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Who Is at Fault in a Dog Bite Case?

Posted in Personal Injury on August 12, 2019

A dog bite can cause injuries such as lacerations, deep puncture wounds, and trauma to the face and head. When dogs attack, the damages can be severe and life threatening. It is up to a dog’s owner to reasonably prevent attacks. Holding a pet owner responsible after a dog bite could provide important compensation to you as a victim. Knowing who is at fault in your dog bite case in California can lead to someone else paying for your hospital bills and other expenses. A dog bite lawyer can help you identify the at-fault party in your case.

What Does the Law Say?

California’s dog bite law, Civil Code 3342, holds pet owners strictly liable for attacks involving their dogs. Strict liability removes the burden of proving an owner’s negligence from the victim. During a dog bite case, the plaintiff will not have to show the defendant was negligent in failing to prevent the attack. You or your lawyer will only need to prove two main elements: a dog bite caused your injuries and the attack happened when you were lawfully on the property.

The pet owner will be legally responsible for an attack if he or she was the person controlling the animal at the time. Under Civil Code 3342, the owner could be the actual pet owner or the person in charge of controlling the dog at the time of the attack. Since California’s injury laws see pets as property, the pet owner absorbs responsibility for the actions of the pet. It will not matter whether the pet owner took proper or reasonable steps to prevent an attack. It also will not matter if the pet owner had no reason to suspect the animal capable of hurting someone.

California’s strict dog bite liability law automatically holds pet owners liable for most attacks. As long as you were on public property or lawfully in a private place at the time of the dog bite injury, the pet owner will most likely be liable for your damages. The strict liability law will only apply in cases involving dog bites, however, not other forms of harm such as scratches or the dog jumping on someone.

What If You Contributed to the Attack?

Animal provocation is a common defense in California dog bite injury cases. A pet owner may try to avoid liability for an attack by claiming you contributed to your injuries by provoking the dog. If the pet owner has proof you were trespassing, bothering the pet, breaking the law, ignoring Beware of Dog signs or that you otherwise instigated the attack, you may lose some or all compensation for your injuries.

The California courts do not automatically bar you from financial recovery for contributing to your injuries. Instead, it uses a comparative negligence rule to allow an injured party to file a claim for the percentage of damages the defendant caused. If this percentage is not 100%, you could still receive at least partial compensation for your injuries. California is a pure comparative negligence state, meaning you could recover 1% of damages even if you were 99% at fault.

During a dog bite injury claim, do not assume you have no case against the pet owner if you contributed to the attack. If you ignored the owner’s warnings to stay back or stepped on the dog’s tail, for example, you might be eligible for a smaller recovery award for provoking the dog; however, contributory negligence will not bar you from financial compensation. The courts will simply reduce your settlement or verdict award by your percentage of fault.

If you were trespassing at the time, however, the state’s strict liability law may not apply to your case. You or your lawyer may have to prove the pet owner was negligent in causing or contributing to the attack. Your attorney may also have to prove negligence if a dog caused injuries or property damages through something other than a bite. Cases built on negligence can be more difficult to win, but could still result in payment for your economic and noneconomic damages.

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