover damages from the animal's owner or another
responsible party. An experienced Southern California dog bite lawyer
can explain the specific law as it relates to dog bite injuries.
Owner Liability for Dog / Animal Bites
In deciding who is responsible for an animal bite, the first thing to determine
is who the owner of the animal is. The owner of an animal can be held
liable for the injuries it inflicts, provided that the owner knew, or
had reason to know, that the animal had "dangerous propensities."
In other words, if an animal owner knows that his or her animal is dangerous
and could cause injury to a person, the animal owner can be held liable
for the animal's harmful actions.
Determining whether an owner knew of an animal's "dangerous propensities"
can be difficult. The first question that often arises in making this
determination is whether the owner needs to know of the particular animal's
potential for harm, or whether the owner only needs to know that type
of animal is potentially harmful. For example, when a person has a pit
bull as a pet, does that mean the owner knows or should know the pet will
be harmful just because, in general, pit bulls can be harmful?
Personal injury attorneys know that the law imposes what is known as "strict
liability" upon animal owners whose animals bite or attack others.
Under the theory of strict liability, an owner is legally responsible
for an animal bite, regardless of whether the owner did anything wrong
with respect to protecting others from attack. Under this theory, even
if the owner had no reason to know that his or her animal was dangerous,
if the animal bit someone, the owner would still be liable.
Potential Defenses in Dog & Animal Bite Cases
There are instances in which an owner of a vicious animal might not be
held liable for an attack by their animal. For example, if the animal
owner adequately warned other people that the animal was dangerous and
took measures to keep the animal away from people, a person who ignored
the owner's warnings and was injured by the animal might not successfully
sue the owner. In legal terms, the injured person's behavior in such
a situation is known as "contributory negligence" or "assumption
of the risk." An injured person is contributorily negligent when
he or she fails to exercise the degree of care for his or her safety that
a reasonable person would exercise under similar circumstances.
For example, if a person climbs over a fence and is bitten by a dog on
the other side, a jury could decide not to hold the dog owner liable if
they believed that a normal reasonable person would not have climbed over
the wall in the first place. To use another example, if the owner puts
up a "Beware of Dog" sign, and a person ignores this sign and
gets bitten by the dog, the owner might not be responsible for that person's
injury. If the animal owner is claiming either "assumption of risk"
or "contributory negligence," however, the owner has the burden
of convincing the jury of these arguments.
An animal owner can also argue that the injured person provoked the animal,
and this may be a way for the owner to avoid liability. For example, if
a person makes a threatening gesture toward an animal, and the animal
attacks, this could negate the owner's liability. Speaking with a
Southern California dog bite attorney about the specific nature of your
accident can help you determine who is at fault for an animal attack.
Other Potential Responsible Parties
Animal owners are not the only people who can be held responsible for animal
bites. Someone other than the animal's owner could be held liable
for an animal bite.
Animal Keepers – Anyone who is responsible for the care or custody of an animal
may be considered an owner or keeper and can be held responsible for an
animal bite. Examples include kennels, a pound, or an animal sitter.
Parents of Minors – Even if a person under 18 years of age owns the animal at issue,
in many states an injured person can bring a legal claim against the minor's
parents, even if the parents had no direct involvement with the animal.
Property Owners – A property owner can be liable for injuries caused by an animal
that the property owner allowed onto his or her property.
Landlords – If an apartment landlord knew, or should have known, that a tenant
owned a dangerous animal, the landlord may also be liable for animal bite injuries.
Proving Owner Knowledge of a Dog's Viciousness
In order to recover damages from the animal's owner, an injured person
may need to show that the owner knew, or had reason to know, that the
animal was predisposed to bite or attack. Hiring an experienced Southern
California dog bite lawyer is the best way to resolve legal damages from
an animal attack.
Horses and Other Domestic Animals
Most injuries from horses and other domestic animals are typically treated
in the same manner as injuries caused by dogs. This means that the owner
of a horse or other domestic animal will usually be held liable for injuries
caused by the horse if the owner knew or had reason to know of the horse's
dangerous tendencies. Also, consistent with other animal cases, a horse
owner may not be liable for injuries if the owner can prove the injured
person "assumed the risk," was "contributorily negligent,"
or provoked the horse.
Wild Animal Attack - Injury Claims
People who own or keep wild animals are often subject to strict liability
in the same way that dog owners are responsible for dog bites. The reason
for this is that the act of keeping an animal that is potentially uncontrollable
and vicious is considered inherently dangerous. Thus, even if the owner
of a wild animal goes to extreme measures to protect people from his animal,
such as building high fences, if the animal does end up injuring someone,
the owner can be held liable regardless of the effort he or she took to
protect the public.
What Damages Can a Dog Bite Victim Recover?
Depending on the seriousness of injuries resulting from an animal attack,
a bite victim may be entitled to recover compensation for medical expenses,
lost wages, pain and suffering and property damage. In some instances,
a bite victim may also be entitled to punitive damages, which are awarded
to punish someone for his or her behavior.
To justify an award of punitive damages, the wrongdoer's conduct usually
must be more than negligent, such as reckless or intentional conduct.
For example, if a dog owner knew his dog was very dangerous, yet repeatedly
allowed the dog to run free near a school, and the dog eventually attacked
a child, a jury could conclude that punitive damages are appropriate.
Speak with a Dog Bite Lawyer in Orange County, CA
Spray, Gould & Bowers LLP has been representing the legal needs of
Southern Californians since 1925. Our Southern California dog bite attorneys
have the skill, experience and knowledge to provide our clients with the
solid legal representation they need. Clients always come first at Spray,
Gould & Bowers LLP. You'll never feel like just another number
when you use our firm. Instead, we try to keep our clients involved in
the process and informed of their legal options so that we can work together
to create a legal strategy that is tailored to their unique needs. Contact
us today to get started!