Ask The Attorney: All About Dogs… Part 2

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ALL ABOUT DOGS . . . PART II

beagle puppy

Question: A dog bit me. Can this be grounds for a lawsuit against the dog’s owner?

Answer: The short answer is yes. But, as with many legal questions, a brief discussion is appropriate.

Let’s begin with a little background. According to one estimate, approximately one thousand people visit the emergency room every day across the country as a result of dog bites. Those who have been bitten by a dog know that even a small bite can be painful and traumatic, especially for a child. And of course, we have all read news stories where a violent dog inflicted terrible injuries, or worse G-d forbid.

Many states have a “one free bite” rule. This means that the owner of the dog is not liable until the dog establishes a pattern of biting. Typically, this means that the owner is “off the hook” the first time the dog bites someone, and is liable every time thereafter.

California, however, is different. Civil Code Section 3342 reads: “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 is known as “strict liability”, and it means that California does not abide by the “one free bite rule.” So, a dog owner in California is liable any time the dog bites someone, even if it has never done so before.

Being bitten or attacked by a dog is a serious safety hazard, and this article does not provide information on how to defend oneself in this scenario. Please consult a professional or a veterinarian for advice about this situation. Nevertheless, if you are the victim of a dog bite, here is what you can do:

• After you have proceeded to safety, assess your injuries. Depending on the severity of your injuries, it might be advisable to call Hatzalah at 1800-613-1911. You can also call the police, but don’t be surprised if they are not dispatched to the scene. A dog bite can affect more than meets the eye, so a visit or call to your primary care physician would also be appropriate. The main thing is to make sure you are all right.
• Obtain the dog owner’s information. Because California imposes strict liability on the dog owner, it is crucial to identify who the dog owner is. You can do this by asking to see the dog owner’s identification. Try to at least obtain the owner’s telephone number, name, and address. If there were witnesses, obtain their information too.

• Dogs are often walked by professional dog walkers. If this is the case, obtain the dog walker’s information (driver license, telephone number, address) as well.

• Don’t be surprised if the dog owner is defiant, declines to give you his personal information, or blames you for the attack. Many times this is because the owner is shocked that his “friendly and gentle” dog instead acted on its animal instinct and bit someone. Without escalating the situation, politely ask the dog owner whether the dog is vaccinated. Ask for the dog’s veterinarian information. If you are unable to obtain the dog owner’s information, do not panic. An attorney might help you obtain this information later.

• If you were injured by the dog bite, photograph your injuries. Similarly, if your clothing was torn or damaged, photograph the damage. If you can, photograph the dog as well.

• If you obtained the veterinarian information, call the veterinarian to confirm that the dog is properly vaccinated. Ask the veterinarian to fax or email you a copy of the dog’s vaccination record. It may sound ridiculous, but the veterinarian might first require the owner’s consent to disclose the dog’s vaccination history to you.

• Consider hiring a personal injury attorney to represent you. The owner may have a renter or homeowner’s insurance policy that covers medical expenses and damage caused by the dog. Some insurance policies exclude certain dog breeds, or the owner may not be insured. An attorney can help you investigate and determine whether there is sufficient coverage to obtain compensation. Often, this can be accomplished without filing a lawsuit. An attorney can also help you report the dog to the proper authorities to insure they are informed about this dog’s violent propensities and take appropriate action.

Michael Rubinstein is the owner and founder of the Law Office of Michael E. Rubinstein, where he focuses his practice on personal injury and consumer law matters. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, the Law Office of Michael E. Rubinstein represents clients throughout Southern California, and is dedicated to assisting members of the Jewish Community. To discuss your specific case, you are welcome to call 213-293-6075, or to visit http://www.mrubinsteinlaw.com.